When Chan Gailey became the Miami Dolphins OC in 2020, many questioned the move for a multitude of reasons. First, there were questions about his age. Could a 68-year-old really connect with a group of young men and motivate them towards a championship? Second, Gailey had not coached in the NFL at all in four years, and not coached successfully in the league for almost 20 years.
Considering he was most likely going to be tasked with grooming a rookie quarterback that the Dolphins would presumably be drafting in April, someone with a more recent proven track record could have held more weight with the rookie–not to mention being out of the league for so long puts you behind the proverbial eight-ball when it comes to game planning.
Surely, the Dolphins were banking on Chan Gailey gaining a bigger perspective of the game of football during his time away, but in the end, it was the time away that ultimately did him in. Or was it? The Dolphins were a markedly better offensive team with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center than with rookie QB Tua Tagovailoa. This shows that it was not necessarily Gailey’s offense that was the problem, but rather the fit between his play-calling and Tagovailoa’s strengths that ultimately led to him stepping down.
A Veteran Mind to Lean On
Gailey replaced Chad O’Shea, who came over with head coach Brian Flores as part of his first-ever coaching staff. Clearly, the two were close, as Flores decided to give O’Shea his first coordinating job in the NFL. That means it must have been super tough to not only replace him with Gailey but fire him altogether.
Flores was doing what he thought was best for the team in that instance, so one has to believe that the Gailey hire was purely also purely a football move. With no cronyism or nepotism involved, Flores was honestly trying to bring in the best OC to turn Tagovailoa into the star that Miami thought he could be.
He should have looked harder, however, as Chan Gailey had struggled to develop rookies and put efficient offenses on the field for years.
His most recent stint in the league was as the Jets’ offensive coordinator in 2015 and 2016. Despite a decent first year in New York, where he rode the lightning of Fitzpatrick to a tenth-ranked offense, he really struggled in his second year and retired shortly thereafter. Before that he spent three years as the head coach in Buffalo, where his offense ranked, 25th, 14th, and 22nd in the league in terms of efficiency. That obviously led to a terrible 16-32 record and Chan Gailey being fired.
Flores obviously saw the 2015 season that Gailey had with Fitzpatrick, and because the Dolphins currently employed Fitz’, Miami hired him thinking the same thing could down in South Florida. With the fierce defense that Miami was building through the draft and free agency, Chan Gailey could have been an important piece in an offense that just needed to be above average. However, when Miami drafted Tagovailoa, he became more of a liability than an asset.
Why the Chan Gailey Hiring Didn’t Work Out For the Dolphins
First, let me start off by saying that Chan Gailey put up far superior number in 2020 than any Dolphins offensive coordinator has since 2014. His offense finished 15th in scoring despite having offensive line issues all year and having zero offensive players selected to the pro-bowl. Simply put, he made lemonade out of lemons. The issue is, he made dollar store lemonade and the Dolphins need the real stuff.
For whatever reason, ability, trust, or a combination of both, Chan Gailey failed to get the ball down the field when Tua Tagovailoa was on the field. Fitzpatrick finished eighth in the league with 7.8 yards per attempt (YPA). Tagovailoa finished 30th in the NFL in the same category with a putrid 6.3 YPA.
The failure to turn Tagovailoa into a downfield passer is on him, but how much can he be to blame for a rookie’s failures? Many quarterbacks have drastically improved their games early in their careers and Tagovailoa is not a lost cause of any kind. Miami and Gailey obviously felt that despite the ten wins the team got this season, that it was simply time to move on. This leads me to believe that this move was made out of a split belief on the abilities of Tua.
It is pretty clear that Chan Gailey does not believe that Tagovailoa is a better quarterback than Fitzpatrick, and the belief that he will continue to be the worse passer into the future surely played into this decision. Gailey does not believe Tua has what it takes to be a successful downfield passer in the NFL, and the Dolphins do. It is not up to Flores, Miami’s new OC, and most importantly, Tagovailoa, to prove him wrong.