Josh McDaniels isn’t just one of the NFL’s best coordinators, he’s one of the league’s most accomplished coaches. Behind Bill Belichick, Andy Reid, Mike Tomlin, John Harbaugh, Pete Carroll and Sean Payton, who’s done more, seen more and created more?
In 14 years as the Patriots' offensive coordinator, he’s won three Super Bowls and coached in five. He was OC for the NFL’s only 16-0 season. He coached the greatest quarterback in NFL history for 13 seasons (one as QB coach in 2004).
He’s cultivated quarterbacks like Matt Cassel, Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett and molded them into capable NFL starters. He retooled the Patriots offense on the fly in 2018 and helped the franchise get a bonus Lombardi. He fashioned an offense in 2020 to make use of Cam Newton’s legs while covering up for his arm. He’s got Mac Jones on the fast track to franchise quarterback. He’s benefited from having some of the greatest players in NFL history at his disposal (Rob Gronkowski, Randy Moss) and coached alongside some of the most brilliant minds (Dante Scarnecchia, Ivan Fears).
The undisputed greatest coach in the NFL periodically reminds everyone that McDaniels is as good any coach he’s ever worked with. Nick Saban included.
And where does McDaniels check in on one gambling site’s odds to become next head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars? Ninth. His odds are 14-to-1, same as Pete Carroll, who is currently occupied 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 aren’t gospel. But they do reflect what passes for conventional wisdom. So why is McDaniels way back in the pack when handicappers lay odds on who will be picked to fix the Jaguars and cultivate Trevor Lawrence?
We have theories for that. And we also have a few things to bear in mind as our annual coverage of, "Will Josh go?" gets underway.
Josh is the heir apparent
McDaniels had reservations about what he was walking into with the Colts in February of 2018. But he was still on the cusp of taking their head coaching job until -- just before he was to fly to Indy -- he was summoned to meet with Robert Kraft, Jonathan Kraft and Belichick. Fifteen hours of meetings over two days convinced McDaniels to stay. McDaniels wasn’t promised he’d succeed Belichick, but I wrote after the decision that "While there isn’t any guarantee that McDaniels will succeed Belichick, it can now be presumed McDaniels will be given primary consideration as Belichick’s successor. That wasn’t the case previously."
McDaniels said a couple months later that nothing’s been promised. But the general perception that McDaniels is heir to the throne remains.
Josh's cold feet
McDaniels knew when he spurned the Colts that the stain from that perceived betrayal would be visible for a while. His agent at the time, Bob Lamonte, basically fired McDaniels and told McDaniels he was "committing professional suicide." McDaniels did see interview opportunities dwindle in subsequent years and in 2020 the Panthers and Giants both had requests in to speak with McDaniels but hired Matt Rhule and Joe Judge, respectively, before McDaniels was even available to sit for the interviews.
That was a whole 'nother mess. Meanwhile, the Browns went with Kevin Stefanski instead of McDaniels during that 2020 cycle while last season, the Eagles opted for Nick Sirianni.
Even with the brilliant resume and all the references, explaining what happened with the Colts job is going to be a hurdle McDaniels has to clear 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 in his 11-month reign, the Jaguars will seek a coach they can 100 percent count on.
McDaniels did what he felt was right for his family, himself and his career. It took a lot of courage knowing the blowback he was going to get. It wasn’t a lapse of character. Taking the job would have been. Still, prospective employers are going to have significant pause. If and when he’s hired, there will be initial blowback that lasts at least a week. And it will be significant.
Does he wanna go?
When McDaniels turned down the Colts, he cited the stability his family feels in this area (he and his wife have four kids). He’s very well-compensated. Even if the 69-year-old Belichick is rejuvenated by the positive track he got his roster on in lickety-split fashion, McDaniels is still working with a young phenom at quarterback with a complement of offensive players unlike anything he had in the Winter of Brady.
Do things get Machiavellian down in Foxboro? Are there others down there who could be in line to be Belichick’s successor (Jerod Mayo, Steve Belichick) and still others who think they should be (Matt Patricia)? Sure. Pressure’s high. Hours are long. But a professionally satisfying challenge funded by an ownership group that doesn’t have its collective head in its ass is important. I’m not saying Jacksonville doesn’t satisfy that. I actually think it would. But is head dude there better than Prince of Foxboro?
The Belichick blessing
Given what I pointed out at the top -- that McDaniels is one of the NFL’s best coaches and he has the Patriots offensive fortunes in his hands with Young Mac Jones -- losing him would hurt.
Let’s be honest, when McDaniels wasn’t able to interview for the Panthers and Giants jobs in early 2020, that worked out great for the Patriots. Two months after that hiring cycle ended, Tom Brady said, "So long." Imagine how 2020 would have been without Brady and McDaniels? And where would Jones be on the arc of success if he wasn’t being groomed by McDaniels?
It worked out really well for the Patriots that Joe Judge was given the green light to interview with the Giants while McDaniels was on the hook to finish up work at Foxboro before he was sprung. And that Belichick gave such a great recommendation to Judge for the head job. Of course, Belichick was the one giving the green light and the recommendation.
Over the years, it’s come clear that before a coach or front-office person leaves, Belichick’s blessing matters. It matters because there’s loyalty to the man who in many instances gave them their start. And once hired, they basically got to hold the palette for Da Vinci (i.e. Belichick). So they appreciate that too. It also matters because Belichick dispenses advice and influence and would like both to be followed. And they don’t want to wind up a figurative head on a spike as Eric Mangini did.
Would Belichick happily bless McDaniels interviewing as early as December 28? Would he encourage him to stick around?
It’s hard to miss the parallels between McDaniels’ situation now and Belichick’s in the late 90s. Belichick -- fired by the Browns in 1995 -- landed back 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 irritation for Belichick. Belichick was trapped and he didn’t want to continue on as Jets head coach with Parcells sitting above him in the front office.
The McDaniels-Belichick relationship isn’t in the same universe as Parcells and Belichick in terms of dysfunction. The stuff Parcells pulled in retiring and unretiring then trapping Belichick to keep him away from New England was pretty diabolical.
But the rest of the scenario matches. An accomplished coordinator dying for his next chance unsure whether to stay or go because the legend in charge isn’t tipping his hand on his plans.
Will he be a good hire?
The Belichick-McDaniels similarities don’t end with the coaching situations. Belichick then and McDaniels carried reputations. After his Cleveland stint, Belichick was viewed as a rumpled, mumbling, misanthropic, autocratic drone who was ill-suited to be a head coach. Robert Kraft disagreed with all the advice. He hired the man no other team wanted and he’s become arguably, possibly the greatest coach in the history of American team sports.
McDaniels is yoked with his Denver debacle from 2009 and 2010 and the Indy mess. A lot of media and NFL cognoscenti will advise Shad Khan and any other owner with an opening to look elsewhere. Is the team that ultimately hires him bringing aboard a Belichickian-level legend? Come on.
But if McDaniels can approximate Belichick the way Mac Jones seems to be on his way to doing with Tom Brady? Eh. You could do worse.