By now you might already know he’s a history major from Yale who hasn’t followed the traditional path to becoming the 14th head coach of the Miami Dolphins. While the NFL's newest head coach under 40 is once again proof those traditional norms of landing a head job in the league are a thing of the past, McDaniel is anything but just the average young coach who fell into the big job for a franchise that didn’t make the playoffs last season.
His style is full of detailed answers, preparation and teaching, and less on deception and arrogance. The thing is, he's not even supposed to be here doing this. Brian Flores blew up the dream plan. Dave Hyde of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel told us this was supposed to be Tom Brady and Sean Payton. Instead, its Tua Tagovailoa and Mike McDaniel.
It’s the whole dynamic in South Beach that has me legitimately wanting McDaniel to succeed.
No fear of failure.
That alone might be the most intriguing aspect for why I’ll be glued to his first year as a head coach. I believe a coach’s ultimate success or failure comes down to how much that individual fears making the wrong decision. Coaches are notoriously stuck in their ways. They’re married to ideas and carry big egos that hinder them from expanding a view from a narrowed lens. Ultimately, fear of failure often leads to exactly that - failure.
Surface level, it’s easy to just assume McDaniel will be a failed experiment.
This season will be the first year he’s called offensive plays, and that comes at the same time as Tua enters his make-or-break season at QB. Plus, McDaniel’s Dolphins open with a gauntlet of a schedule. The regular season debut comes against Bill Belichick’s Patriots, the first road test is in Baltimore, followed by meeting Josh Allen and the Bills in Week 3.
McDaniel doesn’t seem concerned about the mountain of a job in front of him, probably because he’s smart enough to know he has nothing to lose and confident enough to believe his background and knowledge of the game will work in today’s NFL. His firing has been predicted by most, or more politely described as simply a placeholder for Stephen Ross’ next head coach. His first few months on the job have not been close to Tua’s offseason scrutiny and pressure, but we all know the May laughs during offseason media availability will soon include critical analysis headed McDaniel’s way, too. I’m eager to watch him handle it.
I find his vibe interesting and entertaining, his demeanor refreshing, yet peculiar. His dry sense of humor paired with the ever-popular analytics lane of today’s NFL fascinates me, which is a combo I’m sure a lot of ‘numbers people’ possess, though never get the opportunity to display to a general audience. And while I fully admit I’ve found myself shaking my head thinking of how this hire could completely fall flat on its face, McDaniel gives off a vibe that allows me — despite my better judgement — to believe he knows what he’s doing.
I understand why people question what he’s like in a team meeting room commanding a 90-man, soon-to-be 53-man active roster. I’m sure it’s similar to his demeanor behind the podium during his media sessions. There is another side of him everyone can see when he reviews film and talks football with a laser pointer in hand. There are YouTube videos of him hosting a coaching clinic as Kyle Shanahan, Sean McVay and Matt LaFleur look on, probably close to identical to how he performed in a similar setting in front of the Texans, Rams or 49ers offensive team meetings. This is when the honest football guy tells the football players what they’re doing, why they’re doing it and how it will lead to more success.
And McDaniel has been a key part of successful coaching staffs.
His connection to Kyle Shanahan is why everyone knows of him and why some endorsed him, and nothing speaks to their relationship more than McDaniel being the only coach Shanahan chose to bring along at all five on his stops as an NFL coordinator or head coach.
Now, McDaniel is another young coach who fell from the Shanahan branch of the coaching tree.
Sure, his Dolphins tenure could be short and sweet, but I hope not.
McDaniel could be an outside-the-box reset button the league, in many ways, is in need of.
Today’s game features elite head coaches but, like any era, there’s a second tier of guys who make up a fraternity of over-confident, sometimes cocky, always smarter than you group that can boast about some regular-season wins, but there’s no unique factor to define one coach over the next guy.
There’s no way you’d look at McDaniel and think football coach. He's more likely the I.T. guy down the hall at your workplace who looks like he woke up roughly 30 minutes before the lunch break. He’s absolutely someone many of us, including myself, would have hung out with in college.
Realistically, does Mike McDaniel get this job if Brian Flores doesn’t file a lawsuit right after Stephen Ross fired him? No, of course not. It’s Payton coaching Brady in Miami Gardens right now while McDaniel continues to coordinate the run game in San Francisco.
But that’s precisely why I’m all in on wanting him to have success as he begins his head coaching career.
This is a GM Chris Grier-built team, but it’s Mike McDaniel’s season to win.