Anytime the head coach has to apologize to his team about anything, it’s not a wonderful day.
Anytime the team’s undisputed leader — who seven weeks ago kept his feelings largely out of public view when his mother passed away after a battle with breast cancer — is bearing his soul to reporters, saying it “broke my heart” when he learned he was benched, it’s not a feel-good moment.
The promotion of Tua Tagovailoa to being the Miami Dolphins starting quarterback could have been a coronation. It could have been a victory even on a week there is no game.
But that’s not exactly how it felt on Wednesday.
The day coach Brian Flores officially confirmed Ryan Fitzpatrick is headed to the bench and the Tua Tagovailoa era has begun instead felt like a scrambled memorial to Fitz. And a fumbled handing of the baton to Tua.
How could this happen?
It happened because the timing of this move is curious to anyone with eyes. It happened because the execution of the change was leaked outside an organization that Flores likes to run tighter than a tuna can.
It happened because Fitzpatrick, for all his piloting skills within the locker room, has never had a problem crashing the narrative of a smooth transition from himself as the starter to someone else.
Let’s address all those in order:
The timing of this hand off seemed more sensible two weeks ago when Fitzpatrick was slumping and the Dolphins were merely 1-3. But since then, the team won consecutive games and Fitzpatrick played as well as anyone might except.
So, of course, when the change was made anyway, the conspiracy theorists howled. And I raise my hand, because I wondered if something was causing this change beyond, you know, an objective football decision.
Was it that Stephen Ross, a huge Tagovailoa fan, ordered the inauguration of his superstar-quarterback-in-waiting to be hastened, regardless of Fitzpatrick’s play or the team’s record?
Answer: Ross made no such call on this matter, said a source close to the Dolphins owner.
The change from Fitzpatrick to Tagovailoa was authored by Flores and general manager Chris Grier.
Well then, that must mean the timing had to be tied to the bye week, right? Because that gives Tagovailoa more practice repetitions and opportunity to gain chemistry with the starting offense, right?
Except that’s largely a myth because Tagovailoa found out he was starting Tuesday morning, practiced with the team Wednesday, and will not practice again until next week. Those are the league rules pertaining to the bye week.
Tagovailoa can stick around and study if he wants. But most of the other players, including Fitzpatrick, won’t be around.
So what led to this change, then?
Well, the answer really is Tagovailoa made enough progress to get an opportunity. And Flores and Grier, agreeing on that as early as last week prior to the New York Jets game, tentatively set this week for a change.
<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="All this is fine, but it didn’t make everything hunkeydory. Because Flores was peeved Wednesday morning at the notion the news got out through a leak — from, some believe, Tagovailoa’s camp.» data-reactid=»29″>All this is fine, but it didn’t make everything hunkeydory. Because Flores was peeved Wednesday morning at the notion the news got out through a leak — from, some believe, Tagovailoa’s camp.
One of those folks dialed up a national reporter and soon Dolphins players learned of the change through social or traditional media.
And that meant the head coach couldn’t handle the issue as he saw fit and Fitzpatrick had a minor family crisis to deal with when he got home Tuesday.
“My two boys in middle school, they don’t get to find out from dad,” Fitzpatrick said of his benching. “They get to find out through a friend that got a text message.”
Said Flores: “It’s not the way I or we want to do business. Unfortunately that’s kind of the way of the world right now. That’s unfortunate. I’m not happy about that at all. I’ll address that to the team and really apologize to them that they had to find out through social media. I don’t think that’s fair to them.”
Tagovailoa is obviously happy he’s the starter now, even as he shows deference to Fitzpatrick, saying their relationship is almost “like a father and son.”
Fitzpatrick? He’s accepting the move. But he’s not loving the move, folks.
“This profession is interesting in that I basically got fired yesterday and then my day of work today consisted of me in Zoom meetings listening to the guy that fired me, and then locked in a [socially distanced] room with my replacement for four hours today,” Fitzpatrick said.
That kind of honest account of his feelings following a benching is not new for Fitzpatrick.
The New York Jets saw this in 2016 when Fitzpatrick was benched in favor of Geno Smith and then returned to the lineup when Smith struggled.
“The biggest thing in this game — to last — is to have belief in yourself,” Fitzpatrick told reporters then. “Because when the owner stops believing in you, and the GM stops believing in you, and the coaches stop believing in you, sometimes all you have is yourself. That’s kind of something I’ve dealt with before and something I’m dealing with now.”
Fitzpatrick didn’t author a similar raw take down of Flores, Grier or Ross. He shared his disappointment instead of blaming others for it. So while his account of this benching was as unvarnished as others in the past, and made clear he didn’t like it, it was respectful.
There’s another significant difference in this benching for Fitzpatrick: It’s permanent, barring something unforeseen. And he knows it.
“If you draft a guy fifth overall and put him in, this isn’t temporary,” he said. “This is a forever decision, This is a long-term decision.”
This coronation, however untidy, is for keeps.