The Jonathan Martin, Richie Incognito bullying scandal has claimed its next victims. Offensive line coach Jim Turner, and head trainer Kevin O’Neill, who were both named in the Ted Wells report have been let go by the Dolphins. Head coach Joe Philbin appears to be safe at this point, vowing to make changes to the culture. Martin’s future with the team remains in question.
Turner joined the Dolphins in 2013, alongside Joe Philbin, and was harshly criticised in the Ted Wells report. According to Wells, Turner was aware of much of the bullying taking place, and on occasion, even took part in the harsh name calling himself.
That he was let go is not particularly surprising, especially given his role as the lead coach and trainer of the players involved. His role in creating the culture which allowed this type of bullying to thrive would make him an obvious scapegoat. That he was directly involved, even if only once, sealed his fate.
The removal of Kevin O’Neill will have come as more of a surprise to many. O’Neill was mentioned in the report, but his role was limited to having overheard some of the comments, and deciding not to confront the behaviour, or report it to anyone higher up.
His removal seems, in the main, to be related to the hostility he showed to investigation process, and his unwillingness to get behind the inevitable and necessary changes.
O’Neill is a long time trainer with the Dolphins, and was reportedly very close to many of the players, coaches and owners. He had been with the organisation for 18 years, and was most recently the head athletic trainer for the team. He was in Indianapolis with a contingent of senior scouts and coaches for the scouting combine when he was informed of the decision.
The decision was reportedly made by Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, following his own review of the Wells report.
Ross issued a press release explaining his decision.
“The language and behaviour as described in the Ted Wells report are against the core values of our organization,” Ross said.
“After receiving the report, I conducted my own internal review of the facts to determine the appropriate steps for our organization. Jim Turner and Kevin O’Neill are good people who care a great deal about their profession and the players whom they serve, but both exhibited poor judgment at times which led me to this conclusion.
“As owner, I know first-hand of the high-character and dedicated professionals in our building. I believe in our team and know the hard work and sacrifices they make every day on the field and in the community. However, this is an opportunity and a teaching moment not only for the coaches, staff and players in our locker room, but also for participants throughout sports.”
The statement stopped short of laying blame on head coach Joe Philbin. nor criticising his lack of knowledge of the goings-on in the locker room. However, in the statement Philbin himself acknowledged that he had not lived up to the standard expected of him.
“Since I first arrived in Miami, it has been my goal to have a team which honours our proud tradition and represents our fan base the right way both on and off the field.” said Philbin. “It is not possible for a team to accomplish its goals when the fundamental values of respect are violated.
“That ultimately rests on my shoulders and I will be accountable moving forward for making sure that we emphasize a team-first culture of respect towards one another
He also separately admitted that he is unsure if either Jonathan Martin or Richie Incognito will return to the team, but refused to rule out either man returning. He also declined to speculate on the futures of Mike Pouncey or John Jerry, who were implicated in bullying alongside Incognito.
Speaking specifically about Martin, Philbin said “Our owner, Steve Ross, has reached out to Jonathan. I believe in some point in the near future, they plan to get together. So for me to make any comments prior to that meeting, I think would be inappropriate.”
Philbin will face unusual scrutiny over the next season, and any off-field issues will almost certainly have serious repercussions for the second year head coach.
Many had expected Ross to fire Philbin, allowing whomever was hired in his place to clean house and replace the entire coaching staff. However timing seems to have been a reason in the decision to keep Philbin and most of the current staff.
In addition to replacements for Turner and O’Neill, however, the team will almost certainly bring in extra assistants with specific pastoral responsibilities to help build a new and improved locker room environment.