Mike McCarthy considered Joe Philbin to be his right-hand man during the six seasons the two coaches spent together with the Green Bay Packers.
So when time came for Philbin to venture out on his own in 2011, McCarthy gave his simple advice before his offensive coordinator left to become the new head coach of the Miami Dolphins.
"You have to be yourself. No. 1, do it the way you want to do it," Philbin recalled during a conference call with Wisconsin media on Wednesday morning. "You can't really change who you are. You can't do it the way somebody else wants you to do it. You have to do the things you believe in."
This Sunday, the two friends will be on opposite sides for the first time when Philbin's Dolphins host McCarthy and the Packers at Sun Life Stadium.
Philbin stands at a critical juncture of his career. He's 17-19 during his two-plus seasons with the Dolphins, who are expected to make a bid for their first playoff appearance since 2008. It's been 14 years since Miami won its last playoff game.
Facing plenty of challenges both on and off the field, the 53-year-old Philbin has leaned on McCarthy for advice from time-to-time.
"Obviously, I think the world of Mike, not just as a football coach, but he's just a class human being," said Philbin, who was hired by the Packers in 2003 as an assistant offensive line coach. "I certainly wouldn't be where I am today without him. He's a guy that we certainly still reference and I certainly call him about some questions that I've had over the course of a couple years."
It wasn't always a certainty the 53-year-old coach would get a third try after the fallout from Richie Incognito's harassment of fellow offensive lineman Jonathan Martin last season. A week after Martin left the team, the Dolphins suspended Incognito for conduct detrimental to the team.
Ted Wells' investigation into the allegations showed Philbin and the front office to be unaware of the bullying, but he told reporters at February's NFL combine he must be more vigilant, more diligent, more visible, and I'm going to have a better pulse (of the team)."
When Philbin was the Packers' offensive coordinator, his role was strictly game-planning and scheme. As he's learned, being a head coach is much more than simply Xs and Os.
"When you move from a coordinator, you can't spend all the time on the pure football side of things that you might like to," said Philbin, whose team hosts the Packers on Sunday at Sun Life Stadium.
"I think that's one of the things that maybe last year taught me is while you certainly want to know what the other team is doing and you want to be involved from a football standpoint, there are other things that sometimes require more of your time than perhaps I was used to giving."
On the field, the biggest challenge moving from a coordinator to coach has been juggling all the responsibility. He joked his job no longer is to study every blitz Dom Capers has deployed over the last three years. Now he's in charge of everything.
That includes Sunday's game against his friend. After beating the woeful Oakland Raiders 38-14 in London, Philbin's Dolphins are preparing for one of the NFL's most consistent teams coming off its most dominating performance of the season, a 42-10 win over Minnesota.
"It's a big game," Philbin said. "Obviously they're playing extremely well. Mike and the entire staff, those guys do as good a job as there is in football. They've got the team playing extremely well. It's a big game for us. We're coming off our bye. We're 2-2, so it's an important football game."
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