Last week, I put together an article about the notion of distractions vs. excuses in the NFL. When Michael Sam came out of the closet, some players, coaches and executives came out on the record in support, while anonymous executives claimed this could cause distractions, and would impact his draft stock.
I spoke about how weaker teams will be unable to handle these so-called distractions, and turn them into excuses when they struggle. In less than a week, we've seen another example of that, and how weak leadership can impact a team. This time around, we've seen the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin mess continue to paint the Miami Dolphins organization in a very poor light.
The reports proclaim (PDF) that head coach Joe Philbin was not aware of what was going on, but that the offensive line coaches were aware of the situation. In assessing this, I'm not entirely sure what would be worse: Philbin being in the dark, or Philbin covering up the situation.
Whatever Philbin did or did not know, this entire scenario shows a jaw-dropping lack of leadership. It shows a lack of leadership from the coaching staff, and it shows a lack of leadership within the players themselves. I understand the idea that a coach will remain outside the loop on certain things, and let players police themselves. The problem is that this involved the exact of players self-policing.
I bring all this up in part because I want to encourage you all to read this article by former NFL offensive lineman Mark Schlereth. He discusses his time in Washington and Denver, from the day he was drafted by Joe Gibbs, to when he became one of the leaders in the Denver locker room. While I'm sure everything wasn't perfect in those locker rooms, his assessment of life with the Hogs in particular shows the kind of leadership that seems to be lacking in Miami. I think the Dolphins probably have good people in their locker room, but they lack the gumption to step up and put an end to this kind of nonsense.
When Martin first left the Dolphins this past season, Bay Area media brought up the issue of bullying and hazing with 49ers players. The players discussed the seriousness of what they do, and that this kind of excessive behavior did not go on. I'm sure there was something like players singing their alma mater's fight song, and we know Vernon Davis had some of the players buying beverages for the team at his Jamba Juice. When there are new members, there are going to be little things like that.
But like some of the other quality teams around the league, this 49ers squad is in this to win Super Bowls, not mess around. There are times where joviality is the order of the day. We see this with the basket in the locker room and Quinton Patton's "dunk cam" on Instagram. People can have fun, and still handle business. And that's one reason the 49ers are successful. They have the necessary leadership to handle issues like this.
And this is why I don't see the Dolphins turning into anything more than a middling franchise. Even with more talent, Joe Philbin and his staff have not instituted the kind of personality that winning teams bring to the table. You have to execute on the field, but given the amount of time these guys are spending side-by-side, there needs to be some semblance of unity from the top down. There can be competition and some measure of tension within the team. We see it on the field, and we even see it between Trent Baalke and Jim Harbaugh. But the good teams know how to focus the energy, and not waste on nonsense like this.
At the end of the day, the quality teams keep their eye on the prize. There will be hiccups along the way, but the best teams know how to work around them. Teams like the 49ers, the Patriots, and the Seahawks have shown they can work past these so-called distractions, and aim for the greater good. Teams like the Dolphins? Not so much.