ORLANDO, Fla. -- Miami Dolphins coach Joe Philbin walked into the ballroom of the Ritz-Carlton on Tuesday with a sly grin on his face. His table was packed with local and national media seeking answers for all that went wrong during a tumultuous season in Miami.
"Do I need to eat my last meal before I get in front of you guys?" Philbin joked to loosen the mood.
This was a new and improved Philbin at the NFL owners meetings. I counted seven jokes from Philbin during his hourlong session. All were genuine. All were off-the-cuff and nothing was planned or cookie-cutter.
Philbin has been criticized -- justly -- for being too robotic during his first two seasons. He reads postgame speeches from index cards. His past media sessions were much closer to Bill Belichick than Rex Ryan.
At times the Dolphins have played like Philbin's coaching persona -- flat. The irony is that Philbin has shown flashes of personality and charisma in the past.
Tuesday's media session was as personable and candid as it gets for Philbin. He was honest and nonevasive in his answers. Philbin took responsibility for the Dolphins' bullying scandal and vowed to be a better leader of men.
Philbin even said new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor promised to get starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill's passer rating up to 119.2, which was Nick Foles' rating with the Philadelphia Eagles last season. The local media initially thought Philbin was serious.
"It was a joke," Philbin said, sparking laughter at the table again. "So anyway..."
This is the coach Dolphins players want to see. This is the coach Dolphins players need to see. According to Philbin, he will roam the hallways at the training facility more often and visit the locker room more frequently to talk with players. Those things should contribute to a stronger workplace environment.
"I talked about visibility, and I think that's important," Philbin said Tuesday. "Accessibility also is important. They're a little bit tied together."
Coaching in the NFL is more than X's and O's. It's a game that takes an immense physical and emotional toll on players. Those players want to know they're being coached by someone who genuinely cares. It took Philbin two nonwinning seasons and a high-profile bullying scandal to learn that lesson, but it is not too late for him to adjust.
It's no secret that the 2014 season is huge for Philbin, who is 15-17 in his first two years. He must start winning in Year 3 to improve his job security. Connecting with players and having a stronger pulse of his locker room could go a long way.
"I'm working with our players and helping them reach their potential -- that's really all the focus that I have," Philbin explained. "I'm not thinking about what year I am, what year I got here, how many more years I will be here. I'm concentrating on doing as good a job as I possibly can this year."