If Joe Philbin has seen more success on the field, he would be hailed as one of the most innovative, forward-thinking coaches the NFL has seen in years. Other franchises would attempt to duplicate his out-of-the-box ideas.
Philbin, the second-year Dolphins head coach, hasn’t been afraid to break with NFL tradition on many fronts in his short time in charge. His players seem to like the changes.
“I feel like he’s in charge and he feels like he can implement his own rules and they can be successful, they can help us out, he doesn’t have to follow anybody else’s rules,” linebacker Philip Wheeler said. “He can fill out a team and we can kind of build our own way through this thing.”
Consider some of the ways the Philbin, largely considered to be a by-the-book guy, has gone against the NFL grain:
- Dolphins players wear GPS tracking devices in their practice jerseys so he can measure activity and increase or taper practice length;
- Philbin is the only NFL coach to implement a Thursday off day instead of the traditional Tuesday off day (Philadelphia rookie coach Chip Kelly introduced a Monday off day this year);
- Dolphins players are given iPads so they can conveniently access their playbook, game film, practice film, and the gameplan for the next opponent. In fact, players often watch game film on the flight home;
- Philbin employs two practice fields during training camp so players get twice the amount of repetitions and get more on-the-field experience;
- Philbin has the Dolphins practice in the afternoon, as opposed to the vast majority of NFL teams, which practice in the morning. Reporting at 10 a.m. allows players to sleep in a bit later.
Although Philbin has done some un-NFL things, he doesn’t view himself as an innovator.
“Not necessarily,” he said, “But I’m not afraid to do things that can help the team to win games if I feel it can help us win games. That’s really the ultimate objective.”
The GPS devices, made by Catapult Sports, were mentioned to Philbin by the strength and conditioning staff. The Dolphins introduced them during training camp on a handful of players. It’s used by seven NFL teams - Dallas, St. Louis, Jacksonville, the New York Giants, Buffalo, Atlanta, and Philadelphia – as well as 25 major NCAA teams.
Catapult Sports said last year’s research, for example, showed 80 percent of NFL practice time is spent standing around. They also found teams that lost on Sunday and had a poor offensive output likely had a physical practice on Thursday.
One result of the GPS devices is Philbin tapering Tuesday practices because players are tired.
“One of the things we always tell our staff is if we just stay the same we’re never going get to where we want to be,” Philbin said.
As for the Thursday off day, Philbin was going to change it early in the season but players said they liked being off on Thursdays.
“At first I didn’t like it because we’re playing a game, we’ve got to lift weights (on Monday), and then we’ve got practice again (on Tuesday),” cornerback Nolan Carroll said. “As season has gone on you see it’s more beneficial toward the ends of the week to have a day off because you have Thursday off, a half-day on Friday, on Saturday you’re resting, and you play the game Sunday. So, two out of those (last) three days you have off, so it’s beneficial for us.”
Don’t think the innovation will stop here. Philbin said he comes up with most of his ideas in the off-season. That means he’ll have more new ideas next season, he just isn’t sure what they’ll entail.
“I can’t predict exactly,” he said, “but I think there will be some things we change up and we do a little bit differently, and hopefully a little bit better next year.”