Miami Dolphins get it right, hire 49ers OC Mike McDaniel as 11th head coach

New Miami Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel will be asked to change the team's culture and win more games than his predecessor, Brian Flores.

The Miami Dolphins have their coach — San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel — and he’s the right man at the right time for a franchise in crisis. Five days after Brian Flores accused the team of racial discrimination in a federal class-action lawsuit, the Dolphins made the only minority hire so far this cycle.

Miami Dolphins’ future bright with Mike McDaniel

McDaniel, whose father is Black, will become the 11th non-interim coach in the franchise’s nearly six-decade history. And never before have they picked someone quite like this.

McDaniel is young (38), brilliant (went to Yale), and … unique. He looks more like someone riding the rail at a Yellowcard concert than someone leading an NFL franchise. But over two interviews, including a 10-hour marathon session on Friday, he convinced the Dolphins that he’s ready for this moment.

McDaniel couldn’t be more different than his predecessor. Flores is one of the best defensive coaches in football. McDaniel is a rare offensive mind. Flores would struggle to crack a smile at a comedy club. McDaniel is one of the most gregarious, engaging young coaches in football. At most every turn, Flores undermined first-round quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. McDaniel’s No. 1 job will be to develop and empower Tua.

But none of that will matter if he cannot win. McDaniel will have every opportunity to do so in Miami. In a franchise beset with dysfunction the last decade, he’ll be a collaborator. No doubt, he’ll need to prove to a new locker room that he’s got the command needed to lead a franchise. But the list of character witnesses from those who have worked with him in the past is long.

Dolphins hire fourth straight first-time head coach

This is a risk, certainly. The Dolphins passed up on several more accomplished candidates to hire McDaniel. They picked him over former head coaches Dan Quinn, Leslie Frazier, and Vance Joseph. They didn’t even take interviews with Jim Caldwell and Doug Pederson. And Miami picked McDaniel over fellow finalist Kellen Moore, who interviewed Saturday.

There’s big-time variance with making such a hire. Stephen Ross — accused this week by Flores of offering bribes to lose — has now hired four first-time head coaches. The previous three were gone inside of four years.

Will McDaniel be different than his predecessors? Ross certainly hopes and likely believes so. We do too.

McDaniel’s football background

McDaniel is as unique as they come in the NFL. He’s a Yale-educated former Broncos ball boy who got his first big NFL break from then-Denver coach Mike Shanahan, who brought McDaniel on as an intern in 2005. McDaniel followed Gary Kubiak to Houston, but struggles with alcohol derailed his career.

He admittedly partied too often and would occasionally sleep through his alarm. That problem led to his eventual termination and a two-year stint in football purgatory: the now-defunct United Football League.

Mike Shanahan — who was then hired to coach the club now known as the Washington Football Team — threw McDaniel’s career a lifeline in 2011, bringing him back to the NFL as an offensive assistant and then later as a wide receivers coach.

McDaniel’s career took off after joining forces with Kyle Shanahan

After a one-year stint with the Browns, he and Shanahan’s son Kyle — McDaniel’s long-time friend — joined the Falcons staff. That’s where McDaniel gave up drinking in 2016. His career took off with sobriety. McDaniel followed Kyle Shanahan to San Francisco, where he was first the run game coordinator and then promoted to offensive coordinator in 2021.

Since then, Shanahan has had nothing but great things to say about McDaniel.

“He’s an acquired taste, and you guys are getting it. Mike’s a good dude, he’s really good at what he does, and he’s himself. He’s one of the smartest coaches I’ve been around, and he’s been huge to our team and huge for me throughout my entire career.”

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