One reason that Josh McDaniels is such a surprising head-coaching candidate following the 2019 season is because of an incident that occurred with him back in 2018. Days after Super LII, McDaniels had a press conference set in Indianapolis to announce him as the next head coach of the Colts. However, the evening before the press conference was set to take place, McDaniels backed out of his spoken deal with the Colts and opted to stay with the New England Patriots as their offensive coordinator.
At that point, no one knew if McDaniels would ever get offered another head-coaching job by an NFL team. Backing out like he did last-minute was a horrible look for him, and would discredit his word going forward with other organizations.
Rumors surfaced after the incident that McDaniels decided to stay in New England because owner Robert Kraft wanted him to be the heir to Bill Belichick when the long-tenured HC decided to retire. So, a last-minute meeting between the two parties happened, and Kraft was able to convince McDaniels to stay with the Patriots instead of joining the Colts. However, that idea was shut down by those close to the situation that were told there was no definitive deal between McDaniels and the organization for that to happen.
So what really happened?
Well, as The MMQB's Albert Breer shared this week, McDaniels' decision to return to New England had to do with some of the football operation logistics that weren't ironed out with Indianapolis, which deterred him last-minute from joining the Colts.
"It had everything to do with stuff that fans don't care about," Breer told The Ross Tucker Football Podcast. "How is strength and conditioning going to set up? Who does medical report to? How does video work? It was all these structural things that, as much work that (Chris) Ballard and Josh (McDaniels) had done and said 'okay, this is how we are going to set it up," somehow, they didn't get around to doing all of that. And Ballard had come form a place and places where the general manager set that up, and Josh had come from a place where the coach had power over all of that. That's where it sort of fell apart.
"I don't think for Josh, leaving Indianapolis had anything to do with picking players. I think he wants someone he can trust picking players, and there are guys he can bring with him to Carolina or Cleveland who can do that. I think for him it is more so having the organization aligned properly when it comes to all that other stuff, and having a guy he can trust picking players for him."
McDaniels has been with the Patriots organization for a total of 11 years. During that time, he has seen Bill Belichick manage the football team as the general manager and head coach. This allows Belichick to coordinate anything and everything that has to do with football operations. So, according to Breer, when McDaniels was uncertain about how some of the smaller details of football operations were going to play out in Indianapolis under Chris Ballard, it was enough uncertainty to decline his first head-coaching gig since 2011.
How McDaniels wants to handle football operations will translate to 2020 in his head-coaching search as well. The Browns are the only organization left that doesn't have a head coach, and is the only one that will sit McDaniels down for an interview for the position (the Panthers and Giants were supposed to interview McDaniels, but hired Matt Rhule and Joe Judge before they spoke with him).
As an organization that just fired GM John Dorsey, the chance for McDaniels to bring in a general manager whom he trusts to Cleveland might be present if he took the job. That will also be a determining factor in if he takes the job. However, having someone like chief strategist Paul DePodesta in the Browns front office could deter that from happening. There's also no reason to believe, based on history, that owner Jimmy Haslam will do what's best for his football team, which would involve having a head coach and GM that are on the same page.
To bring this back around - McDaniels had three head-coaching interviews lined up prior to this week. Why, when he had such a shady past with the Colts? Because the situation may have not played out back in February of 2018 like we had originally thought. McDaniels wanted, and still wants clarification on how every little aspect of football operations is going to take place, which is why he ditched the Colts two off-seasons ago, and why he will make sure he gets all his questions answered this time around before he takes another HC job.