STAYING PUT: McDaniels leaves the Colts hanging

The Patriots may have lost Super Bowl LII, but they gained a small victory when offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels decided not to take up the Colts’ offer to become their head coach and remain in Foxborough. But what could have caused such a dramatic – and possibly career-limiting – change of mind?

It seems that the 2017 NFL season had kept its biggest surprise for last. Not content with giving us a spectacular Super Bowl, with a win for the underdogs and another reigning champion failing to hold on to their crown, it saved the coaching shock of the year for a couple of days afterwards.

The true reasons why Josh McDaniels suddenly decided that Indianapolis was not for him may never be known, but it isn’t hard to see who the winners are – Robert KraftBill BelichickTom Brady and the rest of the Patriots‘ organisation.

Whilst we can only speculate, it isn’t too much of a leap to imagine the thought processes in Foxborough. Having spectacularly blown their chance to set records by winning a sixth Super Bowl on Sunday, they were faced with starting the 2018 season with a new offensive coordinator, a new defensive coordinator (professional Silent Bob impersonator Matt Patricia having decamped to Detroit) and a quarterback who is about to turn 41. Oh, and with their other star player, tight end Rob Gronkowski, already talking of retirement.

At this point, you have to think that the conversations started in earnest. Just what would it take to keep McDaniels. More moolah? Not a problem for an NFL owner, especially as coaches salaries are not subject to the salary cap. But it would’ve taken much more than that to persuade McDaniels to tie himself to the Patriots for life. And that has to be a promise that, when Belichick decides to retire from coaching, he will get the job – especially as Kraft would almost certainly have Belichick remain in his other role of general manager.

The problem is, though, that either McDaniels isn’t quite as savvy as we thought, or he’s taking an enormous leap of faith. He’s definitely burnt his boats so far as another NFL head coaching job is concerned, at least for the foreseeable future. He didn’t leave his first stint in that role, in Denver, with his star shining terribly brightly and, whilst you can never say never in the NFL, the chances of another owner pursuing him are pretty much nil. Add to that the fact that NFL teams are not allowed to guarantee anyone that they will get a coaching job in the future and you can see that McDaniels has offered up his future for very little security.

Because, at the heart of it all, did the Patriots really have to do this? Yes, they gain back some favour with Brady, reportedly disgruntled with the trading of Jimmy Garoppolo  and the marginalising of his personal physician. But Brady wasn’t going anywhere. He wasn’t as happy as he had been, but he wasn’t leaving town anytime soon.

Neither was Belichick. Arguably, his star would’ve shone brighter had he won another championship with two new coordinators. Yes, he gets to keep a trusted lieutenant, but a man whose forward planning is legendary would’ve been prepared for McDaniels leaving. To him, this is a bonus, not a demand.

Which makes you wonder if the instigator of this wasn’t McDaniels himself. Did he get cold feet? After all, he’d taken a head coaching job before, got burned and taken almost a decade to get back into the frame. And former Belichick aides don’t have a great record as head coaches. Although the word is that it was Kraft who began talking to him, owners don’t try to court coordinators unless either the head coach asks them to, or unless there has been word from somewhere that the coordinator is open to it.

All of which suggests that the only winners in this will be the Patriots. McDaniels has, ostensibly, lost face among the NFL community. He’s certainly lost his agent, after Bob LeMotte sacked him (which is a pretty fair sign of disgust, as he’ll lose whatever his cut of McDaniels’ new salary would be). The Colts are now around a month behind in their search for a new coach. Whoever takes that job will know that they were far from being the first choice. And Patriots wide receivers coach Chad O’Shea, the supposed successor to McDaniels and offensive coordinator, has to go back to the day job.

What is sure is that the pressure is now on for McDaniels, perhaps even more so than if he had become a head coach. He’s upset a lot of people. He’s intrigued a lot more. Everyone who follows football will be watching to see if it has been worth it for him.

Richard O’Hagan

 

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Richard O'Hagan
Writer on such diverse topics as sport, music, theatre, law and politics. Author of 'Eddie the Sheep'. Supporter of underachieving teams, including the Chicago Bears from before that brief, heady, period in the mid-1980s when they were actually any good. All I want for Christmas is a Jim McMahon away shirt.
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