• By walking away from the Colts' head coaching position and staying with the Patriots, Josh McDaniels has made himself nearly untouchable by any other NFL franchise. Is that really the safest bet?
By Conor Orr
February 06, 2018

For nearly two decades, Josh McDaniels has been molded by a coach who has no time for standard NFL niceties; a man who quit his job as leader of the New York Jets after just a few hours; a man who has withstood the dark side of team ownership and the league office, and who has no problem returning a middle finger every once and a while.

So when McDaniels made the decision to back out of his commitment with the Indianapolis Colts and stay with the New England Patriots as offensive coordinator on Tuesday, his connection with Bill Belichick is the only thing that helped the decision make any sort of sense. As ESPN reported, there was a late push by owner Robert Kraft to hold on to his offensive coordinator, which swung the 41-year-old back to familiar grounds. There was also some shuffling by McDaniels, who “was trying to get comfortable with the idea of taking his family out of New England and moving to Indianapolis.”

McDaniels’s decision now makes him unhirable anywhere other than Foxborough. He leaves behind at least two coaches—Matt Eberflus and Mike Phair—who already left other gigs to join him with the Colts, according to the Adam Schefter report. He sets himself up to become the type of suspicious, secret-hoarding personality that attracts certain football minds but causes the rest of the league to approach with hazmat suits. Maybe he’s in line to succeed Belichick, but if that doesn’t work out, who would ever hire him again? Is that the safest bet with Tom Brady eclipsing 40? 

Everything can still end up working out for jilted Colts general manager Chris Ballard, who will likely turn to someone he trusts (Kansas City Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub comes to mind). His first major decision in an executive role went old-milk sour in a public way, but could serve as a teaching moment. The bedrock of successful organizations are synchronized front offices and coaching staffs. McDaniels, like his mentor, was never going to provide that to someone outside of Gillette Stadium.

We could say that the pressure is now on New England, but they’ve joyfully twisted and rolled in the mud during controversial moments before. Can’t you just see it now? McDaniels, in his Patriots pullover addressing reporters months from now with a statement just south of sincere? A stone-faced boss with an eye on next week not elaborating beyond Yeah we’re excited with all our coaches this year.

Meanwhile, the Colts are the ones doing real work to save face. In the immediate wake of McDaniels’s decision, football Twitter pointed fingers not only at his potential desire to succeed Belichick in New England, but at any house-cleaning issues there might be in Indianapolis. Might Andrew Luck not be as healthy as believed? Can a coach really succeed there without him? That’s on Ballard to explain to another round of head coaches who were clearly not his top option. That’s on Jim Irsay to sell to his season-ticket holders and offensive players starved for a scheme that can set them free.

Through a different lens, McDaniels’s decision wouldn’t be that stunning in the business world. If family is truly involved, all bets are off. The feelings of those closest to us are always the most important.

But this is a strange, out-in-the-open business as Belichick discovered years ago. He had the hellacious work ethic to iron out his reputation. McDaniels had better hope he inherited that from his mentor, too. 

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