DAVIE, Fla. — Miami Dolphins coach Joe Philbin maps out his team’s hourly schedule months in advance, begins most interview sessions by praising that day’s practice, and reads postgame locker-room speeches from index cards.
He prefers working from a script. But when this season strayed from the planned outline, and a bullying scandal accelerated the team’s tailspin, Philbin responded with steady leadership that has won praise from his players and assistants and kept Miami in the playoff race.
“Joe Philbin has done a phenomenal job to get us to this point,” offensive coordinator Mike Sherman said.
Given the Dolphins’ disarray six weeks ago, it’s remarkable they’re 7-6 and in contention for the AFC’s final wild-card berth heading into Sunday’s game against New England.
Tackle Jonathan Martin left the team Oct. 28 and alleged he was harassed daily by teammates, including guard Richie Incognito, who was suspended. The resulting furor threatened to divide the locker room.
Sherman, a former head coach at Green Bay and Texas A&M, empathized with the challenge Philbin faced.
“I never had to endure what he’s had to endure with the distractions that we had,” Sherman said. “You have no idea what a task that is to keep a team together and not splinter amid the adversity. I have to give Joe Philbin tremendous credit for the focus that he demanded from all of us to stay on task. We wouldn’t be in this position if he wasn’t able to pull us all together, coaches and players alike.”
Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who knows a thing or two about off-the-field distractions, credited Philbin for steady improvement by the Dolphins.
“I think the media blew a lot of that out of proportion – all the hype and everything,” Belichick said. “But that didn’t derail them in any way. They’ve just gone out there and played very, very competitively every week.”
The season could yet unravel, sending the Dolphins to a losing record for a fifth consecutive year.
But Miami also could make the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
The Dolphins appeared doomed after an embarrassing prime-time loss against previously winless Tampa Bay dropped them to 4-5. Amid the swirl of scandal, players found comfort in Philbin’s stoic demeanor.
“He has been a good leader – even-keel the whole way,” tackle Bryant McKinnie said.
Philbin simply says the recent victories reflect the professionalism of players who have remained unified.
“It’s a team sticking together,” he said.
That part, at least, has gone according to Philbin’s plan.