Posted: 10:16 pm Wednesday, July 6th, 2011
Enjoying retired life, former Miami Dolphins OC Dan Henning reflects on his tenure, Tony Sparano, Chad Henne and more
By Post Staff
Dan Henning really has little to complain about.
The Dolphins’ offensive coordinator the past three years, Henning, 69, left the team in January and returned to the sweet life of retirement, which he put on hold for three years when he joined the Dolphins in 2008.
Instead of worrying about the lockout and fending off a rabid Dolphins fan base, he’s spending the summer in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. with his good friend Bill Parcells, waiting for the horse racing season to begin at the end of July. He’s visited old college teammates at William & Mary College in Virginia. Took a trip to New York City. And spends a lot more time with his children and grandchildren.
“A combination of seeing some old friends, and doing some things I wasn’t able to do when I was tied down,” Henning said by phone last week, his first interview since leaving the Dolphins six months ago.
Regrets? Sure, when it comes to his Dolphins tenure, he has a few. Henning would rather his offense not have finished 30th in the NFL in scoring last year. And it would’ve been preferable for the Dolphins to build off their magical 11-5 season in 2008, instead of flattening out with two consecutive 7-9 seasons.
“We just didn’t get it to the point where we could compete with the very best teams in the league,” he conceded. “We felt like we had some pieces that could get us back to where we were in ’08, and it didn’t work out that way.”
But he figuratively holds up his chin when remembering his time in Miami, a job he is glad he took only after some arm-twisting by Parcells and Tony Sparano.
He said the 2008 season – in which the Dolphins tied an NFL record for fewest turnovers (13) and won 10 more games than they did in 2007, completing the biggest one-year turnaround in NFL history – was one of the most memorable experiences of his 40-year coaching career.
“What we accomplished, with what we took over, was a very good thing for everybody’s feelings down there, that there was still a spark,” he said. “And there was a great deal of enjoyment in being able to turn it around like that.”
He also helped ignite the Wildcat craze that has taken over the NFL the past three years. And he enjoyed working with “outstanding individuals” like Chad Pennington, Davone Bess and Greg Camarillo, who reaffirmed his faith in the modern athlete.
“Guys that are a throwback to the old days, when all they cared about was playing football and doing it well,” he said.
Henning wants to make one thing clear about his tenure – he was not fired in January. He said the original plan was for him to serve as offensive coordinator for only two seasons. Parcells, too, didn’t have plans of a long stay in Miami, leaving the Dolphins after two-plus years.
But Sparano asked Henning to stay on for the 2010 season, to help Sparano evaluate the rest of the coaching staff. Eventually, much of the offensive staff was overturned following the season. Henning joked that new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, 36, “could be my grandson.”
“It was understood between (Sparano) and I that I was going to be moving on, regardless of whether he stayed or they won the Super Bowl or were 1-15 again,” Henning said. “So I knew it was coming from January 2010.”
Henning certainly has no hard feelings for the Dolphins, and is glad Sparano survived the offseason coaching carousel despite Stephen Ross’ flirtation with Jim Harbaugh in January.
“Absolutely, I think he’s done a good job,” Henning said. “There’s no baloney about this guy. He spends a lot of time trying to figure out, through a study of tape or talking to individuals or getting information from whatever source, to try to get this thing done the right way.”
“I think they’re still short some things. Tony’s going to have to make some decisions about how strong he feels about certain aspects of his philosophy and if he sticks with them. But I think they’ll make continued progress toward what Mr. Ross says, of being in contention on a regular basis.”
And Henning is glad that that the Dolphins haven’t tossed Chad Henne aside, either. He called Henne a “consummate pro, very easy to work with” and believes Henne will be the Dolphins’ starting quarterback in 2011, despite the fans’ pleas for Carson Palmer, Vince Young or another veteran.
“I feel like Chad will get the opportunity to turn it around, I really do,” he said. “He’s always ready to do what you ask him to do, very studious about the game. Good questions, aware of personalities and idiosyncracies with player personnel that he has to deal with. No problem working with Chad Henne.”
But there are three topics Henning doesn’t want to discuss, and it won’t please Dolphins fans.
One is the stalled progress of Henne, who in his second year as a starter threw 19 interceptions against 15 touchdowns and finished with a disappointing 75.4 passer rating.
“As I used to tell Tony, ‘I don’t tell anybody but you how I feel about player personnel,’” Henning said. “Because then you have so many different layers of opinions running around there, and they get carried off the reservation. That should all come from Tony.”
The second is why the offense regressed from 12th to 17th to 21st in his three seasons, and scored just 17.1 points per game last year.
“I don’t want to expend any brain power or observations on what could or should or would have been,” he said. “The people that are there, they have an on-going obligation to get things turned around.”
The third is emotional receiver Brandon Marshall, who mostly kept his composure throughout the disappointing season but grew increasingly frustrated with Henne and the offense at the end of the year.
“I’d rather not comment on that,” Henning said.
As for his future, Henning believes he’s finally retired for good. The weather is too nice in Saratoga, the golf courses too enticing, and Tivo and the Red Zone Channel make it easy enough to keep up with football.
After 43 years in football, he understands what former Bills coach Marv Levy told him all those years ago.
“He said, ‘The thing that’s going to get me out of the business is there aren’t enough wins to make up for one loss,’” Henning said. “The amount of time and effort you put into it, to have it not go the way you would like it to go, it gets to you.”