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Healing process: In wake of son's death, Joe Philbin takes over as Dolphins coach
DAVIE, Fla. (AP) ' New Miami Dolphins coach Joe Philbin stood at a lectern, swallowed hard and began to talk about his son's recent drowning. His wife and their five surviving children sat to the side with somber expressions reflecting a loss worse than any game.
Moments later everyone was laughing as Philbin joked about his good fortune in becoming a first-time head coach. He and his family are counting on a bright future to ease the pain of the recent past, and his introductory news conference Saturday was part of the healing process.
"All people suffer loss," said Philbin's wife, Diane. "When you lose someone, it's part of life, but you have to be resilient. You have to take the bad things and difficult times and turn them into good, and that's what we will do. And we'll do it with the Miami Dolphin family."
Philbin, the Green Bay Packers' offensive coordinator for the past five years, said he's eager to lead the Dolphins back to the top of the NFL. He noted they haven't been there since 1973, the year of their most recent Super Bowl championship season.
He also did a little math regarding his career. He has been an assistant since 1984 ' 10,061 days, by his count ' and said that gives him sufficient experience to succeed as a head coach.
"I have a lot of faith in what I'm capable of doing," he said. "I've been fortunate to work with a lot of good people. I've been fortunate to be around winning programs, places where we developed players, we developed men, we had good teams. I'm just confident we'll be able to build the same thing here in Miami."
And then, 22 minutes into the news conference, the subject turned to his son's death.
Philbin interviewed with the Dolphins for the first time Jan. 7. The next day, the body of 21-year-old Michael Philbin was recovered from an icy Wisconsin river.
"You're heartbroken. You're devastated. It's hard to comprehend," Philbin said.
He spent a week away from the Packers, drew comfort from a funeral that included 68 family members, then rejoined his team last Sunday for its divisional playoff loss to the New York Giants.
Philbin said he went home that night uncertain whether to remain a candidate for the Dolphins' job ' or whether the position was even still open.
"I had no idea," he said. "The TV hadn't been on in our house for a week."
Philbin then received a pep talk from his 16-year-old son, Tim.
"He said, 'You're going to go after the job, aren't you?'" Philbin recalled. "I said, 'I don't know what I'm going to do.' I was dejected on a lot of different fronts. He said, 'You'd better go after that job. Michael would want you to.'
"That was the start of me getting back and getting moving again."
Philbin met Wednesday for a second interview with Dolphins owner Stephen Ross and general manager Jeff Ireland, who admired the way the coach dealt with the family tragedy.
"You find out what a person is all about in times like that," Ross said. "He's a strong person, a family person. He has a lot to look forward to. I think this opportunity and change of scenery is probably great for him."
Ross said Philbin reminds him of the only coach to lead Miami to a Super Bowl, Hall of Famer Don Shula. Philbin played a significant role in the development of Pro Bowl quarterback Aaron Rodgers and helped the Packers rank in the top 10 in the NFL in yardage each of the past five seasons.
They won the Super Bowl a year ago and went 15-1 this season.
"When I first met Diane Philbin today, she said something I took to heart," Ross said. "She said, 'You hired Joe to win, because that's what he's all about.' I think that sums it up."
Not that Philbin was the Dolphins' first choice. Jeff Fisher turned them down a week ago to become coach of the St. Louis Rams.
With a coach finally in place, Ross couldn't resist taking a jab at Fisher.
"We interviewed six people in person," Ross said. "With the exception of one, they were all excited about wanting to lead the Miami Dolphins."
Ross fired Tony Sparano last month with three games to go in his fourth year as coach. The Dolphins finished 6-10, their third consecutive losing season, and haven't won a playoff game since 2000.
Philbin becomes Miami's seventh coach ' including two interim coaches ' in the past eight years. Ross is desperate for some stability, which sounds good to Philbin.
"I'm 50 years old," the coach said. "I anticipate this being the last job I ever take."
When the news conference ended, Philbin posed for photos holding a Dolphins helmet and wearing a smile. Off to the side, his wife thought of their late son and fought back tears.
"Michael's looking down," she said. "And Michael's happy."