For high-level executives whose subordinates engage in misconduct, the most common defense is to claim a lack of knowledge, even if the persistent claims of “I didn’t know” make the executive look like Quincy Magoo.
After all, it’s better to be perceived as Mr. Magoo than Richard Nixon.
For Dolphins coach Joe Philbin, it actually could be just as bad to be: (1) in charge of a pro football team; and (2) so clueless as to the relationships as to be completely unaware of multiple incidents of harassment that caused one specific member of the team to have an extreme reaction that has created an unprecedented disruption and distraction for the entire organization.
Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald believes that the report written by Ted Wells shows that the head-coaching job is too big for Philbin. Salguero may be right.
Wells’ report emphasizes that Philbin “was not aware of the mistreatment of” Jonathan Martin, the unnamed player who was harassed repeatedly, or an assistant training. Wells’ report speculates that, if Philbin had known about the conduct, he would have intervened promptly. That conclusion comes from the policies implemented by the team, the statements made to the players by Phibin, and the concern Philbin demonstrated once Martin abruptly left the team.
But it’s easy to stand up and say a bunch of perfunctory things, and it’s natural to be concerned once the situation hits the fan and the shrapnel could threaten the coach’s job security. During day-in-and-day-out interactions, Philbin wasn’t capable of getting the players to respect his wishes or to ensure that his assistant coaches were properly monitoring the players and, in the case of offensive line coach Jim Turner, not participating in some of the behavior.
In the law, there’s a theory known as res ipsa loquitur. Latin for “the thing itself speaks,” the phrase means that a given outcome couldn’t have occurred without someone acting improperly, like when a medical instrument is left in a patient during surgery. Or when a giant ball of oil falls out of a window.
Here, the sudden departure of Martin from the Dolphins doesn’t happen unless multiple things went very wrong -- things for which the head coach ultimately is responsible.
Philbin is the head coach of an NFL team, one of the 32 most coveted and powerful jobs in all of football. And football coaches are notoriously obsessive about knowing everything there is to know about their teams. If Philbin didn’t know what was happened under his nose, then Salguero may be right. The job of an NFL head coach may be too big for Philbin.
Owner Stephen Ross seems to still be committed to Philbin. The statement issued Friday night after Ross digested the report mentions Philbin three times, pointing out the report’s commendation of Philbin’s “commitment to promoting integrity and accountability.”
But while Philbin had the commitment, he lacked the juice to make it work. When it comes to the head coach of an NFL team, that could be every bit as bad as knowing what was happened.