SBD/November 12, 2013/Franchises

Stephen Ross Breaks Silence On Dolphins' Scandal, Plans To Create Advisory Committee

Ross gave support to coach Joe Philbin, but discussed GM Jeff Ireland little
Dolphins Owner Stephen Ross yesterday spoke publicly for the first time since reports of bullying in the team's locker room and said he is "appalled" by what he has heard, according to a front-page piece by Adam Beasley of the MIAMI HERALD. Ross added that he "does plan to change the culture within the organization, forming two committees -- one external, the other internal -- to make it happen." Ross said that he has "been in communication with Jonathan Martin via text message, and plans to meet with him Wednesday to hear his side of the story." However, Ross "did not commit to meeting with Richie Incognito, who has been suspended indefinitely." He said that his first reaction to hearing the allegations "was shock and disgust." Ross: "I apologize to the fans for being in this position, but I know we will come out of this in a better position." Beasley reports Ross "threw his full support behind" coach Joe Philbin, but GM Jeff Ireland's name "was barely mentioned" during the address. Ross has "assembled a group of football luminaries to craft a '21st century' code of conduct." The group includes former Dolphins coach Don Shula, former Dolphins Dan Marino and Jason Taylor, former NFL coach Tony Dungy and Pro Football HOFer Curtis Martin (MIAMI HERALD, 11/12). Ross said that it "wasn’t until the controversy bubbled over that he was aware there was even a hint of an issue." Ross: "In any locker room, every voice needs to be heard. Obviously there was a voice we weren’t hearing." Dolphins President & CEO Tom Garfinkel, who appeared at the news conference with Ross, said that he, Ireland, Philbin and VP/Football Administration Dawn Aponte have formed a second committee to "ensure 'standards are being enforced' in the organization" (PALM BEACH POST, 11/12).

IN STEP WITH PHILBIN: With the Dolphins playing the Buccaneers last night on "MNF," Ross sat for an interview with ESPN's Mike Tirico, part of which aired during both halftime of the game and "Monday Night Countdown." Ross said Philbin called him after the incident on Oct. 28 that led to Martin leaving the team. He said, "I have spoken every day, and kept abreast of everything and working with Joe Philbin. ... It's been a constant communication with Joe Philbin." He added he has contacted Martin via text message and "let him know if I could do anything to really help him and wanted to make sure I hear his story so if anything is being done wrong at our team level that I would know about it because it was something that really affected me as well as him and the team." Ross noted that he has not tried to contact Incognito and he has "not spoken to Richie" ("Dolphins-Buccaneers," ESPN, 11/11). USA TODAY's Rachel Axon notes Ross "did not mention Incognito's name throughout the news conference." When "pressed on whether he planned to meet" with Incognito, Ross "conceded that could happen after he meets with Martin and gathers facts about the situation" (USA TODAY, 11/12).

GOAL OF FORMING COMMITTEE: Ross said he formed the five-member advisory committee to "make sure that we do the right thing and that I don't overreact to it." Ross noted people have said the locker room "is a different world" than other workplaces, but added, "We all live in a changing world today and there has to be a code of conduct that works for everybody. Not that I'm not blaming anybody at this point, I just want to make sure we take the leadership role in this. ... Whenever there's a crisis, those who react and do something proactive are those who really win, and I think this could make us a better organization" ("Monday Night Countdown," ESPN, 11/11). Dungy said of Ross' proposed advisory committee, "Steve called me and said he wasn't sure what happened. He's in the process of finding that out. But he wants to look forward and see how he could ensure their locker room and whole organization was operating in the best way. He wanted to get some former players that he respects and former coaches and put together a recommendation of best practices" (ESPN.com, 11/11). Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio said of Ross, "I get the impression he knows more than what the rest of us know. He's not happy, he's appalled by it and he's trying to protect himself from himself. He's afraid he's going to overreact" ("PFT," NBCSN, 11/11).

ROSS STEPS OUT FRONT: USA TODAY's Jarrett Bell writes under the header, "Finally, The Right Message." Ross yesterday demonstrated that "yes, there is some proactive leadership at the top." He "pledged there would be changes, including the formation of an advisory committee with some of the most respected people in the NFL community." Bell writes of the committee, "That doesn't strike me as some sort of PR move." It is a "humble and can-do act of someone seeking assistance, genuinely trying to grasp input that can help formulate long-term solutions that include creating the right environment." Ross said that he "cared" about Martin and had the "proper response that countered Incognito's incomplete attempt during his damage-control interview with Fox Sports' Jay Glazer" (USA TODAY, 11/12). YAHOO SPORTS' Eric Adelson writes under the header, "Dolphins Hit Rock Bottom In Loss To Bucs, But Someone Finally Showed Leadership." Ross was the "star and maybe the savior of what was otherwise an ugly night in team history" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 11/12). SI.com's Doug Farrar wrote, "Clearly the incentive now in Miami is to alter the culture on a no-matter-what basis" (SI.com, 11/11). FS1’s Kirk Morrison said of Ross, “CNN is talking about this, this is United States-wide, this is worldwide now. People are talking about bullying and hazing. It’s happened under his watch. If you’re an owner, you’ve got to fix this right now" (“Fox Sports Live,” FS1, 11/11).

PERSONNEL ON THE HOT SEAT: In Miami, Armando Salguero noted it was clear Ross is "comfortable with Philbin." But other than saying that he was "naming Ireland to that second committee, he didn't mention" the GM during his press conference (MIAMIHERALD.com, 11/11). ESPN’s Adam Schefter noted Ross “talked about the character” of Philbin during his press conference and “continually praised him as a man of the highest character." However, he "never once mentioned ... Jeff Ireland by name” (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 11/11). PRO FOOTBALL TALK's Michael David Smith wrote Ross "spoke volumes with his silence" on Ireland. Ross "didn't say he has any confidence in Ireland." Perhaps because he "has no confidence in Ireland" (PROFOOTBALLTALK.com, 11/11). ESPN's Cris Carter said he has a "lot of respect" for Ross, but added, "For him to have that much confidence in coach Philbin to me is surprising." Carter: "I would hold back as far as giving people a vote of confidence before we get all the facts" ("Monday Night Countdown," ESPN, 11/11). In West Palm Beach, Greg Stoda asks, "How in the world can Ross, in his own words, still have 'total and utmost confidence in Joe Philbin' as his coach?" A coach's control of an NFL locker room "ranks high on the job description." And is anyone "going to hold accountable" Ireland? While Ross considers Philbin "to be a 'respected and caring' man, does that mean the coach already has been given a pass on culpability in the mess?" Stoda: "It shouldn't"  (PALM BEACH POST, 11/12). ESPN.com's Ashley Fox writes, "Philbin could be fine. He could be Teflon Joe." But at some point during the NFL's investigation into "a uniquely ugly, complex situation, Philbin will have to answer some dicey, uncomfortable questions about the culture he set up for his team." Fox: "I'm not convinced when all is said and done that Philbin will survive" (ESPN.com, 11/12).

TEAM TURNS INTO A PUNCH LINE: The AP's Steven Wine writes in a "state where two other NFL teams are in last place, the Miami Dolphins are the biggest laughingstock of all" (AP, 11/11). In a special to FOXSPORTS.com, David Whitley writes under the header, "Fla.'s Real NFL Train Wreck In Miami" (FOXSPORTS.com, 11/12). SPORTING NEWS' David Steele wrote under the header, "Dolphins Sink Below Bucs As NFL's Most Toxic Team" (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 11/11). In N.Y., Gary Myers writes, "BullyGate has destroyed the Dolphins' credibility and it may take drastic changes in the organization to get it back" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 11/12). Ross said, "So much has been said about the Miami Dolphins and it bothers you when you're trying to do the right thing, when you want to be the best in class organization and then what people are saying about it. I don't want to leave any stone unturned, but you can't really do anything until you really have the facts and today, we don't have the facts, nobody does. Everybody is just out there speculating" ("Dolphins-Buccaneers," ESPN, 11/11).
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