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Dennis Hickey looks relaxed, sitting behind his desk in the big corner office on the second floor of the Dolphins training complex. It has been a busy few months for the team’s new general manager between all the activity in free agency, preparing for the upcoming draft and getting to know everyone in the building.
But now the chaotic times of beginning a new adventure have been replaced by a sense of calm, a deep-rooted belief that he is the right person for this enormous task. Nobody can deny that Hickey is off to a promising start. His free agency scorecard shows a well-defined plan and the people closest to him on the Dolphins see a genuinely nice, hard-working man who has waited a lifetime for this opportunity.
“I’m having a blast,” Hickey said on a recent afternoon, taking a few minutes away from a schedule so demanding and multi-faceted that he admits there simply isn’t enough time in the day.
So early in the morning, very early in the morning, Hickey can be found at home sitting in his bed jotting down notes in his planner, trying to be thorough, trying not to miss a thing.
“I sleep well,” he says, “just not for very long.”
I spent about 30 minutes with Hickey in his office. I asked him all sorts of questions. About his goals. About his family. About these first few months on the job. I was left with several distinct impressions.
• Those 18 years in Tampa, prepared him well for this challenge. Hickey clearly gets what his world is all about, clearly understands that teamwork in the front office can be as important as teamwork on the field. He isn’t lost by the importance of his task nor does he ever lose sight of how fortunate he is to be in this position.
• Hickey is a forward thinker who can’t get enough information, who searches for better ways of doing things and who has embraced this technology age with a passion and purpose. You’ve heard about the Smart Board computer mounted on his wall. I devoted an entire column to it a few days ago. You’ve heard about his plans to establish an analytics department. What you haven’t heard is that this is just the beginning. Hickey is a new-age thinker who is open to anything that will help him be more proficient at his job.
• Even with that penchant for technology and numbers, don’t lose sight of this: Hickey is a people person first and foremost. When he sits down with a prospect, he doesn’t ask about 40 times or vertical leaps. He goes beyond that. Far beyond.
“I want to hear their story, their narrative. I want to know what shapes them. That tells me what I can expect from the player. I like to hear what they are passionate about, what motivates them, what drives them. The coaches concentrate on football. But at the end of the day, I want to get a gut feeling of whether this player is willing to buy into what we do.”
• Faith and family are an important part of Hickey’s fabric. He is well aware of the demands of his job and the sacrifices his family has to make with a husband and father being pulled in so many directions. So he gets his family involved with his job. His son helps him both at the scouting combine and at training camp. His daughter comes to the office to assist him on Saturdays.
As for his wife? “I’m so blessed,” he said. “A lot of times she’s like a single mom. But she is so supportive and loves being a part of this organization. We are in this as a family.”
• Hickey knows what he’s here to do. He understands that he resides in a bottom line world and he doesn’t shy away from that challenge. He has won championships before. As a high school player. As a junior college player. As a junior college coach. And as an important piece of the 2002 Super Bowl champion Bucs. It is winning that drives him, that consumes everything he does.
“I know what it takes,” he says. “I’ve been around it. Once you’ve won a championship, it’s an insatiable thing. You just want to get it back.”
• Hickey isn’t looking for credit or personal glory. You search hard and you really can’t find much of an ego. That’s why forging a close relationship with Coach Joe Philbin was so important because Hickey realizes the power of unity.
“Of all the things that have happened since I arrived here, I’m most proud of the relationships I have developed with the people here,” he said. “I’m most proud that I’m a Dolphin and part of a great organization.”
• And finally, Hickey truly believes that this franchise is on the right path, that many of the most important pieces are already in place. “We have a quality roster with a lot of good players. I’m excited about the pieces we’ve added since I’ve been here.”
No, Hickey isn’t going to divulge what’s next on his plate or which way he might be leaning on draft day. That’s just not his style. Not in his make-up. He has a vision, but that’s all you’re going to know. We’ll just all have to sit back and watch it unfold.
Until then, he has a message for the fans. “I know you are passionate. I know how much you care. We are on the right path. We want players who share our goals and that’s to win a championship. That’s what we are about here and we’re going to keep working until we get there.”
Sounds like a pretty good plan, don’t you think?
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