The public often judges NFL head coaches based on how well they can manage the X’s and O’s, but coaching goes far beyond designing schemes.
At its core, coaching is about managing people — Miami Dolphins head coach Adam Gase may be a “genius” on the chalk board, but he still has quite a bit of work to do in the managing people department.
Prior to last Thursday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Gase benched Dolphins’ No. 1 cornerback Byron Maxwell in favor of 24-year-old Tony Lippet, who had never started an NFL game prior to last week.
His first start didn’t exactly go very well.
Bengals’ top receiver A.J. Green, who Lippet covered most of the night, went off for 10 catches, 173 yards and a touchdown.
Now, that’s not exactly as bad as what Julio Jones did to the Panthers, but the Dolphins secondary is clearly in disarray, and benching the unit’s best player on paper is not the solution.
Maxwell clearly isn’t the same corner that he was three years ago, when he was apart of the “Legion of Boom” in Seattle. Actually, according to Pro Football Focus, Maxwell’s decline began during his final year with the Seahawks in 2014. He had two interceptions and 13 pass defenses that season, but also allowed 1.38 yards per cover snap, which ranked 50th out of 72 eligible cornerbacks.
Last season in Philadelphia, all of Maxwell’s inefficiencies were revealed due to the fact Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas weren’t there to bail him out.
However, Miami was so desperate to improve its secondary that the team flip flopped first-round draft picks with Philadelphia to get their hands on Maxwell. Even at the time of the deal, Miami buying into a bounce back for Maxwell was viewed as very risky.
Although it wasn’t Gase who ultimately made the deal to bring Maxwell to Miami, it’s a move he has to live with being head coach. And even if Maxwell is playing poorly, benching him does nobody any favors and could damage his relationship with the team.
It would be different if the Dolphins had a high-rising rookie cornerback on the bench. Miami does have second-rounder Xavien Howard, but he’s had his fair share of problems and is also already in the starting lineup. As poorly as Maxwell has played, there are no better options for the Dolphins this season.
From an outside’s perspective, it appears as though Gase believes by benching one of the bigger names on his defense, he’s sending a message to his team to play better.
This is one of the biggest myths in coaching. E
very player reacts differently, but generally, players aren’t all the sudden going to play better because they think they might get benched. These are professional athletes; they should already be playing hard because it’s their jobs.
If anything, it could make the entire team play passive because any major mistake will result in a benching. Playing not to lose doesn’t yield too many victories in the National Football League.
Regardless of which of the two reasons above is the main one for benching Maxwell, neither holds much water. Just as fellow Today’s Pigskin columnist Andrew Garda argued when discussing the possibly of a Ryan Tannehill benching, nothing can be gained from removing him for an inferior option.
Miami will certainly look for a new No. 1 cornerback this offseason, but in the short term, Gase benching Maxwell accomplishes absolutely nothing.