PALM BEACH, Fla. – Joe Philbin doesn’t have all the answers. What he does have is hope.
Less than three months after burying his second-oldest son Michael, who drowned in the Fox River on Jan. 8, the former Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator and his family are doing their best to settle in here in South Florida, where Philbin has been hard at work as the Miami Dolphins’ new head coach and his wife Diane and the couple’s five remaining children are doing their best to start this new chapter of their lives together.
Mike Sherman has known Philbin since the two of them were together at Worchester (Mass.) Academy, where Philbin was a teenager and Sherman was a young English teacher and assistant football coach. It was Sherman who got him his first coaching gig (as a graduate assistant at Tulane back in 1984), Sherman who brought him to the NFL (in 2003 when Sherman was the head coach of the Packers) and Sherman who is now Philbin’s offensive coordinator with the Dolphins, serving as his right-hand man and confidant.
It was Sherman who suggested in the days between Philbin’s interview with the Dolphins and his Jan. 22 hiring that maybe the new job and new start would help his friend and the family begin to recover from their loss. Sherman was there for Michael’s wake and funeral, and as he drove over the Fox River on the Claude Allouez Bridge in De Pere, Sherman was certain that going somewhere else could be good for everyone.
“The Fox River is always going to flow through Green Bay,” Sherman said.
And so Philbin and his family moved here right after he got the job, rather than staying in Green Bay to finish out the school year, as Philbin said they would have done has things been “normal.” They plan to move into their new house in South Florida this coming weekend. The house is roughly the same distance to the Dolphins’ headquarters as their home on the west side of Green Bay was to Lambeau Field. Their youngest daughter, 10-year-old Colleen, loves her new school, which Philbin says he can see from his office.
Those are all good things, Philbin said Tuesday, after the AFC coaches breakfasts at the annual NFL Meetings wrapped up and he spent a few extra minutes with a couple of familiar faces. But they don’t make things any easier, don’t make Michael’s parents and siblings miss him any less, don’t make them forget how much it hurts that he’s not a part of this otherwise exciting adventure.
“Colleen … she’s really doing great. The other kids are doing well,” Philbin said. “Considering all factors, things are going about as well as possible – considering.
“I feel badly, my son (Kevin) is a senior and is finishing his classes online and is not part of his senior year, so it’s just tough on him. We just didn’t want the family to be apart. With the passing of Michael, we just felt like is what we had to do, and we had to do it, and they’ve been great about it. Some days are better than others. We’re still working through a lot of stuff, but it’s been good.”
So for now, all this new place has given them, Philbin said, is hope. Hope that whatever their new normal is, they will find it. Hope that the sharp pain may someday give way to a dull ache.
“I hope so. I hope so,” Philbin said, slowly. “It’s not like we’re … you know … we’re still sad – a lot. But I hope it’s better. I hope it’s better.
“I don’t know if it’s going to be better. But we hope so.”
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