Sometimes even a “dream job” can turn into a nightmare. Happens all the time. But it happens too often with the person who holds the highest position Miami Dolphins coaches.
Not only was Mike McDaniel living that dream, but things couldn’t have started better. The players love him. He is eccentric. He is funny. He is real. He is cool. He is a “mad scientist”. He’s not Brian Flores or Adam Gase.
And he won by doing what no one else could, developing a quarterback Tua Tagavailoa. The national media was on the hook.
That all changed in Week 4 of his first year on the job after a famous win over the Buffalo Bills. The players don’t like him. It remains. And he’s still the same innovative, cool guy. But the 39-year-old, who looks like you’d bump into him at the skate park, is no longer a national media darling.
Like many before him, McDaniel was drawn into the black cloud that hung over the Dolphins.
McDaniel has risen to the top of the Coach of the Year favorites, though only three weeks into the season. But clouds began to form in the four days between the 3-0 start and last Thursday’s game in Cincinnati. The sight of Tagovailoa staggering, stumbling and unable to get off the field on his own late in the first half against the Bills after his head snapped back and hit the turf was all anyone saw.
It turned into a worst-case scenario when the image of that moment was replaced with an even scarier one: Tua was carried off the field in Cincinnati on a stretcher moments after his hands froze in a “fencing reaction.” indicative of traumatic brain injury.
In an instant, McDaniel went from being the poster boy for a new generation of likable young coaches to the most reviled coach in the league. And not just for getting Tua back on the field in the second half against Buffalo and then four days later at Cincinnati, but for his comments after an incident that made you cringe.
Everyone from the coaches to the TV analysts are rooting for McDaniel with the Miami Dolphins
Fellow coaches, former coaches, former players-turned-analysts, anyone with access to a microphone or keyboard (which is a lot of people) have an opinion on the Tua situation, and most start by trashing the Dolphins and their coach.
McDaniel remained steadfast throughout the inspection.
The specialist dismissed:Independent specialist who helped clear Tua Tagovailoa in Bills game reportedly fired
“It’s one of those things that you recognize as part of my job,” McDaniel said Friday. – I don’t do anything without being very responsible and hard on myself. I can say certain things with confidence because I go back and make sure with my due diligence that I did everything right with all the information that was provided.”
McDaniel is adamant Tua was handled with care and caution after he struggled off the field against Buffalo. He continues to follow the story. Tua did not suffer a head injury in that game, and the reason for his shakiness was a back injury.
Even after Thursday’s harrowing scene, which saw players on their knees, some in tears, as Tua was led off the field.
Even with some personalities, including coach-turned-analyst Rex Ryan asking, “Would you put your son back in the game?” The question was clearly directed at McDaniel for Tua’s second-half performance against Buffalo.
Or even one of his peers, Baltimore’s John Harbaugh, making scathing comments about another team’s handling of an injured player, a practice that is highly unusual.
“I couldn’t believe what I saw (Thursday) night,” Harbaugh said. “I couldn’t believe what I saw last Sunday. It was just something that was amazing to see. I’ve been coaching for 40 years, in college, in the NFL, almost 40, and I’ve never seen anything like this before. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.”
McDaniel didn’t help himself by continuing to double down on his decision to play Tagovailoa in Cincinnati, even after many publicly feared that what we saw was exactly what might happen. And his post-match press conference, though measured and emotional, will be remembered mostly for one terrible comment.
“The best news we could get is that everything checked out, that he didn’t have anything more serious than a concussion.”
There is a long list of former NFL players who have died since chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)a progressive brain disease believed to be caused by repeated concussions.
McDaniel is tied with Brian Flores, Adam Gase, Joe Philbin…
McDaniel is now part of a beleaguered Dolphin brotherhood.
One that includes Flores, who quickly learned what it’s like to be the coach of the Dolphins. He started his tenure 0-7, and after he was fired after the 2021 season, owner Stephen Ross allegedly tried to incentivize him to lose games on purpose by offering Flores $100,000 for each loss.
Then there was the NFL investigation that concluded Ross had interfered with quarterback Tom Brady and coach Sean Payton and cost Ross a $1.5 million fine and suspension.
And Gase, who was fired after three years that included two losing seasons, but more embarrassingly, offensive line coach Chris Foerster resigned after a video of Foerster snorting two lines of cocaine with a bill was released online in 20 dollars. The video was taken while Foerster was apparently working for an NFL team in his office preparing for a meeting.
And Joe Philbin, who took the blame for the atmosphere in the locker room that led to the “Bullygate” scandal, in which Jonathan Martin and an assistant coach were harassed by fellow forward Richie Incognito and others that included racial slurs, homophobic slurs and sexual ridicule.
The roster also includes Tony Sparano, who is under contract and has to deal with Ross courting Jim Harbaugh; Nick Saban sabotages Miami’s future by choosing to sign Duante Culpepper over Drew Brees before announcing on December 21, 2006, “I’m not going to be Alabama’s coach” and two weeks later becoming Alabama’s coach; Jimmy Johnson began his tenure with Don Shula accusing the Dolphins of lobbying for Shula’s job.
“Football is a unique sport,” McDaniel said Friday. “One of the reasons we love it is because there’s so much unpredictability, so many variables. It’s also brutal and can lead to injuries. You really comb through everything that comes on your plate to make sure you doing the right thing. all participants, in particular – and most importantly and non-negotiable – the people, the players.”
After weeks or months of investigation, others will make that decision for McDaniel and the franchise. The games will be secondary until everything is answered and Tua gets better.
It’s all just part of being the coach of the Miami Dolphins, no matter how good things look.