Mike McDaniel Faces Difficult Dolphins History As He Pushes For Year 2 Improvement

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Mike McDaniel is talking about his second season with the Miami Dolphins and the topic that rises above others swirling in that complicated mind of this coach is improvement.

Getting better.

“…I think that each and every year of my career that I can remember, my sole focus has always been to be better than the previous year,” McDaniel told reporters in South Florida. “That’s a lot easier when you know exactly what you’re getting better at. So that’s exciting.”

It’s exciting for McDaniel.

And it’s important for the Dolphins. Because if their second-year head coach improves on his rookie season, things are going to be pretty good.

Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel and his family
Head coach Mike McDaniel of the Miami Dolphins spends time with his wife Katie McDaniel and daughter Ayla prior to a game against the New York Jets at Hard Rock Stadium on January 08, 2023 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images)

Mike McDaniel Was Very Good In Year 1

The Dolphins, after all, last season made the playoffs for the first time since 2016. But more importantly for McDaniel, if he’s improving in 2023, he’d be doing something that has eluded every head coach the franchise has had this century.

Dolphins coaches, you see, have routinely been good out of the blocks their first season. But then the second season came and everything started going in a different direction.

Things got the exact opposite of better.


Dave Wannstedt won the AFC East in 2000 as a first year coach and even won a playoff game before being eliminated in the postseason’s divisional round. Very good start.

But the next year, Wannstedt’s team regressed by finishing second in the division and being eliminated in the wild card round. And, yes, things continued to steadily decline after that to the point Wannstedt wasn’t making the playoffs and by 2004 was 1-8 when he got fired.

Dolphins coaches of the past, such as Nick Saban, had rough second seasons.
Head coach Nick Saban of the Miami Dolphins talks with defensive end Jason Taylor #99 after a drill during training camp at Nova Southeastern University on July 30, 2006 in Davie, Florida. (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)

Nick Saban Good Early, Then Gone

Nick Saban struggled at the start of his first season. But his team rallied and finished just out of the playoff picture with a 9-7 record in 2005. Saban’s second season was a 6-10 disaster and he left for Alabama when the season ended.

Tony Sparano was outstanding his first season in 2008. The Dolphins won the AFC East and got to the playoffs. But it was downhill after that, as Miami couldn’t get above .500 with Sparano again. He was fired before the 2011 season ended.

Joe Philbin never got to the playoffs. In fact he never had a winning record from 2012 to 2015. But no one argues what he did his first year, with rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill starting, was his best work.

Brian Flores and Tua Tagovailoa didn't get along great in Miami.
Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores and quarterback Tua Tagovailoa never had warm feelings for each other. (Susan Stocker/South Florida Sun Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

Dolphins Coaches Struggle Beyond Year 1

Adam Gase? The Dolphins made the playoffs his first season. They were 10-6. But Gase and his team followed that up with two losing seasons and he was fired after 2018.

The Brian Flores tenure was interesting. It cannot be argued the coach’s best record came in his second season. But within the organization it’s understood Flores did his best work his first year.

Flores took a 2019 roster that was compiled to lose. But minor league squad improved and won five of its final nine games, including the last two in a row.

After that first season, Flores began to micro-manage and fire assistants, and want other staffers fired. He also came to prefer veteran journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick over Tua Tagovailoa, a feeling he never really seemed to release.

So Flores was fired after the 2021 season without ever making the playoffs.

Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel knows his roster better in Year 2
Head coach Mike McDaniel of the Miami Dolphins on the field prior to the game against the Houston Texans at Hard Rock Stadium on November 27, 2022 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images)

Mike McDaniel Knows His Talent Now

It is against that alarming history that McDaniels now works on his second season. So can he avoid the Dolphins coach decline after the good first season?

Can he be better and if so, how?

“What’s very unique about last year to this year is last year you’re putting forth, specifically for offense, a scheme not totally knowing what your players do best,” McDaniel said. “You are projecting what they do best but you’re having them learn it and kind of seeing where your offense goes.

“This offseason you can kind of structure it more, tailor it toward your players, evolve the scheme towards the players, because you know things that they are comfortable with, things they have room to grow in, things that they can make plays and be the best player that they’re trying to be.

“That alone has been so powerful, and even just defensively, we have a new scheme, but knowing players strengths and weaknesses, being able to talk through with [defensive coordinator] Vic [Fangio] and knowing who you can lean on. All that stuff changes for me the most, because you know the people, and that’s a very cool thing in year two.”

Year Two also should be easier for McDaniel because most of his players trust him now. They understand he’s a little quirky.

“His approach might be a little different,” Tagovailoa confirmed.

Miami Dolphins players respect coach Mike McDaniel.
Head coach Mike McDaniel of the Miami Dolphins high fives Xavien Howard #25 and Tua Tagovailoa #1 prior to the game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on November 06, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Dolphins Players Trust Their Coach

But players have come to trust and respect him.

When Tyreek Hill slapped a man during the offseason, which the NFL is still investigating, he talked with McDaniel. And the conversation with McDaniel was ultimately somewhat one-sided.

“I can’t give you all of the details because that would be basically like me pillow-talking to you guys. But he did tell me, ‘You know ‘Reek,’ we got your back, full support,’ ” Hill said. “That’s all the details that he said to me and I didn’t respond back.”

When center Connor Williams sat out the entire offseason unhappy with his contract, he trusted his coach. McDaniel, by the way, is part of management. But Williams went to him while his agent negotiated with management.

“He has been able to put aside the coach and everything and be human-to-human, which has really helped along the way,” Williams said. “I love the guy, I respect him to death and I love playing for him.”

Does all that guarantee McDaniel can improve in his second season? Can he write a new chapter in Dolphins history that doesn’t make fans want to cry about coaches regressing?

No idea.

But he seems to be on the right course.

Follow on Twitter or X: @ArmandoSalguero

Written by Armando Salguero

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