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It’s becoming something of a depressing yearly rite that we look at the Super Bowl teams and think about what might have been for our Dolphins.If only someone with a functioning brain would have made this or that decision correctly, stuck with this player or that coach, then maybe, we say, fate would have been written differently and that might be our team playing for the Lombardi Trophy on Sunday.Remember back in the late 1990s when the Patriots went to Super Bowl XXXI with Keith Byars and Jeff Dellenbach? Remember the Packers that eventually won that game boasted Keith Jackson as their tight end?Remember when the Dolphins discarded all three players?Last year, Dolphins fans watched in disgust as Drew Brees – the quarterback the Dolphins could have had but passed on twice – helped New Orleans win it all.This year, the local lament is about coaching talent that got away.When the Steelers and Packers play this Super Bowl, Dolphins fans can take absolutely zero solace in the fact Mike Tomlin once interviewed for the Miami head coach job and was passed over for someone far less capable of doing the work.In the first month of 2007, the Dolphins were searching for a coach to replace Nick Saban and identified Tomlin as a rising star worth a visit. They talked to Tomlin. Probed him. Considered him.Then they passed on him.A bad choice“Too hip-hop,” one Dolphins employee who had a say in that decision would say of Tomlin weeks later.Miami went with Cam Cameron instead.Tomlin interviewed with the Steelers days after his Miami interview. He hadn’t suddenly gotten wiser. He hadn’t magically become a better coach. He was just himself – prepared, pointed, optimistic, realistic.Tomlin got the job succeeding Bill Cowher.
If the Steelers win on Sunday, that would deliver to Tomlin his second Super Bowl ring as Pittsburgh’s coach and third overall because he’s got one from Super Bowl XXXVII when he was the defensive backs coach for Tampa Bay.“Every day I go to work, I don’t think about things I have to do, I think about the things I can do to make my men successful,” Tomlin said this week in North Texas. “So I have a servant’s mentality in terms of how I approach my job, and I get that from coach [Tony Dungy].”A Tony Dungy disciple with a servant’s heart.Too hip-hop, the Dolphins decided.I’m not saying Tomlin would have come to Miami and overcome a roster that lacked talent and certainly didn’t compare to Pittsburgh’s. I’m not saying he would have won a Super Bowl already in Miami as he has in Pittsburgh.I am saying the Dolphins looked in this guy’s eyes and didn’t see what the Rooneys saw when they interviewed Tomlin. They didn’t find out what the Rooney family found out.That is the difference between being great and being good. Teams such as the Packers and Steelers look at players or coaches other teams have similarly studied and see something special the others miss.I remember a phone conversation with Saban in 2005 in which he told me he was about to hire Dom Capers. “He’s one of the best defensive coaches out there and he has been for a long time,” Saban said.Within a couple of years of Capers’ hiring, very few folks in South Florida would have believed that he was among the best at anything. As defensive coordinator of the 2007 Dolphins, he managed to author the worst run defense in the league and the Dolphins ranked 30th in points allowed.Capers was fired. This year, under Capers’ direction, the Packers were second in fewest points allowed which was an improvement over last season when Capers had his unit ranked seventh in fewest points allowed.Did Capers become a terrible coach in 2007 after having proved to Saban previously he was an outstanding coach? Did he, becoming suddenly idiotic in 2007, regain his senses the past two years in Green Bay?Or is it that Capers never stopped being an outstanding coach, but was simply victimized in 2007 by too many injuries ravaging a roster lined with far too little talent?Great teams often recognize talented people down to their roots. They get a conviction about people. Then they stick to those convictions when crisis hits – which, in the NFL, is every week.“Panic doesn’t seem to work. Let’s put it that way,” Steelers president Art Rooney II said. “There are enough people that seem to have gone through that mode and our feeling is that you pick good people and you try to stick with them if you have good people. There are ups and downs in any sport, but if you have the right people in place, you’ll always have a chance to be successful and that’s what we do. ”Do you hear that Tony Sparano doubters?Is Miami’s current coach the best head coach in the NFL this year? No. His team couldn’t finish strong or win at home.But did the guy who led the Dolphins to perhaps the most dramatic turnaround in NFL history – going from 1-15 to 11-5 in one year – suddenly becoming incapable of leading and coaching his team?Formula for successIt speaks well of club owner Stephen Ross that he didn’t knee-jerk and replace Sparano with an unproven Jim Harbaugh last month. The cautious approach might not be rewarded with a title next season, but it gives the Dolphins a chance to have continuity.And the Steelers, a club with only three coaches since 1969 and having never fired any of them, have proven that continuity can bring success.The hope is Ross sees something in Sparano, knows something about Sparano that convinced him to keep Sparano even while some were calling for the coach’s head.The Dolphins have too rarely made us think they know something no one else does. They made us feel that way in 1983 when they picked Dan Marino late in the first round.They made us feel that way lately when they plucked Cameron Wake out of CFL obscurity and within two seasons saw him go to the Pro Bowl.But for the couple of decades now, the Dolphins have mostly been among those folks that weren’t aware or didn’t know or missed on a guy by just this much.That’s not an indictment on the team’s current administration. That’s an indictment on administrations going back to Jimmy Johnson.The Dolphins missed on Randy Moss, Anquan Boldin, and Brees twice. This isn’t second-guessing or playing the result. All of those players were favored, expected, supposed to join the Dolphins if the brainiacs leading the franchise had been thinking straight.So where does that leave us?The hope is Miami folks currently in charge can avoid the curse that obviously befell their predecessors. The hope is the folks running the Dolphins now know something other teams do not.