INDIANAPOLIS – Dolphins coach Joe Philbin is promising to change the culture inside Miami’s locker room and make it a better workplace than the one that forced Jonathan Martin to leave the team last season.
Philbin, a graduate of Washington & Jefferson College, said Thursday he wants players to treat one another with civility and he won’t tolerate anything less.
In taking questions for the first time since Ted Wells released his report into the bullying scandal that rocked the league, Philbin made it clear things would be cleaned up.
“We are going to do things about it. We are going to make it better. We are going to look at every avenue. We are going to uncover every stone, and we are going to have a better workplace,” Philbin said at the NFL scouting combine. “I’m going to make sure that happens.”
The changes have already begun.
On Wednesday night, the Dolphins fired offensive line coach Jim Turner and longtime head athletic trainer Kevin O’Neill for their roles in the scandal. While the timing seemed odd, on the eve of a six-day event where Miami and the league’s 31 other teams can interview and test draft hopefuls, Philbin said the Dolphins needed time to contemplate the report’s findings and possible punitive actions.
The Wells investigation found that guard Richie Incognito and two teammates engaged in persistent harassment of Martin, another offensive lineman and an assistant trainer. Martin left the team at midseason, and Incognito was suspended for the final eight games.
Martin has said that the persistently vulgar language made him feel trapped. Wells determined that Turner didn’t try to stop the harassment and even took part in some of the taunting of offensive lineman Andrew McDonald. The report said O’Neill expressed hostility toward the investigation and cut short an interview with those conducting it, even though Philbin said he instructed everyone to tell the truth.
Philbin, who said he was unaware of the bullying when it happened, said he found the details of the language his players used and their actions to be “inappropriate and unacceptable” and immediately helped Martin find medical treatment.
“I’m going to be more vigilant, I’m going to be more diligent, I’m going to be more visible and I’m going to have a better pulse,” Philbin told the biggest crowd of reporters to gather around a combine for a coach in recent memory.
New general manager Dennis Hickey insists the team is making a concerted effort to change course.
Hickey told reporters that he and Philbin have met with each department inside the organization to reinforce their goals, expectations and standards to create a more welcoming environment.
“We want our organization to be a culture of respect,” Hickey said. “We take this seriously and we want to set the standard around the league.”
What happens next is still unclear.
Three weeks ago, team owner Stephen Ross said he did not expect Martin or Incognito to be back with the Dolphins next season.
Philbin declined to comment specifically on either player except to say Ross and Martin were expected to meet soon and that he took immediate action when he learned of the allegations against Incognito. Hickey did not provide any additional insight and spoke mostly in generalities about building the best 53-man roster he could.
Martin’s agent, Kenneth Zuckerman, has said he plans to meet with the Dolphins in Indy.
The bigger question, however, may be whether the Dolphins’ reputation in the wake of the report could scare off free agents.
“I think free agents will be attracted to who we are because we have a great coaching staff, you can live in Miami, we have a great owner who is committed to the product and we’ve got an environment that when you get in the building and meet the people, you get some sense of what the organization is about,” Hickey said.
The report found no evidence that Philbin was aware of abusive conduct within the team.
But Philbin emphatically took responsibility to clean things up.
“I have faith in our locker room, faith in the players that we have. I think we have an outstanding coaching staff,” Philbin said. “I’m confident in the direction, I’m confident we’re going to make the changes necessary to improve the workplace at the Miami Dolphins complex and improve our football team.”