BEN VOLIN | ON FOOTBALL
Barry Chin/Globe Staff
His agent dumped him, fellow coaches ripped him, and the city of Indianapolis trashed him.
For Josh McDaniels’s sake, he better have gotten assurances from the Patriots to make it worth it.
McDaniels’s shocking about-face on the Colts Tuesday night certainly damaged his brand. Already a pariah in Denver for his disastrous stint as head coach, McDaniels can add Indianapolis to the list of cities that won’t serve him a free drink any time soon.
“I was absolutely shocked,” former Patriots assistant coach Charlie Weis said on SiriusXM. “It’s like a slap in the face.”
McDaniels went back on his word, a mortal sin to some. He double-crossed a few coaches who had already signed their contracts in Indianapolis because they thought they would be working for McDaniels (including defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus and offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo).
McDaniels made his agent look bad, and Bob LaMonte promptly dropped McDaniels on Wednesday. And McDaniels left the Colts in a pickle, forcing them to start from square one with their coaching search, five weeks after other teams did.
Colts general manager Chris Ballard took the high road in a news conference on Wednesday morning.
“Unquestionably we were disappointed and surprised,” Ballard said. “Josh McDaniels is a good football coach, and I wish him the best going forward.”
But McDaniels’s turnaround obviously is not sitting well inside the Colts’ offices. Ballard gave it away with his walk-off line at the news conference. He just couldn’t help himself.
“The rivalry is back on,” Ballard said.
According to Peter King of The MMQB, McDaniels had a change of heart after having a long meeting with Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick on Tuesday. But McDaniels was not given any written assurances about being the successor to Belichick in New England.
The key there is “written.” It doesn’t have to be written into McDaniels’s contract that he is Belichick’s heir apparent, but McDaniels better have gotten verbal assurances.
It’s the only way to justify committing “professional suicide,” as LaMonte characterized it late Tuesday night.
“If he’s not [the heir apparent],” Weis said, “then that would’ve been the absolute dumbest move in the history of sports.”
Because make no mistake, McDaniels’s name is toxic right now. His failed stint in Denver (11-17 record, and was fired after Week 13 in his second season), and this about-face in Indianapolis, are two big strikes against him. It’s going to take years for McDaniels to clear his name.
NBC analyst and former Colts coach Tony Dungy couldn’t contain his rage on Wednesday morning. Dungy is a rival and a Colt at heart, but also among the most mild-mannered people you might ever meet. He’s not an emotional guy or a hot-take artist.
“I can tell you there is NO excuse big enough to justify this,” Dungy tweeted. “It’s one thing to go back on your word to an organization. But having assistant coaches leave jobs to go with you then leave them out to dry is indefensible. For COMFORT??”
Of course, none of it matters if McDaniels was told that he eventually will take over for Belichick. And Belichick will turn 66 in April, so that time is coming sooner rather than later — as soon as 2019, potentially. Until Belichick does step down, McDaniels can continue to work with Tom Brady and chase Super Bowl rings.
For the Patriots, keeping McDaniels gives them assurances as well. It assures the Kraft family that they will have a competent head coach (we think) whenever Belichick decides to step down. It gives the Krafts a little bit of leverage against Belichick, in case the tension between them mounts. It gives the Patriots someone they can trust to identify and develop the next Jimmy Garoppolo.
“Those people in New England, I promise you, are delighted. It’s like the greatest thing ever,” Weis said. “They don’t lose their offensive coordinator, they don’t lose the guy who’s Tommy’s confidant, you don’t lose a potential head coach, whenever Bill decides to go.”
McDaniels did have some supporters outside of New England on Wednesday. Former NFL quarterback Sage Rosenfels noted the double standard at play when coaches routinely show no loyalty to players and cut them on a whim.
“I know I’m in the minority, but I’m fine with what Josh McDaniels did,” Rosenfels tweeted. “The Colts org has been a mess since Peyton left. Patriots as solid as it gets. He changed his mind. Oh well. Change the NFL rules then. This was bound to happen at some point.”
Bill Polian, the Colts’ president from 1998-2011, said his phone was lighting up on Tuesday night with calls and texts from his former employees in Indianapolis. The impression Polian got was that the Colts were thankful that McDaniels bailed on them now, instead of after he already joined them. Polian brought up the Bobby Petrino situation in Atlanta in 2007, when he lasted less than a full season with the Falcons and bailed on the team for another job with three weeks to go.
“No one’s upset, no one’s crying about spilled milk,” Polian said on ESPN Radio. “As someone said, ‘Better to learn it now than later.’ ”
McDaniels wasn’t committed to the Colts. He is committed to the Patriots, and Belichick, and Brady, and the Krafts.
But those dreams of becoming a head coach again will have to hinge on Belichick leaving the Patriots. Unlike Matt Patricia, who was introduced as the Lions’ head coach on Wednesday, McDaniels isn’t getting hired away any time soon.
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