Let’s start here: Mike McDaniel is different than Brian Flores and not just because he’s an offensive coach and Flores was a defensive coach. And definitely not because his skin is white and Flores is black because on that front the Miami Dolphins just hired their second consecutive head coach who identifies with more than one race or ethnicity.
Flores, whose parents were Honduran, is black and hispanic.
McDaniel, who’s father is black and mother is white, is biracial.
That, by the way, would make McDaniel the first coach hired during this NFL hiring cycle who is a minority — which has been in the news the past few weeks (years?) because the hiring practices among NFL owners has often not been inclusive of minorities.
But that’s not it, folks.
That’s not what is going to make McDaniel a success during his four-year contract with the Dolphins and thus different than Flores.
Or Adam Gase.
Or Joe Philbin.
All three of whom Dolphins owner Stephen Ross hired and all three of whom failed.
This is what will decide whether McDaniel can be different than his predecessors:
- Can he lead?
- Can he hire an exceptional staff?
- Can he find an elite quarterback or get Tua Tagovailoa to play like one?
- Can he overcome a diseased Dolphins franchise structure that starts with ownership and filters all the way onto the field?
This is what people are saying about McDaniel:
“Mike is phenomenal,” Jets coach Robert Saleh said during a break in Senior Bowl practices last week.
Saleh has a history coaching on staffs with McDaniel, and he thinks the world of him.
“His mindset, the way he creates things, his creativity, his outside-the-box thinking, his ability to communicate with people, he’s as good as it gets,” Saleh said. “… He’s brilliant. And he’s every bit deserving to be a head coach.”
McDaniel worked under 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco and in Atlanta before that, when Shanahan was the offensive coordinator.
“He’s one of the smartest coaches and people I’ve been around,” Shanahan said.
In Atlanta, both Shanahan and McDaniel worked for head coach Dan Quinn, who coincidently, was also a candidate for the Dolphins job.
“Mike’s offensive ideas and his ability to blend the run game and play pass so flawlessly is amazing,” Quinn, the Cowboys defensive coordinator told Sports Illustrated. “He will do great things in Miami.”
South Floridian Pierre Garcon, who played for McDaniel in Washington, calls him “maybe the smartest position coach I ever had.”
Is He A Leader?
I’m still waiting for someone to say he’s a great leader. I’m still waiting for someone to say when he speaks to a room of alpha males, he immediately has their attention and respect.
If McDaniel doesn’t have that, he’ll fail. And it’s not just having it, but having it in the right dose.
Flores is a leader, but sometimes he was, well, too much of an alpha. And that put off some people on his earlier staffs and on his roster.
The Dolphins didn’t know this when they hired him. They didn’t know he one time tried to fight a player during a film session when he was with the Patriots, and if they did know, they ignored that as a warning sign about his personality.
Gase was a leader, but he was so intent on having things done his way, to such a detailed degree, he sometimes alienated players. And he quit on some of them and vice versa.
Neither Gase nor Flores had much respect for Ross at the end.
Philbin was the opposite. He talked louder when he wanted to project leadership. But he was never a leader at all, especially in that white tuxedo and rapping in front of his players that one time.
So can McDaniel split the difference? Can he lead without being some sort of bear?
The Staff Will Matter
Multiple reports say McDaniel’s considering keeping the bulk of the Miami defensive staff.
That’s smart if he wants to get similar results to what the Dolphins have gotten in recent years. So they’ll generally play really well against sub-par or inexperienced quarterbacks, such as Mike Glennon, Ian Book, Zach Wilson, Joe Flacco, or Mac Jones.
And then get lit up by Josh Allen.
The Dolphins’ defense generally played very well late in the ’21 season — when the quarterback murderers’ row of Tom Brady, Matt Ryan, Derek Carr and Allen had passed and Flores had taken over some of the play-calling from defensive coordinator Josh Boyer.
The QB Question
Let’s face facts, the Dolphins’ 2022 starter will almost definitely be Tua Tagovailoa. The idea McDaniel will somehow convince the Dolphins to trade for 49ers starter Jimmy Garoppolo is a stretch at this point.
Plus, Jimmy G has won exactly zero Super Bowl rings not won for him by Brady.
McDaniel is also a run game savant. But the NFL is a passing league, folks, so he needs an offensive coordinator who is going to develop Tagovailoa in the next year or two.
Or he and Tagovailoa will both be gone.
About The Dolphins’ Culture
Finally, can Mike McDaniel be so smart, so good, such a great communicator that he can overcome a bad owner who complained to those within the organization that the team won games late in 2011 and 2019 because he wanted to lose?
That happened — per multiple, multiple sources — because Ross wanted to get in position to have a great quarterback, and the only strategy he could come up with was to lose on purpose.
And can McDaniel overcome the unremarkable work of general-manager-for-life Chris Grier?
Grier missed on the biggest call of his career, which was picking Tagovailoa over Justin Herbert. His offensive line picks have been ordinary, with the exception of Laremy Tunsil, whom he then traded.
And he did his best to institute the tank job Ross ordered in 2019 by deconstructing the roster and putting a Triple-A team on the field.
But Grier isn’t going anywhere because Ross needs him on his side in the Flores suit and the upcoming NFL investigation on integrity of the game. So Grier is here to stay, Dolphins fans.
Can Mike McDaniel overcome all that?
Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero