MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Mike McDaniel has long believed Brian Flores was wrong about Tua Tagovailoa. What was different about Sunday, following yet another Miami Dolphins victory — their fifth in as many games: McDaniel decided to make those thoughts public.
Mike McDaniel on Tua Tagovailoa
McDaniel never mentioned Flores — his predecessor as Dolphins coach — by name during his postgame news conference. But anyone familiar with even the most basic details about Tagovailoa’s first two seasons in Miami could figure out what McDaniel was getting at.
The quick summary: From basically the moment the Dolphins drafted Tagovailoa fifth overall in 2020, Flores seemed to do everything in his power to sabotage Tua’s confidence, including the team’s failed pursuit of Deshaun Watson ahead of the 2021 trade deadline.
The system was not tailored to Tagovailoa’s strengths, and not surprisingly, he struggled. And when Tua did struggle, Flores would pull him in favor of Ryan Fitzpatrick late in close games.
That gave the impression to everyone, Tua included, that Flores didn’t believe in Tagovailoa. Chris Grier, Miami’s general manager, meanwhile did. And along with owner Stephen Ross replaced Flores with a coach in McDaniel who did.
There’s a lot more to it, of course. But that’s old news. McDaniel’s extended remarks Sunday — after Tua went 22 of 36 for 299 yards and a touchdown in a 30-15 win over the Houston Texans — were new.
McDaniel’s Confidence in Tua
The conversation began when a reporter asked McDaniel about a story shared during the CBS broadcast.
McDaniel, the report stated, put together a 700-play highlight reel of things Tua did right earlier in his career to drive home the point to Tagovailoa that he’s a good and talented quarterback, and to rebuild a broken confidence.
In an abundance of fairness, we’re going to share McDaniel’s entire response. The sections referring to Flores and his many offensive assistants in 2021 and 2022 are in bold.
McDaniel said the following late Sunday afternoon:
“You try and put yourself in other people’s shoes as best you can. I think that’s an important component to being a head coach. No one really — I think it’s hard for people to truly wrap their head around what it is to be a quarterback in the National Football League in terms of you talk about as much pressure as one could ever have. You have all these teammates depending on you to do the right thing on every play. People are trying to tackle you full-speed while you’re making split-second decisions and you’re in charge of making sure that our plus-minus turnover ratio is right.
“That is a hard, hard job. Not to mention, this just in, anybody that’s drafted as a quarterback in the top 10, top five, they want to be good. They want to be good with the — I would not want to trade places or wish any sort of — anybody really to be drafted super high and then fall short of the franchise’s expectations. That is a tough place to live in.
“That was the motivating factor behind everything. You acknowledging that, understanding that, ‘Wow, it’s hard enough to play an opponent. I’d better make sure there’s a lot of things that are telling me that this player may not have the confidence that he should, so instead of getting mad at that or doing anything, it was incredibly important that anybody that would listen would be able to see from a starting point, not just watch the FaceTime where I’m like, ‘yeah, you’re going to be a great player.’
“To actually know, and it was easy; he had the stuff on the tape. I think that’s a credit to him. To his credit, he’s really listened, taken the coaching that he’s good. Said ‘okay, Coach, I believe you.’ And I think you guys have seen the residuals up close and personal for a while.”
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The reporter then asked a follow up question about whether McDaniel was aware that Tua’s confidence had dropped that much during the 2021 season.
“This was not going off of straight fact. This was just using intuition, that getting beat up and having your existence be completely tainted by people saying that you aren’t X, Y or Z, and then on top of that, from my vantage point, I felt like he was put behind the 8-ball in a way with the — basically his strengths, he couldn’t play to. And so if you’re not able to play to your strengths and your position that one of the reasons you’ve gotten there is you’re an unbelievable point guard, I felt, how could he, with all the things going on.
“It’s a lot of loud noise that you try to ignore, but people are human. It was intuition, and it started seeing him every practice once he started getting a little bit more confidence each and every day. You could see his personality evolve and that’s when I learned kind of how deep it was, because I’m learning his personality – the first day I meet him is who I know him as, and then you fast forward a month and a half, and he’s a different guy. Then retroactively, like wow, that was real. It’s not like he admitted it, either, to me at the time, live speed.
“This is something that I think he — all he did was just come to work, buy in, listen, and then do what he could control instead of worrying about any of it. He chopped wood, got with Coach Bevell and Chandler Henley, and they’ve not done anything but tried to work on technique, fundamentals, and how to play the position at an elite level, and they’ve done an outstanding job with that, and henceforth we were 8-0 with him. Or I guess he didn’t finish the game, but you guys get it. He wins a lot.”