With Josh McDaniels spurning the Indianapolis Colts, the only winners from this ugly situation are he, the New England Patriots … and the New York Giants.
Somehow, Josh McDaniels’s tenure as Indianapolis Colts head coach was shorter than Bill Belichick’s term at the same position with the New York Jets.
One of the hottest horses in the NFL coaching carousel, McDaniels joined the Patriots in 2001, one year after Belichick became the team’s head coach, as a personnel and later defensive assistant. He transferred to offensive duties in 2004 as the quarterbacks coach before earning double duty in 2006 when he became the offensive coordinator as well. After leaving in 2009 to become the Denver Broncos head coach for 28 games, he made a pit stop as the Rams’ offensive coordinator before returning to New England in the same spot.
Between his two Patriots tenures, McDaniels has netted five Super Bowl rings. A sixth was denied to him by the Philadelphia Eagles. on Sunday night, but that was no fault of his unit, which tallied a Super Bowl-record 618 yards in the 41-33 defeat.
The Colts indicated he was to become the 20th head coach in franchise history on Tuesday, but McDaniels, who did not sign a contract with the team, backed out of the deal, opting to retain his offensive overseer status in New England. Colts general manager tore into McDaniels in a Wednesday press conference, while McDaniels’s agent, Bob LaMonte, canceled his representation.
Colts were really certain it was more than an agreement. This was sent to season tix holders earlier in day. pic.twitter.com/jOt5d91tik
— Mike Chappell (@mchappell51) February 7, 2018
It has since been implied that McDaniels, a disciple of both Belichick and college coaching legend Nick Saban (working under the latter with Michigan State as a graduate assistant in 1999), was enticed to stay with a sweetened deal with the Patriots, one that some feel made him the heir apparent to Belichick’s Foxborough empire.
Whatever the reason, a loss for the Colts is a win for the Patriots … and the New York Giants.
McDaniels was one of the first candidates the Giants interviewed for their own head coaching vacancy, with management braving a blizzard to interview both he and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia last month. Patricia’s path took him to Detroit (where, unlike McDaniels, he’s there to stay), but McDaniels remained an enticing commodity.
And why not? McDaniels’s mediocre Denver term, which climaxed in a videotaped practice incident mirroring Spygate, was long forgotten, and his literal handful of Super Bowl rings, was earned mostly by overseeing Tom Brady’s eternally changing cast of rushers and catchers.
Offensive success and diversity have been hard to come by for the Giants in recent years. The unit as a whole has gone two full seasons without reaching 30 points, while the run game hasn’t been in the upper half of league rankings since 2008. Despite the poisoned nature of Belichick coaching tree, many of the Giants faithful were willing to give him a chance, desperate for a rare offensive masterpiece that modern history has denied him.
As with many things in New York sports, however, a McDaniels-MetLife Stadium marriage was too good to be true.
The Giants are entering one of the most vital offseasons in franchise history. While the team is not a second overall pick away from being instant Super Bowl contenders again, the right combination of smart additions and necessary subtractions could create a shortcut on the road back to respectability. Such a rebuild has been necessitated by the most chaotic season in franchise history, where losses were taken both on and off the field. A month of change, in the form of hiring a new general manager (Dave Gettleman) has brought a soothing sense of stability to the wayward organization … as has the hiring of a head coach who has since bought in.
The Giants, even with the hires of Gettleman and Shurmur, have many messes to clean up to atone for the brutality of 2017. They’ve answered the Eli Manning question several times, but is taking a quarterback with their second overall pick on the table? How will the team’s most glaring problem, the offensive line, be fixed? Will the team be able to give long-term deals to superstars Landon Collins, Odell Beckham Jr., or both?
Now just imagine dealing with those quandaries while searching for a new head coach as well.
McDaniels’s bolting leaves the Colts in dire straights, leaving the team so desperate for silver linings that general manager Ballard declared the Colts-Patriots rivalry “back on” despite the last Indianapolis victory in the series coming in 2009. Assistant coaches, many of whom believed they’d be serving under McDaniels, now enter an awkward situation with the Colts’ true hire. A similar situation was the last thing the Giants needed.
February should be a time of analysis, evaluation, a time to prepare for the upcoming rigors of the NFL Scouting Combine and free agency. The stressful time should not be exacerbated by a head coach backing out of his deal.
Thus, Gettleman has avoided the first major bullet of his tenure. The Giants, who will struggle to return to a crowded NFC championship picture headlined by the Super Bowl victor Philadelphia Eagles, need someone who will stick with the team through thick and thin, someone who will be willing to deal with growing pains.
McDaniels was not that guy for Indianapolis, who may be facing an even more arduous rebuild than the Giants.
Could the choice to stay lead to inheriting the keys to, arguably, the NFL’s most illustrious dynasty and a chance to earn another ring or two as an assistant? Sure. But by spurning the Colts, McDaniels passed on a chance to create his own destiny, rewrite his NFL head coaching legacy. Presented with a chance to atone for his Rocky Mountain sins and prove to the world that “Bill Belichick assistant” isn’t an instant resume killer, McDaniels instead chose to hide behind the relative safety and stability of the Brady/Belichick duology, his non-existent regard for the Colts’ struggles appearing callous in response.
With Shurmur’s hire finalized, on the other hand, the first chapter of the Giants’ rebuild has been completed. Obviously, draft moves, personnel decisions, and, oh yeah, actually games, will finish the rest of the table of contents. But, for now, it’s a story of perseverance and avoiding the easy way out.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffMags5490