Would Josh McDaniels better see how Foxboro goes or jump at the next opportunity?
Josh McDaniels is not only one of the best coordinators in the NFL, he is one of the most accomplished coaches in the league. Behind Bill Belichick, Andy Reid, Mike Tomlin, John Harbaugh, Pete Carroll and Sean Payton, who has done the most, seen the most and created the most?
In 14 years as the Patriots’ offensive coordinator, he won three Super Bowls and coached five. He was OC for the NFL’s only 16-0 season. He coached the greatest quarterback in NFL history for 13 seasons (including one as a QB coach in 2004).
He cultivated quarterbacks like Matt Cassel, Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett and turned them into capable NFL starters. He revamped the Patriots’ offense on the fly in 2018 and helped the franchise earn a Lombardi bonus. He created an offense in 2020 to use Cam Newton’s legs while covering his arm. He put Mac Jones on the fast track to becoming the franchise’s quarterback. He’s benefited from having some of the greatest players in NFL history (Rob Gronkowski, Randy Moss) at his disposal and has coached alongside some of the brightest minds (Dante Scarnecchia, Ivan Fears).
Perry: Colts jump on questionable Mac Jones trend at their peril
The undisputed greatest coach in the NFL periodically reminds everyone that McDaniels is as good as any coach he has worked with. Nick Saban included.
And where does McDaniels check the ratings of a gambling site become the next head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars? Ninth. His odds are 14 to 1, like Pete Carroll, who is currently busy in Seattle.
Ahead of McDaniels are Byron Leftwich, Kellen Moore, Darrell Bevell, Eric Bieniemy, Joe Brady, Doug Pederson, Brian Daboll and Matt Eberflus.
Betting odds are not the gospel. But they reflect what passes for conventional wisdom. So why is McDaniels back in the pack as handicappers bet on who will be chosen to fix the Jaguars and farm Trevor Lawrence?
We have theories for that. And we also have a few things to keep in mind during our annual coverage of “Will Josh Go?” gets started.
Josh is the heir apparent
McDaniels had reservations about what he was heading into with the Colts in February 2018. But he was still on the verge of taking their head coaching job until – just before he flew to Indy – he be summoned to meet Robert. Kraft, Jonathan Kraft and Belichick. Fifteen hours of meetings over two days convinced McDaniels to stay. McDaniels was not promised that he would succeed Belichick, but I wrote after the decision that “Although there is no guarantee that McDaniels will succeed Belichick, it can now be assumed that McDaniels will be considered the successor of Belichick. It wasn’t the case before.”
McDaniels said a few months later that nothing had been promised. But the general perception that McDaniels is the heir to the throne remains.
Josh’s cold feet
McDaniels knew when he fended off the Colts that the stain of this perceived betrayal would be visible for quite some time. His agent at the time, Bob Lamonte, basically fired McDaniels and told McDaniels he was “commit suicide professionally.” McDaniels saw interview opportunities dwindle over the next few years and in 2020 the Panthers and Giants both asked to speak with McDaniels but hired Matt Rhule and Joe Judge, respectively, before McDaniels was even available for interviews.
It was a whole other mess. Meanwhile, the Browns went with Kevin Stefanski instead of McDaniels this 2020 cycle while last season the Eagles went with Nick Sirianni.
Even with the stellar resume and all the references, explaining what happened with the Colts job will be a hurdle McDaniels has to jump through in every interview he sits for. And when it comes to replacing a coach like Urban Meyer, who betrayed myriad codes of coaching and personal decency during his 11-month reign, the Jaguars will look for a coach they can. 100 per cent count on.
McDaniels did what he felt was right for his family, himself and his career. It took a lot of courage knowing the flashback he was going to have. It wasn’t a lack of character. Socket work would have been. Still, potential employers are going to have a significant break. If and when he is hired, there will be an initial blowback that will last at least a week. And it will be significant.
Does he want to go there?
When McDaniels turned down the Colts, he cited the stability his family feels in this area (he and his wife have four children). He is very well paid. Even though the 69-year-old Belichick is rejuvenated by the positive track he got his roster on in a split fashion, McDaniels is still working with a young phenom at quarterback with a complement of offensive players unlike anything he had in Brady’s winter.
Are things getting machiavellian in Foxboro? Are there others out there who might be in line to be Belichick’s successor (Jerod Mayo, Steve Belichick) and still others who think they should be (Matt Patricia)? Sure. The pressure is high. The hours are long. But a professionally satisfying challenge funded by a group of owners who don’t have their collective head up their ass is important. I’m not saying Jacksonville doesn’t satisfy that. I really think it would. But is the head guy any better than Prince of Foxboro?
The Belichick Blessing
Given what I pointed out up top — that McDaniels is one of the best coaches in the NFL and has the Patriots offensive fortune in his hands with Young Mac Jones — losing him would hurt.
Let’s be honest, when McDaniels couldn’t make an interview for the Panthers and Giants jobs in early 2020, it worked out really well for the Patriots. Two months into that hiring cycle, Tom Brady said, “Goodbye.” Imagine how 2020 would have been without Brady and McDaniels? And where would Jones be on the arc of success if he wasn’t nursed back to health by McDaniels?
It worked out really well for the Patriots that Joe Judge was given the go-ahead to talk to the Giants while McDaniels was about to finish the job at Foxboro ahead of his release. And that Belichick gave such a good recommendation to the judge for chief. Of course, it was Belichick who gave the green light and the recommendation.
Over the years, it’s become apparent that before a coach or front office person leaves, Belichick’s blessing counts. It’s important because there’s loyalty to the man who, in many cases, got them started. And once hired, they basically had to hold the Da Vinci (i.e. Belichick) palette. So they appreciate that too. It’s also important because Belichick dispenses advice and influence and would like both to be followed. And they don’t want to wrap a figurative head on a spike like Eric Mangini did.
Would Belichick be happy to bless McDaniels by interviewing as early as Dec. 28? Would he encourage her to stick around?
It’s hard to miss the parallels between McDaniels’ current situation and that of Belichick in the late 90s. Belichick – fired by the Browns in 1995 – landed with Bill Parcells in New England in 1996. Belichick moved with Parcells to the Jets but coveted his next head coaching opportunity.
He was locked in to be Parcells’ successor with the Jets, but Parcells was ambiguous about his plans to the point of irritating Belichick. Belichick was trapped and he didn’t want to continue as the Jets’ head coach with Parcells sitting above him in the front office.
The McDaniels-Belichick relationship is not in the same universe as Parcells and Belichick in terms of dysfunction. The things that Parcells took out and not taken out and then trapping Belichick to keep him away from New England were pretty diabolical.
But the rest of the scenario matches. An accomplished coordinator dying for his next chance not knowing whether to stay or go because the legend in charge doesn’t lean a hand on his plans.
Will he be a good recruit?
The Belichick-McDaniels similarities don’t stop at training situations. Belichick and then McDaniels carried reputations. After his time in Cleveland, Belichick was seen as a crumpled, mumbling, misanthropic, autocratic drone who was not cut out to be a head coach. Robert Kraft did not agree with all the advice. He hired the man no other team wanted and he became arguably the greatest coach in the history of American team sports.
McDaniels is in the grip of his Denver debacle of 2009 and 2010 and the Indy mess. Many media outlets and NFL insiders will advise Shad Khan and any other owner with an opening to look elsewhere. Does the team that ultimately hires him bring in a Belichickian-level legend? Go on.
But if McDaniels can approach Belichick as Mac Jones seems to be about to do with Tom Brady? Eh. You could do worse.