As pool shrinks, signs point to Dolphins hiring coach who can fix offense

MIAMI -- There was a 34-year span, from 1970 to 2003, when the Miami Dolphins were the epitome of stability. Two losing seasons, two Super Bowl wins and three head coaches made it so.

But they have just five winning seasons in the 18 years since. They have also employed 10 head coaches over that span, including the recently fired Brian Flores, who led them to two of those winning seasons.

In the midst of another quest for stability on the sideline, Miami has played its search close to the vest since firing Flores on Jan. 10, but ESPN sources have confirmed the team wants to hire a coach with a background in offense.

Former Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll was widely reported to be a top candidate for the Dolphins before taking the New York Giants job Friday, narrowing Miami's search.

There are reports that offensive coordinators Kellen Moore (Cowboys) and Mike McDaniel (49ers) will get second interviews early in the week, although Dallas owner Jerry Jones has said he expects to retain Moore next season.

Dolphins defensive tackle Christian Wilkins doesn't care what side of the ball the next coach comes from. He says he will be focused on a different quality.

"You can be a player's coach, you can be an X's and O's guy," he said. "But I feel like consistently to be a good head coach, you have to have the ability to motivate and get everybody on the same page ... you got to be able to be a great leader."

When Flores was fired, owner Stephen Ross said, "We're going to look for the best man. ... Our mind is open."

However, it makes sense that the minds of Miami's decision-makers would be most open to a coach with a background in offense, because fixing that unit has to be the team's No. 1 priority. Anyone who watched the Kansas City Chiefs defeat the Bills 42-36 in overtime of the divisional round of the playoffs last weekend knows as much.

If McDaniel, 38, is the hire, the Dolphins will be getting a coach in his first season as the 49ers offensive coordinator. He also coordinates the team's running game and is regarded as an innovative play designer. In addition to working for 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan, McDaniel has spent time on the same staffs as Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur and Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay.

Moore, 33, finished his third season as the Cowboys' offensive coordinator, with his offenses leading the NFL in scoring in two of them (quarterback Dak Prescott missed most of the other season with an injury). A left-handed former quarterback, Moore could offer a unique understanding of Miami starter Tua Tagovailoa.

Whoever gets the job will have a lot of work to do. Miami hasn't fielded a top-10 offense since 1995, which is the longest drought in the NFL by 12 years. The team ranked 25th in yards per game (307) in 2021 -- averaging 92.2 rushing (30th) and 214.8 passing (17th). Meanwhile, three of the four teams playing in conference title games wielded top-10 offenses during the regular season, and the Cincinnati Bengals finished 13th, averaging 361.5 yards per game. That's a mark the Dolphins reached just four times in 17 games this season.

Miami's defense flourished under Flores, ranking sixth in defensive expected points added since 2020. But only one of the four conference championship teams finished in the top-10 in defensive EPA. That's not to say defense can't win games anymore, but it will only take you so far in today's NFL, as the Bills and their No. 1-ranked defense found out against the Chiefs.

A good offense starts with good quarterback play or an effective scheme. Miami in 2008 found a flash in the pan with Chad Pennington's resurgent season and the creativity of the wildcat offense, but it has not rostered a Pro Bowl quarterback since Dan Marino in 1995.

Tagovailoa has Ross' support, but the owner said he'll let the next coach decide whether he wants to work with the QB entering his third season. If the Dolphins' next coach decides to give Tagovailoa another year, the team has plenty of resources to build around him -- an estimated $66 million of salary-cap space according to Roster Management System, and five picks in the first four rounds of the 2022 NFL draft.

One certainty is that the Dolphins' next coach will inherit a playoff-caliber defense. Fix the other side of the ball and this team could compete for a playoff spot -- even in a loaded AFC.