Make no mistake. Josh McDaniels is an NFL head coach in waiting. That was reasonably evident last year when McDaniels was a key man on a 16-0 team. It’s a slam dunk now that he has kept New England’s 2008 offense afloat and playoff-worthy.
Make no mistake. Josh McDaniels is an NFL head coach in waiting.
That was reasonably evident last year when McDaniels was a key man on a 16-0 team. It’s a slam dunk now that he has kept New England’s 2008 offense afloat and playoff-worthy.
He has done so despite having to replace future Hall of Famer Tom Brady with Matt Cassel. He has done so without Laurence Maroney, a former Round 1 pick who was supposed to be breaking through as a star runner.
The Patriots’ bright-eyed offensive coordinator says he trusts his boss completely to tell him if he’s ready. If it’s not time, it’s close. Even if Bill Belichick’s call is to wait another year or two, owners eager to import the magic formula may disagree.
For most candidates McDaniels’ age, taking the plunge would be less stable than selling luxury homes in the rust belt.
In his case, the risk might be to teams steering clear of him, hiring someone else’s experience over his brilliance.
McDaniels will turn 33 the week of the 2009 draft. He’ll be two years young than Eric Mangini when the Jets hired him in 2006 ... two years younger than Jon Gruden when the Raiders hired him in 1998 ... two years younger than Bill Cowher when the Steelers hired him in 1992.
He’ll be almost exactly the age John Madden was when the Raiders hired him in 1969.
Risky hire? Absolutely. Intriguing candidate? You bet.
Obviously, Cowher, now 51, would be a more sensible hire than McDaniels. But Cowher can only take one job. Here’s what makes McDaniels an A-list candidate for Cowher pursuers needing a Plan B:
- An off-the charts IQ as it pertains to both book learning and football. He began his young life in the business world. If Congress were full of minds like his, we wouldn’t be neck deep in a financial mess.
- A maniacal worker, the only kind Belichick keeps promoting.
- Mental, social and professional agility. He was 25 when he was on call 24-7 as a Belichick go-for, 28 when he worked as Tom Brady’s position coach on the Patriots’ last Super Bowl winner and 31 when he coordinated the offense that set a league scoring record in a perfect regular season. At 32, he has the Patriots in the playoff hunt despite major injuries.
- Decency and common sense. He was a nice kid at McKinley High School. He’s a fine young man who knows how to talk to people, not at them.
- Fire. Football was the family business when he was growing up. Game planning and winning might not be his heaven on earth. But it’s close.
Winning an NFL head coaching job in the right situation is his dream. That’s where Belichick comes in. He’ll have a strong opinion on “right situation.”
McDaniels could land a lot of places. If he waits until Belichick retires, that place could be New England.
There’s no indication Belichick, 56, is ready for country club life. There are indications McDaniels is ready to take a whack at head coaching.
McDaniels’ worst game since he took over as coordinator in 2006 was a 38-13 home loss to the Dolphins in September.
It was the first time in NFL history a team coming off a 16-0 year lost to one that went 1-15.
Last Sunday’s 48-28 win in the rematch came two months after McDaniels began turning Matt Cassel into a quarterback with stats rivaling Peyton Manning’s.
Miami bothered Cassel with a four-man rush in the first game.
“It always causes issues when you’ve got a front that can create a lot of pressure without the need to (blitz),” McDaniels said. “That usually means that they have seven guys back there defending whatever you’re doing in the passing game.”
McDaniels pushed all the right buttons as Cassel passed for 415 yards. Despite the kind of injury problems that wreck some teams, the Patriots are 7-4 and rank seventh in the league in total offense.
For the record, those comparative QB stats:
Manning: 266-of-424, 62.7 percent, 2,823 yards, 19 TDs, 10 picks, 87.2 rating.
Cassel: 238-of-359, 66.3 percent, 2,615 yards, 13 TDs, 8 picks, 90.5 rating.
Both of their teams are 7-4.
Toast to Porter
The Steelers are good at letting linebackers go a year too early rather than a year too late. Joey Porter had more left than they imagined.
At age 31, in his second year with the Dolphins, Porter leads the NFL with 14 1/2 sacks.
“He’s relentless,” McDaniels said. “People have him blocked initially, but you need to play until the whistle with this guy, or he’s going to be near the quarterback if not on top of him.
“He’s got a number of moves and counters. He’s coming after the quarterback on most plays. Last year, he wasn’t always doing that.”
Porter is on the verge of tripling his 2007 sack total of 5 1/2. The top three in the AFC in sacks are Porter and two guys from his former team, Jerome Harrison (12) and LaMarr Woodley (10).
Porter didn’t bother Cassel much last Sunday. Harrison and Woodley get their shot today when the Steelers take the field in Foxboro.
Hold the Forte
The Bears are in the playoff hunt largely because they struck second-round gold with running back Matt Forte.
The 6-foot-2, 220-pounder doesn’t have the classic compact build of a cold-weather grinder and must prove he can hold up in December. Her grew up in Louisiana and played at Tulane.
Oddly, Forte’s worst 2008 game (15 carries, 36 yards) came in a dome against the wretched Lions. He gained steam in November, averaging 101.2 yards a game and 5.1 yards per carry.
- What is the opposite of the meatgrinder? Ask Peyton Manning, whose next three games are against Cleveland (4-7), Cincinnati (1-9-1) and Detroit (0-12).
- Meatgrinder would be more like Pittsburgh’s upcoming games against the Patriots (7-4), Cowboys (7-4), Ravens (7-4) and Titans (11-1).
- There’s a good chance the NFC North will produce a champion with a 9-7 record. No team has ever won a Super Bowl with a record worse than 10-6. The Giants did that in February.
- The Colts are 109-46 since 1999, the year the Browns came back. Cleveland, which hosts the Colts today, is 54-102 during that span.
- Tony Dungy and Belichick are racing each other up the all-time wins list. Both have 134 in the regular season. Counting postseason, Belichick is 149-89.