Remember when Donald Faison told Denzel Washington in “Remember the Titans” that football is fun? Washington’s reaction to Faison is the one the Miami Dolphins chose to take towards fun in their locker room.
From what has been alleged of the Dolphins for most of this year — remember the whole Brian Flores lawsuit — their current situation with Mike McDaniel as head coach was not the organization’s first option. However, despite having only one year of experience as an offensive coordinator, Miami’s new head coach was on a roll for the first month of this season.
The Yale graduate, who never played football professionally, has an easy-going demeanor, and has sometimes even displayed a dry sense of humor. This is new school NFL leadership, where a person shares knowledge with players as opposed to screaming it into their eardrums. McDaniel is quick to point out that he doesn’t play, so he believes his effect on in-game performance is limited. Quite the self-aware and humble perspective from an NFL head coach, but he recently showed there is still some traditional football coach trapped inside of him.
The Dolphins’ captains, including Tyreek Hill, who was acquired this past offseason, decided after two consecutive losses that the team had a distraction in the locker room — the ping-pong table. So the captains decided that it needed to be removed. According to ESPN’s Marcel Louis-Jaques, a ping pong tournament had been taking place for several weeks. McDaniel told the media that he believes the decision by team captains shows “leadership.”
Mike, if you’re going to be this new-age coach that will occasionally give real quotes to the media, show a personality, and approach leading a team differently. You don’t have to be all in with a traditional football move like this. You could’ve simply said, “Our team leaders made a decision and I stand behind whatever decisions they make as a collective. They’ve earned that.”
There’s no reason for effusive praise because they decided to take a ping-pong table out of the locker room. While I’m no Nostradamus, I’m comfortably sure that the reason that the Dolphins have lost their last two games has nothing to do with a ping-pong tournament in the locker room, and likely has a great deal to do with them losing their No. 1 and No. 2 quarterbacks to injury.
Going into this season, Tua Tagovailoa, was being questioned as to whether he was a good enough quarterback to lead Miami into contention. Through three games, the Dolphins were undefeated and knocked off two potential Super Bowl champions in consecutive weeks. However, Tagovailoa went down hard against the Buffalo Bills in Week 3 and stumbled back to the ground after standing up. He sat out the rest of the first half and led the Dolphins to victory. Then four days later, a head injury caused a fencing response, and Teddy Bridgewater had to finish off that loss. Tagovailoa didn’t play against the Jets in Week 5, and Bridgewater was removed from the game, leaving 2022 seventh-round draft pick Skylar Thompson under center in a second consecutive loss.
Don’t overreact now, Dolphins. You’re starting a third-string quarterback when before Tagovailoa’s injury you all didn’t have three active QBs on the roster. It’s an unfortunate turn of events, but don’t now decide to take meathead football measures.
The point of fun items in the facility is to keep the employees there longer. It’s why Silicon Valley companies have more than just a coffee machine, water cooler, and microwave in their offices. If an organization wants to get the best out of its employees while they’re at the facility, make the place comfortable. Have ping-pong tables, arcade games, flavored seltzer water, nap stations — anything that makes someone not feel the need to go home right at 5:00 p.m.
Removing the ping-pong table is now a reason for players, consciously or subconsciously, to decide to not spend as much time as they used to at the practice facility.
The traditional football sensibility is to eliminate anything perceived to be a distraction, but it’s 2022. The players are now always distracted. They have far more than 10 channels to watch on television, a handful of local radio stations, literature, and a Nintendo to keep them company. A weeks-long ping-pong tournament is actually a smart way to keep the player at the facility. A non-traditional way of approaching football. Something the Dolphins were supposedly willing to embrace by hiring McDaniel.
Instead, the Dolphins went backward, by removing a bit of fun from this roster. A roster that would be fully in its rights to claim that the team’s most significant problem is not a ping-pong tournament, it’s a proper medical examination of their quarterbacks.