The question posed to Miami Dolphins coach Adam Gase to begin his conference call with Baltimore media before Sunday's game against the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium seemed innocuous enough: What has contributed to the team's recent six-game winning streak?
For many coaches, that would have been a chance to launch into a discussion about team chemistry, philosophy or execution. But in Gase's case, he went for the jugular — of his own team.
"It starts really with, we've eliminated all of the type of nonsense that most of the teams around the NFL [don't] have during the week — guys being late, guys getting fined, having practices that really are not energetic and you're not getting things done the way you need to," he said this week. "We've really turned around as far as a maturity standpoint of our younger guys doing things right, our veterans doing a good job of showing these guys the right way to do things day in and day out.
"I think that's been our biggest turnaround as far as just doing all of the things leading up to the game and then on Sunday, that's at least giving us our best chance to know what to do and to execute our game plan."
While refreshing, Gase's honesty is not startling to those who know the 38-year-old coach. Gase honed his upfront approach while on the coaching staff of former Denver Broncos and current Chicago Bears coach John Fox, who has a reputation for being candid with his players.
Ravens outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil, who knows Gase from their time with the Broncos from 2009 to 2012, said Gase is not the shy type.
"He's a definite straight shooter," Dumervil said. "He's a detailed, fundamental type of guy, and he's always been that way. He's a very sharp guy. He knows the game, and he knows how to engage with players. He's a players' coach. He was great, a good guy."
At 7-4, Miami is just two wins away from the franchise's first winning record since 2008, and if the playoffs began today, the team would be the No. 6 seed in the AFC. The team is also riding its first six-game winning streak since 2005 and is looking to extend that run to seven for the first time since 1985.
Second-year running back Jay Ajayi said the difference between the Dolphins of 2015 and now is Gase.
"He makes it fun for us to come to work," Ajayi said. "At the same time, he stresses a lot of accountability for us. It's a one-day-at-a-time mentality as well as one week at a time. You can definitely see around the building, no one is really looking too far ahead. We're all focused on what we're trying to achieve right now."
Gase has changed the way the team operated under predecessors Joe Philbin and Dan Campbell. Practices reportedly get more strenuous during the latter portions. Discipline for tardiness and other infractions has been dutifully enforced. Gase has been open to suggestions from players.
Gase said the changes have been more gradual than sudden.
"It wasn't things like that all the time, just little tiny irritant things for a coach where [you would say], 'Why can't we just be on time?'" he said. "Some of those things happen every once in a while, and it happens in every organization, and it's frustrating when it does because this is your job. It would be like any of us not being where we're supposed to be and just kind of shrugging your shoulders, not really caring.
"That was something we felt like we needed to get changed fast, and we needed to make sure we were doing the right things because it does matter on Sunday."
Gase backed up his no-nonsense mentality on Wednesday when he released Leon Orr during practice after learning that the defensive tackle had been arrested on drug charges the day before.
Gase also left a healthy Ajayi home as the Dolphins traveled to Seattle for the season opener on Sept. 11. Ajayi, who was reportedly miffed at being named the backup to Arian Foster, has used the incident to fuel his rise to currently ranking seventh in the NFL in rushing yards with 847.
"No one wants to get left home. No one wants to be a healthy scratch," he acknowledged. "It's tough. I'm a competitor, so I wanted to help my team win. Moving past Week 1, it was all about refocusing, being more consistent and focusing on myself, really, and blocking all the outside noise and going and grinding each week."
Success has also helped change the environment in Miami. Ravens wide receiver Mike Wallace, who was a member of the 2013 and 2014 Dolphins that compiled a combined 16-16 record, said the inability to win consistently seeped into the locker room.
"I can't speak for the coaches or the organization, but it definitely affected me," said Wallace, who had gone to the playoffs twice (including Super Bowl XLV in 2010) in four years with the Pittsburgh Steelers before joining Miami. "I was coming from a winning organization where we were going 12-4 and 12-4 and 12-4. It's kind of hard to go 8-8 and not make the playoffs because I really wasn't used to it. I think we had guys who worked really hard, and sometimes it just wasn't clicking."
Gase appears to have the Dolphins moving in the right direction and the team could take a giant step toward its first playoff berth since 2008. But he said there's room for improvement.
"I know ... some of our veteran players would like to straighten out a few things occasionally with some of our younger guys because we are very young, and guys still make mistakes," Gase said. "That's what happens when you got a bunch of 22-, 23-, 24-year-olds. They're going to mess up here every once in a while. Thankfully, we got enough veteran guys that have really stepped forward — especially as the year has gone on — to take control of that locker room. I rarely have to deal with anything because those guys handle it."
Gase is on the case
Rookie head coach Adam Gase has the Miami Dolphins just two wins away from their first winning record since 2008, which was also the last time the organization qualified for the playoffs. Miami, which is riding a six-game winning streak, closed November with a 4-0 mark, which is just the fifth time in franchise history that the team went undefeated in that month. Here is a look at how the Dolphins have fared in recent years.
Year; Coach(es); Record (AFCE finish); Points for; Points vs.
2008; Tony Sparano; 11-5 (1st); 21.6 (21st); 19.8 (9th)
2009; Tony Sparano; 7-9 (3rd);22.5 (15th); 24.4 (25th)
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2010; Tony Sparano; 7-9 (3rd);17.1 (30th); 20.8 (14th)
2011; Sparano/Todd Bowles; 6-10 (3rd); 20.6 (20th); 19.1 (6th)
2012; Joe Philbin; 7-9 (2nd); 18.0 (27th); 19.8 (7th)
2013; Joe Philbin; 8-8 (3rd); 19.8 (26th); 20.9 (8th)
2014; Joe Philbin; 8-8 (3rd); 24.3 (11th); 23.3 (20th)
2015; Philbin/Dan Campbell; 6-10 (4th); 19.4 (27th); 24.3 (19th)
2016; Adam Gase; 7-4 (2nd); 22.6 (17th); 21.8 (16th)