Josh McDaniels Opted for Security and Continued Success in New England
The Indianapolis Colts introduced Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels as their new head coach the Tuesday following Super Bowl LII with New England falling to Philadelphia 41-33. The Colts thought they had agreed to terms with McDaniels to become their new head coach and that he would inevitably accept the position. The issue that Colts general manager Chris Ballard and owner Jim Irsay should have noticed is that McDaniels never officially informed New England he was leaving his current post as their offensive coordinator.
In what has been a called a "shocking" development, the 41-year-old McDaniels informed the Colts today that he would in fact pass on their head coaching position withdrawing from his agreement and instead remain with New England. This decision or lack there of by McDaniels to turn down the Colts and stay in New England is understandable and should have been expected for several reasons.
1. Lack of head coaching experience and success
Sure, McDaniels was previously a head coach for the Denver Broncos during the 2009 and 2010 seasons. In fact he achieved immediate success starting off his tenure with six straight wins, including an overtime win against Bill Belichick and New England. McDaniels followed that start by losing four consecutive contests and missing the playoffs with a chance to clinch a spot in the final week of the 2009 regular season. McDaniels was then ultimately fired following a 3-9 record the following year. The downfall of McDaniels as Broncos head coach began with his resistance toward former Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler.
As bad as Jay Cutler has been in hindsight, Jay Cutler at that time was the best option for Denver at the quarterback position. It was McDaniels though who tried to trade Cutler to New England for Matt Cassell. Cutler was uninformed about this move and it led to a major rift in their relationship. Eventually Cutler was traded to the Bears for Kyle Orton, a trade both teams lost looking back now. So McDaniels is clearly a coach that is going to favor players he's familiar with even if they are less talented. Even though Andrew Luck is better than Jacoby Brissett and seems to have a personality capable of working with anyone, McDaniels would probably push for Brissett to play over Luck.
McDaniels also needs to be criticized for pushing to draft Tim Tebow with a first round pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. Tebow, who had immense success at Florida was not evaluated as a prototypical NFL prospect that would have long term success and was thought of as a third round pick at best by most scouts. Even though Tebow was able to put together a winning record of 8-6 as a starter, including one playoff win against Pittsburgh in 2011, that pick is a mistake McDaniels should be blamed for looking back now.
McDaniels may have thought about his time in Denver and figured with where Indianapolis's roster stands currently, there is no way he would be able to have success if given the same leash he had with the Broncos.
2. Lack of talent in Indianapolis and Andrew Luck's future still being unknown
The first step in winning at the NFL level is having an established quarterback to utilize week to week. While Jacoby Brissett filled Andrew Luck's spot admirably, no one knows still what the status of Andrew Luck is for the upcoming season. There is a familiarity between McDaniels and Brissett since he was brought in through a trade from New England to Indianapolis this past season. But assuming that Luck is healthy enough to play, it will be him leading the team on the field for next year, not Brissett. Even with a healthy Luck at his disposal, McDaniels has a number of issues in Indianapolis he does not have to deal with by staying in New England. Some of these problems include an offensive line that is in shambles giving up a league leading 56 sacks this past year.
The running game in Indianapolis is also in need of an upgrade with Frank Gore being 34-years-old and likely leaning toward retirement. There was also a major lack of performance from T.Y. Hilton who had the worst totals of his career in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns. Donte Moncrief is also likely gone from Indianapolis considering his lack of performance in relation to the price he will ask for as a free agent this off-season. Indianapolis also has a defense that was picked apart giving up an average of 367 yards per game which led to them being ranked 30th in total defense for the NFL at the conclusion of the regular season. With so many question marks at a variety of positions, it's understandable why McDaniels had his reservations about joining Indianapolis as their head coach.
3. Much better situation in New England with Belichick still coaching for now
It has been reported that McDaniels elected to stay in New England to have stability for his family and because of the deep relationships he has formed with the Patriots organization. That's understandable since it is always difficult to uproot your family to a new city, have your children start at different schools, and to move into a new home where you do not anyone. But McDaniels had a family when he decided to become head coach in Denver and when he left the Patriots the first time to become the Rams offensive coordinator in 2011. So while he gets a pass for not wanting to cause stress to his family, that excuse seems like a bit of a stretch considering his other career moves. The real reason for his motivation to stay in New England is to continue reaping in their success year to year without having to worry about taking the blame for what may go wrong.
New England's situation is much better than Indianapolis's for the immediate future considering that Bill Belichick and Tom Brady led the Patriots to their third Super Bowl in the last four years. McDaniels has contributed to each of the five Super Bowl victories New England has enjoyed in the Belichick-Brady era. McDaniels before becoming offensive coordinator was a personnel assistant during 2001 season and a defensive assistant during the 2003 season.
But the idea that McDaniels wants to stay in New England for their success is only part of the reasoning for changing his mind about Indianapolis. Belichick at least for now remains as the head coach for New England. McDaniels, who has proven so far he is unable to win as a head coach gets to continue working under the mastermind that is Bill Belichick. Instead of having to worry about the good of the entire team, McDaniels gets to sit back and enjoy what will likely be continued success with the reigning league MVP Tom Brady. McDaniels can put all of his focus into the offensive side of the ball for New England, without taking the blame for anything that may go wrong as a head coach.
Belichick has been the focus of controversies like Spygate and Deflategate. He was even recently bashed by the media for not playing his star cornerback Malcom Butler during Super Bowl LII with many saying Butler would have been a difference maker in that game. It has been Belichick who has taken the heat from critics instead of McDaniels. McDaniels enjoys the security of knowing that if something goes wrong, Belichick is the one that will be blamed. Whenever a new coach is brought in by a team, they face intense scrutiny from the media and fans for every decision they make. In a place like Indianapolis that has been spoiled with success, it's safe to assume McDaniels would face major resentment for any failures.
There has also been a lack of success from assistants that have left the security of working under Belichick. While Belichick has been able to assemble tremendously successful staffs at their respective positions, none of them have been that successful on their own. Romeo Cronnell, Eric Mangini, Nick Saban, Charlie Weis, and Bill O’Brien all worked under Belichick. When given an opportunity to be a head coach in the NFL they failed to meet expectations. The only success story in Belichick's coaching tree is Nick Saban who has led Alabama to five national championships. But when given an opportunity with the Miami Dolphins, Saban was exited after two seasons. McDaniels wants to continue working under Belichick to avoid failing for a second time as a head coach.
McDaniels is staying where it is comfortable for him, his family, and his reputation as a head coach. Belichick gets to take the blame for any problems that come up and McDaniels gets to focus on the offensive side of the ball, his desired area of coaching. Plus with Patriots owner Robert Kraft reportedly "sweetening" his deal with probably a hefty pay raise, there is no reason to blame McDaniels for staying in New England.
4. He could be a leading candidate in New England once Belichick retires
There has reportedly been tension between Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft over how to handle the long term future of the Patriots. Kraft who wants to keep Tom Brady in the long term went against Belichick's suggestion to part ways with Brady and move forward with Jimmy Garoppolo instead.
It caused many to speculate that this stubborn decision by Kraft triggered Belichick to trade not just Garoppolo to the 49ers, but his backup Jacoby Brissett to the Colts. The return for both of these quarterbacks was inadequate considering how well they played for their new teams this past season. In what looks like a spiteful set of moves by Belichick, leaving no other option other than Brady for the future, some have speculated that Belichick's days in New England are numbered. If Belichick chooses to retire or is ultimately let go some how in the near future, McDaniels likely wants to position himself as the successor to Belichick in New England.
Robert Kraft understands the value McDaniels brings to the Patriots particularly when it comes to the performance of Tom Brady. Brady was awarded his third MVP award this season, becoming the third quarterback in NFL history to win the award three times. McDaniels has been the offensive coordinator for two of the three times Brady was named NFL MVP. As great as Belichick has been for New England, Kraft wants to keep the younger McDaniels under contract as an alternative to Belichick when his tenure comes to an end.
This situation with Josh McDaniels that has forced Indianapolis to start their coaching search all over again is unfortunate and embarrassing. As bad as the immediate future looks for Indianapolis with Andrew Luck's health still in question, they are a team that is positioned to win in the AFC over the next 5-10 years with the right head coach. Chris Ballard previously built the Kansas City Chiefs into a contender and is capable of rebuilding this team if given enough time.
The Colts will also continue to benefit from an AFC South that is one of the weakest divisions in the NFL. While each team in that division continues to get better, with a healthy Andrew Luck, Indianapolis should be considered the favorite to clinch considering the other quarterbacks at the helm for Tennessee in Marcus Mariota, and Blake Bortles in Jacksonville. Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson is also coming off a season where he suffered a torn ACL, which will help Indianapolis for the upcoming year. The AFC's best quarterbacks in Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, and Phillip Rivers are also aging and will retire sooner than later.
Robert Kraft is aware of this reality and did not want Josh McDaniels to join the Colts knowing full well he had many of New England's secrets to success. Kraft already lost quarterback Jacoby Brissett to the Colts for very little return, he was not about to lose his offensive coordinator to the Colts too. Kraft would rather overpay McDaniels now than to let him join the Colts with no other reasonable alternative at head coach once Belichick retires.
It is wrong that McDaniels did this to Indianapolis and to the assistants that uprooted their families to join his staff. This is a mess that Indianapolis must now scramble to fix before the upcoming season. But McDaniels should not be blamed too harshly for changing his mind considering the circumstances. They say everything happens for a reason and as hopeless as the Colts seem now, this decision by McDaniels could prove to be what is best for both parties involved over time.
Jimmy Kennedy, who doesn't blame Josh McDaniels for staying in New England, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org