For more than a decade, Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross searched in vain for the next Don Shula. But in Mike McDaniel, he might have hired the next Erik Spoelstra. McDaniel and Spoelstra — whose Heat are four wins away from a fourth NBA championship — have forged a bond during their relatively short relationship.
McDaniel has had a literal front-row seat for the Heat’s most recent Finals run, sitting courtside and even grabbing the mic to fire up the crowd. But he’s there to be more than the city’s highest-paid hype man. McDaniel has also been taking exhaustive mental notes on what it takes to build and maintain an elite franchise.
Miami Dolphins’ Mike McDaniel on Miami Heat’s Erik Spoelstra
There are real similarities between McDaniel and Spo.
Both were 38 when they took over signature franchises after grinding their way up from the bottom of their respective professions.
Both are incredibly smart, and both are elite communicators.
And both, at the time they were hired, had serious questions about how ready they were.
Within four years, Spoelstra was a world champion. McDaniel made the playoffs in Year 1 and has helped build a team poised to compete for it all in Year 2.
Both coached some of the best players to ever suit up and have had to manage the big-time personalities that come with it.
But McDaniel has a long, long way to go before he can match Spoelstra’s résumé. The good news for McDaniel? Spo is more than willing to help him get there.
“First and foremost, I feel so humbled to be able to have the relationship,” McDaniel said. “I think what screams to me, just the way he runs the program and what they do, is there’s a passion for developing players and coaching and a standard for what they believe how they should prepare their players.
“I feel a true love for who they’re coaching and what they’re coaching. And I think systematically, when people describe the Heat Culture, they’re talking about a bunch of individuals that are trying to be great in the game of basketball — players and coaches alike.
“I feel so fortunate. I think he has to be one of the best professional coaches across all sports. And for me to have access to pick his brain — he throws me a handshake after wins. Like it’s an unbelievable resource for me in the coaching profession that I feel very, very fortunate to have.”
The respect is mutual. Spoelstra and his staff were McDaniel’s guests at training camp last summer, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he is again in a couple of months.
Early in the Heat’s most recent run, Spoelstra said the following when asked about McDaniel:
“We’ve been in contact. We text back and forth. He was at Game 3 [of the Heat’s Round 1 series against the Milwaukee Bucks], so we texted then. I was so locked in that I wasn’t aware that he was sitting [courtside] until after the game.
“And then I was like, ‘Hey, dude, you could have tapped me or something.’ But he saw what we were trying to do. He was very respectful. … It’s fun developing relationships with some of the other sports teams here.”
Mike McDaniel’s Dual Allegiances
You could excuse McDaniel if he’s a bit conflicted the next couple of weeks. The Heat are playing the Denver Nuggets — his hometown team. McDaniel’s mom used her entire bonus in 1994 to buy her son a partial season-ticket plan.
But there he has a clear rooting interest now, and it’s not Denver.
“I imagine it being like a parent with a couple of kids where of course you love all your kids, but don’t you love one more?” he said. “And realistically, when it comes down to it, the stuff that I’ve been able to really get access to with the Heat coaching staff led by Spo last summer, getting to know them following their journey, and getting to know the people, I’ve become extremely invested. So I don’t lose any sleep by saying, ‘you know what, Denver Nuggets, why don’t we wait 48 years, not 47?’ So that’s kind of where I stand on that.”
McDaniel’s Dolphins are in the most important part of their offseason program and hold their mandatory minicamp next week before breaking for the summer.
So his days and nights will be full due to South Florida’s historic opportunity. Both the Heat and Florida Panthers are in the championship round as No. 8 seeds, something that’s never happened in the same city.
And if the Dolphins make a run of their own this fall, the information McDaniel gathered during this remarkable spring might be decisive.
“There’s information in front of us all the time that can be very beneficial to what we do on a day-to-day basis — if you’re willing to look and listen,” McDaniel said.
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