The Miami Dolphins appeared to be in disarray.
It was Jan. 10, 2022, and the Dolphins in a shocking move fired head coach Brian Flores. The sacking of Flores, the loser in an internal power struggle with general manager Chris Grier, capped a roller-coaster season during which the Dolphins failed to reach the playoffs for the 12th time in 13 seasons. To say the least, the Dolphins weren’t viewed as a model NFL franchise.
Fast-forward to the present, and things are sunny in Miami.
In myriad ways, Grier has rewarded Dolphins team owner Stephen M. Ross for choosing him over Flores. The undefeated team Grier assembled is the talk of the NFL after its 70-20 drubbing of the Denver Broncos in Week 3.
Many of the players whom Grier acquired in hopes of spurring on-field improvement have shined this season, and they were in top form against Denver as Miami continued its sparkling start. Coach Mike McDaniel, Grier’s handpicked replacement for Flores, continued to deliver big-time results while being an ideal partner for the architect of the roster.
Granted, it’s still very early. And in the NFL, potential season-altering disaster looms with each snap. But it’s obvious that Grier has constructed a talented, well-built team, which isn’t surprising to Rod Graves.
An NFL lifer, Graves has worn many hats during almost 40 years in the league. Formerly a club player-personnel official, a general manager and a high-ranking executive in the league office, Graves, now the executive director of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, knows firsthand what it takes to build a winning team. Clearly, Grier, whom Graves has known for years, does as well, Graves said.
“When you look at the success of Chris and the organization as a whole, when you see the results, you have to believe that [the Dolphins] have made the right decisions in preparation for not only this year but beyond,” Graves, leader of the independent group that advises the league on diversity, equity and inclusion in hiring, said this week in a phone interview with Andscape.
“There are really so many things that you can look to that support that. They’ve done a phenomenal job in handling the quarterback situation. Obviously, they’ve made the right decision for their team with respect to the head coach. And they look like they’ve got an offensive system in place that the quarterback is comfortable with and that the whole team is comfortable with. That seems pretty clear.”
Miami (3-0) obliterated visiting Denver (0-3). Miami, which has the NFL’s top offense, amassed 726 yards en route to establishing a new franchise scoring mark and totaling the most points for any NFL team since Washington scored 72 against the New York Giants in 1966. With less than a minute remaining on the game clock and the Dolphins at the Broncos’ 28-yard line, the Dolphins could have attempted a field goal to break the league’s single-game scoring record.
Instead, McDaniel showed mercy on the reeling Broncos, instructing backup quarterback Mike White to kneel as time expired. Grier had likely seen enough as well.
Led by star quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, whom Grier selected with the fifth overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft, the Dolphins’ offense has been in top form from the season’s opening kickoff. In the rout of the Broncos, Tagovailoa had only 3 incompletions in 26 attempts, 309 passing yards and 4 touchdown passes without an interception. He finished with an 88.7 Total QBR and a 155.8 passer rating (158.3 is considered a perfect rating). He leads the NFL in both categories with marks of 82.9 and 121.9, respectively.
Future Hall of Fame wide receiver Tyreek Hill was typically sensational, too. Hill had nine receptions for 157 yards (a 17.4-yard average) and a touchdown. Grier, who acquired Hill from the Kansas City Chiefs before the start of the 2022 season, envisioned the speedster being Tagovailoa’s top target in an electrifying offense.
Mission accomplished on that one.
Right tackle Austin Jackson, selected 18th overall in 2020, continued to play at the highest level of his career. That’s great for Miami because Jackson protects the “blind side” of the left-handed Tagovailoa, who missed five games last season, including one in the postseason, while recovering from multiple concussions.
Rookie running back De’Von Achane, a third-round pick in the 2023 draft who entered the season third on Miami’s depth chart, torched the Broncos for 203 yards (with an 11.3-yard average) and two touchdowns. And get this: The Dolphins steamrolled the Broncos without standout wide receiver Jaylen Waddle, selected sixth overall in the 2021 draft, who was still sidelined in concussion protocol.
Grier can pick ’em, Graves said.
“They’ve added weapons on both sides of the ball, big-play players, and they’ve also been patient to let other players develop,” Graves said. “Given all of those ingredients, I’m not surprised that they’re having success.”
In listing Grier’s best moves, his strong endorsement of McDaniel to succeed Flores ranks near the top.
Formerly the San Francisco 49ers’ offensive coordinator, McDaniel is a whiz at X’s and O’s and has no interest in stoking palace intrigue. After leading the Dolphins to the playoffs in his rookie season as a coach, McDaniel is building on that success. Grier and McDaniel have a great working relationship, league officials tell Andscape, and the Dolphins’ football operation has benefited from harmony that didn’t exist in seasons past.
Just don’t expect Grier to boast about the Dolphins’ spectacular start.
He prefers to move pieces in the background and let the results do the talking. At the moment, things couldn’t sound better.
“He’s not a self-promoter, never has been,” Graves said. “If you’ve been around this game for any time, you know it’s a very long season. You know you have to have good health. And you know even with it [good health], you can’t guarantee anything.
“It’s all about making the best decisions you can with the information you have. It’s all about giving your organization and your team a chance to win, a chance to be successful, by putting in the work and making good decisions. For Miami, Chris had done that.”
Perhaps better than anyone else could. The Dolphins are in the process of a stunning turnaround, and Grier’s fingerprints are all over it.