INDIANAPOLIS — Before the 2022 scouting combine went into high gear earlier this week, new Miami Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel conducted one-on-one interviews with local beat writers.
As Dolphins fans have seen in every national interview or press conducted he's conducted since being hired a month ago, McDaniel offers thoughtful, expansive answers to every question and often throws a quip and a self-deprecating line.
These were the highlights from McDaniel's conversation with SI Fan Nation All Dolphins:
McDaniel's and his media philosophy
McDaniel has made the media rounds since taking over as Dolphins head coach, which is quite a contrast from previous head coaches the team employed.
The reason he's been so generous in giving time to the media is simple is his understanding that that reporters serve as a vessel between the team and its fans, plus there's some reminiscing to his days as a youth in Colorado.
"Being a Denver Broncos fan living in Greeley, Colorado, which is like 70 miles south of Denver, I'm not having access to the team but the summer camps and stuff and I just vividly remember opening the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News when I was young and finding out information from Adam Schefter and Woody Paige. And so that's kind of stuck with me, I guess. It's like common sense, like you guys are the vessel that I just know there's kids out there like that and people and fans that you connect A to B.
"It's always been really weird to me how people get all up in their own head and act like you guys are trying to do something other than your jobs. Yeah, there's some people that have more integrity than others in the profession, but isn't that the same for every profession that exists on the planet? ... Maybe it's my introduction, I guess, to football in general and following it and the media, I just recognized, was the way that I could get my fix to the inner workings and I remember how my my spring changed back in '93 or something (1994, to be precise) when the Broncos signed Anthony Miller and Mike Pritchard in the offseason and I was just so geeked about that and the coverage of them and learning about them satisfied me until there was preseason games till I could see them. I remember coverage about Glyn Milburn coming out, Rod Berstine being signed from the Chargers to the Broncos. The list goes on and on, and these are all things that.
"The humble beginnings and being being a non-like 5-, 4-, 3-star athlete and just dreaming about the NFL, I think i've paid attention along the way."
McDaniel and the pressure of being a genius
Yep, this is a thing.
The term "genius" has been used countless by those who have worked with McDaniel since he became a candidate to become head coach and after he was hired, and it's very obvious in listening to the Yale-educated McDaniel that he's pretty sharp.
But with that tag comes perhaps unrealistic expectations about what McDaniel can produce in terms of game plans for the Dolphins, a possibility McDaniel fully understands.
Before we get to the question, McDaniel jokes that he's never heard or read that (spoiler alert: he has) and then jokes that saying that has earned me more "air time" for our interview.
Then he gets serious.
"I've been fortunate to be in the NFL since I was 22," he said. "One thing I have learned is if you take anything too literal, it can only harm you. It is nice before we've played a game for people to say very nice things about me, that is nice. I don't give it much credence. I know what's going to happen when we lose two games in a row. And that's part of the business. If you want to be a head coach in NFL, you better be prepared for that. And you better not just get enamored with the niceties that people portray on you. I've had some people that I've worked with, and certainly the the person that signs my checks and hired me, I've heard him use it. So I don't want to disparage any of those. I appreciate it.
"I'm not really mimicking anybody. It's just me and I figured that would resonate with some people. But if it didn't, that's OK too. And if people call me a genius, that's cool. When stuff works, there'll be high-fives and all the genius guys will be like, 'Yes, see? Genius.' And then all the guys may give me an out and blame it on something else if if stuff doesn't work and then the naysayers will be as loud as ever the second you lose, and that's OK. There's a lot at stake but you're also applying stuff that you've been working on since; for me, the second I got out of college, this is what I've been working on. So I'm prepared for all that and it is nice to hear nice things, I suppose. But it's hard for it not to feel like a setup. Or it's like, all right, well, it's just nice. There are worse things to be called."
How close are the Dolphins?
There are two ways of looking at this, first that the Dolphins are knocking at the door because they were a game away from making the playoffs each of the past two seasons and second that there's work to do when you consider that in the money games those past two seasons they lost by 30 at Buffalo and by 31 at Tennessee.
"I mean, it would be irresponsible if I answer that question before free agency in the draft in a concrete way, but abstractly, I mean, very close as close as one game out. And we have a bunch of young talent. I have a coaching staff that is very, very talented and very invested in the players, and I expect all the players to be better. So my expectations is that we continue to progress with what has been started here because it's been one game out both years, essentially.
"All I know is the players that I've talked to in the locker room in the building everybody's ready to take that next step. And that's all of our goals is to take that next step .... and close? They've already been close. I'd like to progress further. And so whatever that means ... I've been in the league long enough to stay away from stamped headlines. A lot of things can happen, but I can tell you that the expectations are to move forward. And when you're a game away, I'll let you fill in the dots."
What will the Dolphins offense and defense might look like
Based on his five-year stint with the 49ers and that team's overall success running the ball, it's reasonable to think the Dolphins offense will look a lot like what was done in San Francisco, just like it's reasonable to expect very few changes on defense after coordinator Josh Boyer and several assistants were retained.
But things won't be exactly the same in either case, as McDaniel so eloquently explained.
"I think this from a starting point, the foundational elements will be the same," McDaniel started. "... One thing that I know myself and (offensive coordinator) Frank Smith and Josh Boyer all believe and that's one of the reasons I was drawn to both of them is tailoring your scheme to your individuals' skill sets so that you are kind of a standalone. We're the Dolphins and it's the Dolphins 2022. And we all believe things shouldn't look the same for the sake of looking the same. I'm very anti "because we've done it this way in the past." It's about who we are, what our strengths are. And I take that serious when I look players in the eye and tell them my job is to best put you in position to succeed and developing as a player. You know that paramount to that is adjusting your scheme to your individual players.
"So it'll be like maybe, maybe siblings, maybe cousins, maybe second cousins. It will be within the same lineage but it will definitely be our own unique South Florida taste. None of those other teams have fins; we have fins."
Fixing the offensive line
The offensive line obviously was a problem in 2021, though maybe its performance wasn't quite as disastrous as the good folks at Pro Football Focus and other places would have you believe.
The question, of course, is how to help the line improve, with several national football writers suggesting the Dolphins will spend a first-round draft pick on the position.
But McDaniel's words about the offensive line seem to back our contention the improvement will come more from progress out of the younger players on the unit — guys like Austin Jackson, Robert Hunt and Liam Eichenberg — than adding more premium draft picks at the position.
"There's several guys that I had targeted when I was with other teams in the draft process," McDaniel said. "I think they're very hungry and I think they read and hear as well. So I really like the situation that we're in because you know that we have some players that I really like, that are talented, that are hungry, that are ready to prove some people wrong. And we have coaches that are really excited about that challenge.
"Are there players out there that we can add that could even help them grow? Maybe. These are all things that we're keeping an open mind. I do know that there will be players on the offensive line that maybe there's some negative tweets out, some people with some Twitter handles that are gonna have to adjust just their tune at some point because their individual contributions, the sum is better. The holistic PFF grade that people have attributed to that offensive line, they're better players and better people that I think will be very good pros moving forward. So I do not see it as an overhaul, but always, always at every position looking to have the best possible situation for the Miami Dolphins and their offense."
Look for more joint practices
The Dolphins conducted joint practices with both the Bears and Falcons last summer, and look for some of that again this year became McDaniel is a fan of joint practices.
"Yeah, for sure," he said. "A lot of details to iron out with everything. I was actually going to try to iron some out this week but it's something I believe in. I know that we've done it here in the past and I don't plan on that changing. I think that players enjoy in camp to have the monotony broke a little bit, but also you end up getting to clinic your own team on various schemes that are different from what you're looking at every week. So it's very beneficial and in multiple ways, and it's something that as long as it continues to be in the best interest of the Dolphins we'll definitely do."