When you think back to the most successful National Football League coordinators over the last decade, the name Josh McDaniels would likely come to mind. McDaniels has spent close to the last twenty years, on and off, as the New England Patriots offensive coordinator. He has served many roles in that time, but he is most famous for running the offense under head coach Bill Belichick. Having tried an unsuccessful foray into head coaching in the past, could 2020 finally be the year McDaniels steps out of Belichick’s shadow to take over his own NFL team? His name has come up as the front runner for a number of teams, and he might have the choice of which sideline he will be standing on next season.

Football runs in the family

McDaniels has been around the game of football his entire life. From a young age, his father, Thom McDaniels, would have Josh accompany him to his football practices in Ohio. Thom was somewhat of a legend in the Ohio coaching world, having won the 1997 USA Today High School Coach of the Year award. Overall, he was a coach for 40-years and was named to the Ohio high school coaches hall of fame.

Josh credits his success to what he learned from his father early on at those high school football practices. In an interview done in 2015 with a local news station, McDaniels opened up about the influence his hall of fame father had on him.

“I got to start to see that at a very early age when I started to go to two-a-day practices when I was 5 and really got to see that up close and personal. I was kind of a sponge at that point and I fell in love with the game of football through [my dad],” McDaniels said. “I knew real early in my life that this was probably something I wanted to do. I didn’t know what level, but at some point, I wanted to be a coach.” 

McDaniels ended up playing high school football at one of the schools his dad coached, Canton McKinley. He played his career as a quarterback but was recruited as a wide receiver at the next level. While playing at John Carroll University, McDaniels actually met Jerry Schuplinski and Nick Caserio, both of which became coordinators with New England during the same period as McDaniels.

A storied coaching career

Having already picked up a few tricks from his father, McDaniels was able to begin his coaching career alongside another legend, Nick Saban. Saban was Michigan State’s head coach in 1999 when McDaniels joined his coaching staff as an assistant. It was ultimately Saban’s last year with the Spartans before he took over for LSU. The team still went 10-2 on the season with a bowl win over Florida.

After his time with Saban, McDaniels began his historic coaching career with the New England Patriots. He was brought on as simply a personnel assistant in 2001. He quickly worked his way through the rankings, and in 2007 he became the offensive coordinator. In his first full season under the helm, the Patriots set NFL records, scoring 75 touchdowns (67 on offense, 50 passing, and 17 rushing) and 589 points. After his impressive first season, rumors already started to surface that he would be looking for a head coach position.

He ultimately remained with the team for another season. This decision was one that would profoundly impact McDaniels’ future. When talking about everything Belichick has done for him over the years, McDaniels likes to tell the story of how New England’s head coach gave him what he now considers as his “bible”.

“I remember when we first came back after our break, that very first day, that very first morning, he brought me into his office and he gave me five pages, typed, of all the topics and things that he felt like I needed to be educated about to become an effective head coach. I’m thinking to myself, here he’s got 10 or 12 days where he can do whatever in the hell he wants to do — we’ve just come off a season where we were 16-0 and lost in the Super Bowl — and the very first day back he gives me this? That was kind of like my bible.”

Getting an inside look at how one of the most storied and successful head coaches in the history of the NFL operates was too good of an offer to turn down. McDaniels remained with the Patriots and led a Tom Brady-less offense to an 11-5 record. The next year, however, it was time for McDaniels to take the next step.

The controversy began in Denver

McDaniels accepted the head coaching position of the Denver Broncos in 2009. His first year, the team finished 8-8 missing the playoffs. His first season is remembered by most because of his decision to bench Pro Bowl wide receiver, Brandon Marshall, during a must-win game due to disciplinary reasons. It mired his first year in controversy, as the team fell 44-24 against the Kansas City Chiefs in what was Denver’s third straight home loss to a division opponent.

McDaniels’ second season in Denver ended with a 3–9 record. This year was also clouded by scandal but not for personnel reasons. The Broncos were under investigation from the NFL, after it was reported the team’s director of video operations hired by McDaniels in 2009, videotaped a San Francisco 49ers’ walkthrough practice. Ultimately, the NFL determined that McDaniels was not guilty of any wrongdoing in the matter, but he was fined for not reporting the incident immediately. The Broncos decided to cut ties a week after the NFL made that decision. McDaniels finished his head coaching career 11-17 with a .393 winning percentage.

McDaniels went on to become the offensive coordinator for the St Louis Rams for one year before finally returning to the Patriots in 2012.

The dynasty begins in New England

Having had experience with Brady in the past, McDaniels fell easily back into his role as OC/QB coach. Having already been on the team for three Super Bowl wins in the past, this time around McDaniels was the OC for three more Super Bowl wins. The most impressive offensively, was their 34-28 overtime win against the Atlanta Falcons. McDaniels is one of the few members of the Patriots’ coaching staff that has been there for all six of their Super Bowl wins.

In 2018, controversy once again found McDaniels when he accepted to become the next head coach for the Indianapolis Colts. However, McDaniels withdrew from the position on the same day the Colts announced their acquisition. He decided to once again remain with the Patriots. This time around, McDaniels had a similar reason for staying. According to reports, Belichick offered to include McDaniels on more of the inner workings of the organization, from roster construction to financial/salary-cap related considerations. A similar tactic that Belichick used to keep McDaniels around in the past.

A second shot at head coaching success

It would be hard to argue that McDaniels doesn’t deserve another chance at becoming an NFL head coach. It is rare to find someone who has six Super Bowl rings to his name. With what happened during the Colts drama, some teams might be hesitant to approach McDaniels. However, his success is enough to comfort most NFL owners.

This past year, the Patriots have once again made the playoffs but have struggled offensively. Whether it be because of Brady’s age or a lack of weapons, the offense ranks 15th in passing yards. Their defense has been the story of the year. Nonetheless, teams are still reaching out to McDaniels.

McDaniels and Belichick run a complex offensive system that has been a big part of their success. Back when Charlie Weis was the offensive coordinator, he and Belichick implemented an Erhardt-Perkins system. The system uses concepts instead of routes to describe a play. It also lets the offense run different plays from the same formation, which makes diagnosing the play from the defensive side incredibly tricky. Mastering this kind of offense is difficult, and is one of the reasons McDaniels is so sought after.

Even though his name comes up every year when coaching positions open, McDaniels continues to remain focused on one game at a time. In a recent interview, he was asked what he thinks about becoming a head coach. His response was quite clear.

“With all due respect to the question, I’m not even aware of any of that stuff at this point. When that stuff is presented to me or discussed with me or whatever, then we’ll deal with it appropriately,” he said. “I’m the offensive coordinator of the Patriots. We have a lot of work to do, we can improve in a lot of areas to try to get ready for this week — our biggest game of the year against, certainly, the best team we’ve played since a postseason game. Our players deserve that, our coaches deserve that, and that’s what they’re going to get from me.”

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