From 8-6 with their playoff fate in their hands to 8-8 wondering where it all went wrong. That's the story of the Miami Dolphins' 2013 collapse, and while there's plenty of blame to go around, one person stands above (or below) the rest: offensive coordinator Mike Sherman.
As a result, he has been relieved of his duties, the Dolphins announced on Monday.
The wording on the announcement is revealing. This was ultimately head coach Joe Philbin's decision, although it is a decision which owner Stephen Ross pressured Philbin into making, according to Armando Salguero of The Miami Herald. Philbin and Sherman have a connection that runs deep.
"Mike has been a mentor to me throughout my coaching career," Philbin said in a statement. "He is a man of great integrity, dedicated to his family, his team, his players and his profession. On behalf of the entire Miami Dolphins organization I want to wish Mike and his family the very best in the future."
Regardless of whose decision it was, the justification is there. Sherman's shortcomings were an issue not just in those final two games, where the Dolphins scored just seven total points and picked up just 399 yards of total offense. The Dolphins averaged 19.8 points per game on the season, which ranked 26th in the NFL.
If there was one reason to keep Sherman around, it's the progression of quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
|Ryan Tannehill's first two NFL seasons|
|Source: Pro Football Reference|
Tannehill's numbers went up nearly across the board; he finished with a higher completion percentage, more yards per game, 12 more touchdowns and a higher passer rating than he had last year. Some of that, however, may be based simply on volume, with Tannehill attempting 104 more passes in 2013 than in 2012. That imbalance may be part of the problem.
Sherman's stubbornness with regard to not running the football afforded opposing teams an opportunity to pin their ears back, which may have contributed to the Dolphins' dramatic uptick in sacks allowed (a team record of 58 in 2013, 23 more than 2012). Of course, it's hard to stay committed to the rushing game when it's ineffective, but the Dolphins managed to get more effective running the ball when they committed to it more.
The woes of the offensive line were a big part of the Dolphins' offensive struggles, but Sherman did almost nothing to work around the shortcomings of that group. He could have tried some designed bootlegs or put Tannehill under center to at least give the illusion of the threat of the run. Too often, Sherman ignored these reasonable alternatives.
Besides, even taking Tannehill's development into consideration, perhaps it's time for the quarterback to lose the umbilical cord. Tannehill has spent the past six years under Sherman dating back to their time together at Texas A&M.
The question now becomes: Who is the next offensive coordinator for the Dolphins? After all, ending one plan isn't a good idea if you don't have a new plan in place.
There are a few good names out there.
Former Houston Texans head coach Gary Kubiak is still a free-agent coaching candidate, but he might be waiting for a head-coaching gig to come along. Norv Turner was recently relieved of his duties as Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator when the team's front office cleaned house of its coaching staff, so perhaps the quarterback guru would be a fit for Tannehill as he hits this next stage of his development.
There's also been some chatter about Green Bay Packers quarterback coach Ben McAdoo, according to Adam Beasley of The Miami Herald. Philbin came up through the coaching ranks, but his springboard to the Dolphins head-coaching job came as offensive coordinator for the Packers, where McAdoo served as a tight ends coach before being promoted to quarterback coach when Philbin left for Miami.
Philbin is going to have to find a coach who matches up philosophically with what the Dolphins want to do, and McAdoo comes from a similar background.
Whomever it ends up being, the change at offensive coordinator will not fix everything.
The Dolphins have a lot of work to do with regard to their offensive personnel. One could argue that they should be on the lookout for four new offensive linemen, with center Mike Pouncey the only solid building block in that group. The Dolphins should also consider a makeover at running back, with Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller both struggling heartily in pass protection and when running the football.
There's plenty of blame to go around for the Dolphins' offensive shortcomings and plenty of work to be done before those problems are fixed.
This is just the beginning, but it's a good first step in what could be yet another long offseason of big changes for the Dolphins.
Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand or via team news releases.