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The Josh McDaniels U-Turn: Coach Abandons Colts After Patriots Convince Him to Stay

Indianapolis blindsided by decision as McDaniels—after going to Gillette Stadium to say his goodbyes—decides to stay in New England after all

Tuesday was supposed to be a momentous day for Josh McDaniels. The Colts were going to announce—and did—the hiring of the 41-year-old Tom Brady mentor as the new Indianapolis coach, and he was going to fly to Indianapolis to prepare for a Wednesday press conference. One Patriots source said McDaniels actually drove to Gillette Stadium on Tuesday morning to clean out his office and say his goodbyes.

Tuesday was momentous for McDaniels, as it turned out, but for another reason. Owner Robert Kraft and coach Bill Belichick, still smarting two days after a sobering Super Bowl 52 loss to the Eagles halfway across the country, met with McDaniels at length Tuesday in Foxboro and convinced him by late afternoon to stay. He wouldn’t have to clean out his office after all. But it might take McDaniels some time to clean up the damage done by leaving his friend, Colts GM Chris Ballard, at the altar, looking for a new head coach five weeks after Indy’s original search began.

For the Colts, the bummer is having lost out on the coach that was 1b to McDaniels’ 1a—Houston defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel, who was hired by the Titans when it appeared McDaniels would get the Indianapolis job. The stunner for Ballard was getting the phone call from McDaniels around dinner time Tuesday, especially after Ballard and McDaniels talked for more than 90 minutes Monday night about the 2018 Colts coaching staff.

Josh McDaniels Walks Out on Indianapolis

That’s a sign that the McDaniels-Patriots marriage got somehow rekindled in a long day of talks in Foxboro. A source close to the story said late Tuesday night that, as part of his agreement to stay in New England, McDaniels got no written assurance that he will succeed the 65-year-old Belichick when he walks away from the job. No one knows when that will be. Belichick will coach at least this year, and at the Super Bowl last week, one longtime Belichick acquaintance said he thought Belichick would coach multiple years in New England, despite the reports of discord between him and Kraft.

It’s clear McDaniels would get first consideration to take over for Belichick when Belichick leaves. That’s assuming McDaniels would still be on the staff when that happens. It seems absurd to think McDaniels might get a future offer to coach another team after leaving the Colts high and dry, but remember two things: Belichick landed on his feet (in New England) when he jilted the Jets and was radioactive in 2000. And the Patriots’ last two directors of player personnel—Scott Pioli (former) and Nick Caserio (current)—are high on McDaniels and could seek to hire him if they sit in GM chairs outside of New England in the future.

Why did this happen? A few reasons:

• The biggest: McDaniels felt more comfortable staying in New England than he did taking the Colts’ job, particularly after hearing pitches from Kraft and Belichick. According to the source, McDaniels hadn’t heard such enticements to stay from the team since the end of the season, and so felt at the end of the regular season like this was a good time to seek another job so long as it would come in a place with a good quarterback and GM he trusted.

• The source said McDaniels felt better about the Patriots’ structure and long-term prospects than about Indy’s, even with Brady playing next season at 41. That leaves open something that could not be confirmed—the prospect of McDaniels being concerned with what ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported Sunday, that Andrew Luck might have to have another surgery on his rehabbing throwing shoulder. It would be surprising if the shoulder injury that unexpectedly kept Luck out for the entire season last year was not at least some factor in this decision. However, Luck is working out with noted throwing-mechanics gurus Tom House and Adam Dedeaux—Brady’s throwing coaches too—in California, and a source told me Tuesday that they are optimistic that Luck will be fine for the start of training camp.

• McDaniels is very close to his family—he is married with four young children—but any reticence to move his family was not part of the decision, I was told.

• McDaniels, the source said, felt he could have taken the Colts’ job and been happy and made it work. But McDaniels has said at recent Super Bowl press availabilities that he would only want to take a job in a place with a good quarterback, a good GM, and a good chance to win. Otherwise, he’d stay in New England, even if it meant he might not get the chance to be a head coach again. He was 11-17 in his prior shot (Denver, 2009-10), presiding over the failed Tim Tebow experiment. Something had to be missing for him not to go through with his.

Why Did Josh McDaniels Just Abandon the Colts?

The Colts have dealt with a tragedy in the past few days. Early Sunday morning, linebacker Edwin Jackson and his Uber driver were out of their vehicle in central Indiana when a suspected drunk driver plowed into them, killing both men. Now Ballard will deal with the organization’s emotions surrounding Jackson while opening a second coaching search.

There are several good candidates—Chiefs special teams coach Dave Toub, and Eagles assistants Jim Schwartz, Frank Reich and John DeFilippo among them—but Ballard will likely take his time with the search. He’s not competing with anyone now, obviously.

McDaniels, I was told Tuesday night, felt terrible about the damage left in his wake, with the Colts already having signed contracts with three coaches for his proposed staff. But regardless of the circumstances with this story, it won’t matter how sorry he is. McDaniels won’t escape the wrath of Hoosiers for a long time—luckily for him, the Colts and Patriots play in 2018, but the game is in New England—and he could feel cold shoulders with men in the coaching fraternity. In any collegial business like coaching, going back on your word and affecting families is verboten. And McDaniels should anticipate more columns like these.

Prospective defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, signed away from Dallas, wants to be a defensive coordinator and so would be likely to want to stay in this job. This becomes a sticky issue. If the Colts hire a head coach who either works on the defensive side of the ball or is an offensive guy, would he want Eberflus? That could be tough for Ballard to navigate.

This story has a Four Weddings and a Funeral feel. On his wedding day, Hugh Grant goes to the church, decides he doesn’t want to get married to the woman in the wedding dress, and it’s called off—but not before she slugs him in the jaw.

That movie might be pretty popular in Indiana on Netflix today.