Josh McDaniels’ name makes the rounds every year as one of the top candidates for any and all head coach openings. He finally landed that gig with the Indianapolis Colts, the team announced Tuesday. But on Tuesday night, reports surfaced that McDaniels will actually stay with the Patriots.
Why did the Colts decide to bring in McDaniels? Our Christian D’Andrea writes that while it’s not hard to win with Hall of Fame-caliber talent like Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski in the lineup, it’s what McDaniels has done with guys further down the depth chart that stands out.
While it’s easy to point to the team’s two future Hall of Fame skill players, McDaniels’ influence shines through in his ability to promote unheralded players into big roles and then watch them shine. He’s helped turn formerly anonymous players like Dion Lewis, Chris Hogan, and even Wes Welker into major contributors for New England. The 2017 Patriots finished the season ranked first in total yardage despite the absence of players like Pro Bowler Julian Edelman, Super Bowl 51 hero James White, Malcolm Mitchell, and Hogan.
Former Colts head coach Tony Dungy agreed. He told SB Nation during the lead up to Super Bowl LII that McDaniels’ talent as a coach is evident in the way the team played with Brady out of the lineup during his four-game Deflategate suspension to start the 2016 season.
“I know how (many) problems he gave us from a scheme standpoint, developing different things, putting a game plan together for Tom Brady, he gets hurt,” Dungy said. “Put a game plan together for Jimmy Garoppolo and you’re successful and he gets hurt. And you put a different game plan together for Jacoby Brissett and he goes out and plays well. That’s what he’s capable of.”
So why did McDaniels stay with the Patriots?
ESPN’s Adam Schefter wrote Wednesday morning that Robert Kraft made a late push, which included “sweetening” his deal, but there was more than that:
In the past 48 hours, Patriots owner Robert Kraft began talking with McDaniels and ultimately wound up sweetening his contract, helping to entice McDaniels, who had yet to sign a contract with the Colts, to remain in New England, a source said.
But this wasn’t a decision about money. The truth is, McDaniels, 41, has been vacillating on this decision throughout the interview process, ever since meeting with the Colts on wild-card weekend. It is the reason a second meeting with Colts officials and team owner Jim Irsay was held. McDaniels was trying to get comfortable with the idea of taking his family out of New England and moving to Indianapolis, sources said.
This might also have something to do with Deflategate (it’ll never go away!):
Text from one league source: “That’s Kraft putting it to the Colts again. He will forever try and (expletive) that place ever since deflate gate.”— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) February 7, 2018
His agent disagreed with the decision to stay, and ended their relationship.
But there’s also a connection there:
Garafolo reported on NFL Network’s Good Morning Football that even McDaniels’ agent, Bob Lamonte, told the OC that he’s making perhaps the biggest professional mistake of his career by backing out of this Colts job at this point, according to sources informed of the talks between McDaniels and his agent.
It’s not hard to see why Lamonte -- who also represents Colts general manager Chris Ballard -- would have issued a caution to McDaniels after making such a decision. There were questions about McDaniels stemming from his last coaching stop with the Denver Broncos. While he’s rehabbed much of his reputation both on and off the field in recent years, Tuesday night’s decision likely undid all of that in the eyes of 31 other teams.
As a result, Lamonte ended his relationship with McDaniels.
As long as things remain good in New England, McDaniels will be fine. But jumping ship that quickly is notable, and something teams might not forget down the line.
Andrew Luck’s health might also be part of the reason.
Luck was sidelined for most of the 2016 season with a shoulder injury and half of the season before with a lacerated kidney. He’s expected to be healthy for the 2018 season, and having a talented young quarterback had to be a factor in McDaniels’ initial decision to join the Colts. But if Luck’s shoulder is not at full strength, that may have been a factor in McDaniels declining.
The culture being built by general manager Chris Ballard would have been another draw for McDaniels. Maybe that will help them as they try to land a candidate after settling on McDaniels. Chris Blystone at Stampede Blue, SB Nation’s Colts blog, writes:
Owner Jim Irsay and Chris Ballard have a clear understanding of what it will take to turn the Colts into a contender, and Ballard has repeatedly said it will take time. There is no illusion they are one player away from being a force of unstoppable dominance. Also, they plan to build it with young talent who can be brought in and developed in the kind of culture they want for the team.
As to that culture, Ballard has already been hard at work reshaping it. There are no aging veterans who are set in their ways and unwilling to work hard. Those who take that approach will find themselves on the chopping block in short order. Ballard has shown he is not afraid to send a player packing if they are not going to put in the kind of work needed to win, or if they make themselves a distraction.
McDaniels has had time to mature and grow from his experience with the Broncos. He’s got a proven track record of success with the Patriots. And now he’ll stay in New England with Belichick, Gronkowski, and Brady, and continue to build on those accomplishments.
The Colts were understandably disappointed.
Colts GM Chris Ballard spoke on Wednesday on the situation, and explained how things unfolded on Tuesday evening.
“We were disappointed, unquestionably we were disappointed and surprised,” he said. “We had agreed to contract terms, we had an agreement in place. We followed all the rules, did everything right. two interviews, both of them went very well.”
Ballard added, “I got a call Tuesday evening saying that he had changed his mind, he was going in a different direction. At that point, I informed our owner, we informed y’all of where we were going, and well keep moving forward.”
He said that the team has a list of candidates that they’re going to vet, and have had them prepared.
“We’ll move forward with them, and we will get the right leader for the Indianapolis Colts,” Ballard said.
When McDaniels gets a gig, they’ll have to set him up to succeed.
McDaniels’ first stint as a head coach came with the Denver Broncos from 2009 through 2010. He jumped out to a 6-0 start in his first season, but then lost 12 of his next 17 games, and the Broncos moved on from him. During that brief span, McDaniels managed to alienate Jay Cutler, drew a $50,000 fine for the team for illegally videotaping a 49ers’ walkthrough, and used a first-round draft pick on Tim Tebow.
Chris Blystone at Stampede Blue, SB Nation’s Colts blog, writes it’s not all on McDaniels’ shoulders.
This was a major mistake by the Broncos. No first-time head coach should have that kind of power in an organization until they prove they can do the primary job they are hired to do. Coaches and general managers both fill different roles and allowing one person control over all aspects removes needed perspective for any coach, especially a young one. Add to that the fact that GM Brian Xanders was a rookie in his position as well, and you have a recipe for issues.
Dungy believes McDaniels learned from his stint as the Broncos’ head coach.
“I know in talking to Josh, he’s learned some things, things that didn’t go well in Denver, and he won’t make those same mistakes,” Dungy said. “He’ll do it a little bit different. He’s worked for the best guy in football for a number of years. Coach [Bill] Belichick made some adjustments when he went to New England. I think Josh will do the same thing.”