David Tepper touched off a tidal wave Tuesday morning. Now, Josh McDaniels better start paddling fast to Cleveland if he wants a new job.
It’s either that for McDaniels or return to safe harbor with the Patriots. And at this point, it’s not entirely clear just how safe that harbor is.
Here’s what went down and where things stand.
Tepper, the newly-minted owner of the Carolina Panthers, was supposed to meet with McDaniels today about his head coaching vacancy. Carolina offered the blankest of slates for McDaniels — new owner, rebuilding roster, etc. But Tepper chose instead to cancel the McDaniels interview and hire Baylor coach Matt Rhule. Rhule has one year of NFL coaching experience under his belt. He was an assistant offensive line coach in 2012 for the Giants.
Speaking of the Giants, McDaniels was supposed to interview there on Wednesday. The Giants chose to cancel the McDaniels interview and hire Patriots special team/wide receivers coach Joe Judge.
What was the rush for the Giants? Well, with Rhule off the board and Mississippi State anxious to hire Judge, the Giants didn’t want to be left with candidates that weren’t keen on their coaching setup. Namely, the guy coming in would have to work with GM Dave Gettleman and would not have full control of personnel.
For McDaniels and — presumably former Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, who was also coming into the picture — that was probably a non-starter. Judge, who’s never been a head coach, obviously wasn’t fazed by Gettleman’s presence and shouldn’t be. He doesn’t have the clout to demand total control.
McDaniels still has an opportunity with Cleveland and is set to interview there Friday, although he’s suddenly got an open calendar if he wants to move that up. At any rate, the pros and cons of coaching the Browns have been mentioned often.
Talented but somewhat brash and erratic quarterback in Baker Mayfield. Talented but self-centered wideout in Odell Beckham Jr. Talented running back in Nick Chubb. Talent all over the defense starting with Myles Garrett, who finished 2019 suspended for clubbing Mason Rudolph with his own helmet after Garrett pried it off. An owner who seemingly changes his mind four times between waking up and emptying his bladder to start the day. An ambiguous front-office structure. A storied franchise in the state where McDaniels grew up that has an angry, long-suffering fanbase that once cannibalized Bill Belichick.
So where’s McDaniels leaning? At 43, he’s two years removed from leaving the Indianapolis Colts at the altar in a reputation-denting move.
In the two years since, he’s gotten blood from a stone with the Patriots offense. In 2018, he morphed them into a power running attack and won a Super Bowl. The post-Super Bowl documentary “Do Your Job III” was basically a Bill Belichick ode to the brilliance of McDaniels.
This year, with the team woefully understaffed at tight end and wide receiver and then diminished by injuries at center, left tackle and fullback, McDaniels still found ways to score with an array of trick plays and smart schemes.
Every big offensive play in Saturday’s loss to the Titans — the early screen to James White, two long runs by Sony Michel, the Julian Edelman touchdown — were scheme-related plays, not a case of one player just overpowering and out-talenting his opponents. McDaniels got heat for head-scratching decisions as well — Elandon Roberts on third-and-short, three straight runs at the goal line — but those occasions of overthinking came because the Patriots personnel had such a hard-time lining up and winning.
Which leads to this question: Does McDaniels want to come back to New England and run it back one more time?
There are so many unknowns in Foxboro. Where will Tom Brady be? Who is Brady’s successor? Who will be the wide receivers coach with Judge gone? Will center David Andrews and fullback James Develin be back? Will a greater effort be made to draft/sign/develop wide receivers and tight ends than has been made over the past decade? Will Dante Scarnecchia, 72, and Ivan Fears, 66, be back?
Over the past two years, McDaniels has seen an astounding number of his fellow coaches leave: Judge, Matt Patricia, Brian Flores, Chad O’Shea, Jerry Schuplinski, Brendan Daly and Josh Boyer. He’s seen the Patriots refuse to allow personnel executives Nick Caserio and Monti Ossenfort to interview elsewhere and seen the team file tampering charges against Houston when the Texans came looking for Caserio again.
All the while, Bill Belichick has shown no sign of stepping down and McDaniels has received zero assurance that — if Belichick were to step down — he’d be the successor.
There were three main reasons McDaniels passed on the Indy job two years ago. The Patriots’ 11th-hour commitment to him financially and by simply articulating how much they wanted him. Stability for his young family. Unease with the ownership and quarterback situations in Indianapolis.
In hindsight, McDaniels made the right call. The Patriots won another Super Bowl and he wasn’t caught up in the Andrew Luck retirement maelstrom. And he’s still a valued head coaching candidate. He was smart to stay.
Now? It’s hard to say in this first week of January which place is more unsettled — Cleveland or New England.