The Patriots already let one succession plan walk out the door when they traded away Jimmy Garoppolo.
They weren’t going to make the same mistake twice.
In a surprising turn of events, Josh McDaniels has decided to stay with the Patriots, after all. The news broke Tuesday night, about nine hours after the Colts announced on Twitter that they had hired McDaniels as head coach. They even called a Wednesday news conference to introduce him. Reports emerged that he was going to bring special teams coordinator Joe Judge and assistant quarterbacks coach Jerry Schuplinski with him to Indianapolis.
But the Krafts knew they couldn’t lose McDaniels. The Patriots were starting to fall apart at the seams, potentially losing both coordinators, their special teams coach, and several assistants.
Suddenly, the Krafts have pulled it all back together.
The Patriots owners worked hard over the two days since the Super Bowl to entice McDaniels to stay. Matt Patricia may now be gone to Detroit to be the Lions’ head coach, but Tom Brady will be back, McDaniels will be back, and the Patriots can continue their 18-year reign next season.
The move does call into question how much longer Bill Belichick will remain with the Patriots. Early reports on Tuesday night indicated that Belichick isn’t stepping down this offseason.
But clearly, the McDaniels move was made not only with 2018 in mind, but the future of the Patriots. If Belichick doesn’t step down this year, it’s coming soon. He’s 65 and has accomplished everything he has ever wanted in the NFL world. Perhaps he and Brady can keep it going for a couple more years and ride out together, in an ending fitting for Hollywood.
McDaniels, 41, better have gotten assurances from the Krafts or Belichick that he is going to be the next Patriots head coach, and sooner than later. He still wants a second chance at a top job, and he certainly won’t be viewed positively in NFL coaching circles after this sudden about face.
He left the Colts in a lurch — now they need to start over with their head coaching search, and many of the top candidates have been snapped up. He also left several other coaches in the lurch — former Patriots offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo was reportedly ready to join McDaniels in Indianapolis, and Cowboys linebackers coach Matt Eberflus was set to become his defensive coordinator. Schuplinski and Judge, who have expiring contracts with the Patriots, were counting on McDaniels, too, though they are likely to remain in New England now.
“U pull that move if there are ‘assurances’ b/c that’s career suicide jack!” former Patriots offensive lineman Damien Woody said on Twitter.
It’s not career suicide if you’re going to take over the most successful program of the last two decades, however.
And McDaniels, not Patricia or anyone else, is the obvious heir to Belichick. He’s the offensive guru, the one who spends more time on the phone with Brady than he does with his wife.
“He knows me so well,” Brady said. “He knows me by the look on my face, and vice versa. I communicate with him more than I communicate with probably anybody in my life.”
McDaniels has been a Patriot for almost as long as Brady and Belichick. He began his Patriots career right out of college, and has literally learned at the foot of Belichick and Brady for most of the last 18 years. He is the guy the franchise needs to find and develop the next quarterback. McDaniels did it once with Garoppolo. The Patriots know they need him to do it again.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised at this sudden decision. At the Super Bowl, McDaniels explained why he likes working with Belichick so much.
“You ask us, ‘Why do we enjoy being here?’ We enjoy being here because we keep getting better, and he gives us an opportunity to do our job, he gives us support,” McDaniels said. “He’s a great resource for us and he lets us do it, even if we make mistakes. I think, as a coach, you feel good about having that opportunity and then trying your best. You know that he’s going to be there to support you and give you good feedback, and it’s an opportunity to compete and win that he gives us every single year with the way he puts the team together.”
McDaniels’s first head coaching stint didn’t go well, lasting less than two seasons in Denver. He wants to become a head coach again some day, and he knows it needs to be perfect.
Indianapolis looked pretty good. The Colts have a franchise quarterback in Andrew Luck, a well-respected GM in Chris Ballard, a solid backup quarterback in Jacoby Brissett, and a gutted roster ready to be made over.
There is also one major question mark in Indianapolis — Luck’s shoulder. He missed all of last season, and his prognosis for 2018 could be classified as “muted optimism.”
That is to say, it’s not the perfect situation. McDaniels is comfortable in New England, working with Brady and Belichick. His family is settled. He hasn’t had to live the nomadic coaching lifestyle in a half dozen years.
He may have found the perfect situation. It’s right here in New England, chasing Super Bowls with Brady and building the franchise’s future.
Just 12 hours ago, the Patriots looked like they were falling apart. With one swift move, the Krafts kept it all together.
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.