Josh McDaniels is “content” with how things went in Cleveland, a source tells me.
Though disappointed that he didn't get to interview for the Giants and Panthers before those openings were filled earlier in the week, McDaniels was not going to leap to the Browns before he looked long and hard at the setup. And when he did look, his vision didn’t mesh with Cleveland’s.
As we reported last week, McDaniels went into Cleveland with eyes wide open. It was important to him that the Browns express an understanding of why they’d been unsuccessful under owner Jimmy Haslam and that they were willing to yield to some new ideas.
That didn’t happen.
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Steve Doerschuk of the Canton Repository reported in a column published Sunday that McDaniels went in with definitive plans for remaking the Browns.
Would the Browns show a willingness to applaud his detailed presentation on the sweeping makeover that would be needed for him to want the job? This is where the trouble with his candidacy came to a head.
The Browns were as detailed with him as to the parts of their system they wanted to keep, or expand, as he was with them as to necessary changes.
In the end, both came to a similar conclusion: It wasn’t a great fit.
The Browns want to hang on to some of the ideas they still think can work. McDaniels had quite different ideas.
Kevin Stefanski, the 37-year-old offensive coordinator for the Vikings, got the job. He was more amenable, Doerschuk wrote, to the Browns' requests, especially the weighty role of Paul DePodesta, Chief Strategy Officer, according to Doerschuk.
(Stefanski) made it clear he was willing to yield to certain DePodesta standards, such as an analytics person with a headset and access to the coaching staff on game days, in addition to certain Haslam likes, such as hours-long, Monday-after, owner-coach meetings.
Stefanski interviewed with the Browns last year. McDaniels didn’t. That, reportedly, gave him a leg up in that the Browns were comfortable with him. Also, this is Stefanski’s first head coaching gig.
He has more willingness to eat a poop sandwich with no bread than McDaniels does at this point. And giving free rein to DePodesta and owner Jimmy Haslam to add a dash of this or a splash of that at the end of the week is precisely that. Some people can’t help themselves.
Browns fans are pissed. They wanted McDaniels. And he wanted the chance to go back to Ohio, stand on the Browns sideline and guide a franchise he grew up following.
But the gap between how the two sides saw it coming together made it easier to walk away.
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Indications McDaniels wasn’t getting the job began coming Friday night when two of the assistants he was targeting for his coordinator positions — Brandon Staley and Kevin O’Connell — were reported to be closing in on positions with the Broncos and Rams respectively.
Once the Vikings played — and lost — the Browns were clear to go get their guy.
McDaniels' consolation prize, of course, ain’t bad. He comes back to the Patriots where he’s the NFL’s most highly-paid assistant coach. He continues his role working for an organization where he’s been a part of six Super Bowls and ridden in the front seat between Bill Belichick and Tom Brady on the road to six Super Bowls.
But it’s even better for New England because McDaniels means stability. With Joe Judge — who was moonlighting as wide receivers coach along with his special teams duties in 2019 — leaving for the Giants, there’s an opening with the Patriots raw wideouts, a group in desperate need of improvement.
Adding a vacancy at coordinator/quarterbacks coach (a duty McDaniels also handles) would have been an issue. And it’s not like Bill Belichick could just leap to do that. He was largely the defensive coordinator in 2019 after Brian Flores went to Miami and Greg Schiano backed out of the DC job.
The offense was McDaniels’ job more than ever last year. Belichick’s role in weekly offensive preparation was diminished in 2019 because of his defensive responsibilities. Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio assumed some of those. Otherwise, it was McDaniels’ show.
If McDaniels left AND Brady had gone, that meant a full-on offensive rebuild.
Which brings us to whether or not McDaniels’ return makes it more or less likely Brady returns. It really doesn’t.
McDaniels has been here the past eight seasons. The contractual stalemate and the team’s preference to go “year-to-year” with Brady were not McDaniels’ decisions. The personnel decisions/misses that left the team scrambling for wideouts the past two years and without a tight end of note in 2019 were not McDaniels’ decisions.
Meanwhile, we’ve gotten indications over the past six months that Brady’s input — which has never been comparable to other elite quarterbacks around the league — is even less sought now. Publicly, he’s made a number of “Don’t ask me, I just work here”-type comments.
A sampling of quotes:
“The reality is I don't make any personnel decisions. I don't decide to sign players, I don't decide to trade them, I don't decide to release them, I don't decide to draft them. I don't get asked. I show up and I do my job. I'm an employee like everyone else.”
“The best teammates are the ones I have to think about the least. I don't want to expend my mental energy on things that aren't really my job.”
“I just expect to play (in preseason games), and if he (Bill Belichick) says, 'You're not playing,' then I'm not playing. I think there's a lot of things that factor into his decisions, but I'm not involved in any of those, so I just show up and practice. That's been my role, that's been my job, so I'm trying to show up and do a good job.”
“One thing we talk about here is just doing our jobs. I mean, I can do what I can do. Every player can do what they can do. I can’t do anything for anyone else; they can’t do anything for me. So a lot of it is just trust and trying to communicate trust and communication.”
Brady and McDaniels have had a long, successful and respectful partnership. There’s a bond and affection between the two that’s indelible. The same bond between Brady and Belichick exists.
But for Brady, just “running it back” in 2020 with or without verbal assurances it’s going to be vastly different in a number of ways this year may not be that compelling for him.
And for the Patriots, re-signing a 43-year-old quarterback who’s made it clear he’s a bit weary of the team’s approach has to give them pause too.
There was talk after news broke that McDaniels didn’t get the Browns job that Brady would be more likely to return. But that choice isn’t solely Brady’s to make.