By Zach Naidu
Last week, shortly following Super Bowl LII, New England Patriots’ long-tenured offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels officially agreed to become the next head coach of the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts’ official Twitter account tweeted the news, formally announcing the hiring of one of the brightest offensive minds in the game today. The news came as a surprise to no one, as McDaniels had been talking to Indianapolis for weeks and had all but signed the dotted line – he had already hired assistant coaches.
But then McDaniels changed his mind.
After meeting with Patriots owner Robert Kraft, McDaniels decided to stay put in Boston, citing stability for his wife and four children as the chief reason. Throughout the Patriots’ playoff run, McDaniels had been in contact for over a month with the Colts about the coaching job, but per league rules could not officially sign the contract while his current team was still playing. One would assume in that time he would’ve consulted his family and thought about what was in its best interest before verbally agreeing to move to Indianapolis.
For whatever reason, McDaniels had a change of heart – and there is no shame in that. A man cannot be judged for doing what he believes is in the best interest of his family.
McDaniels can be criticized for, however, drastically impacting the lives of the coaches he recruited to be his assistants – coaches who had already informed their current employers and were planning a move to Indiana. Dave DeGugliemo, Matt Eberflus and Mike Phair all had signed contracts with the Colts as assistant coaches and agreed to move from Miami, Dallas and Illinois respectively to serve under McDaniels. All three men have wives and children – DeGuglielmo has one child, Eberflus two and Phair four (just as many as McDaniels). Per reports, McDaniels gave these men no warning about his decision to backtrack before telling the Colts. Despite the shakeup, the Colts have decided to honor the contracts. But this does not fix the problem – in many ways it exacerbates it. These three men thought they were coming to work for McDaniels and work in a system centered around his football philosophy. They uprooted their families to follow McDaniels. Now they will be forced to adjust to a different coach who in all likelihood will be disappointed he couldn’t hire his own coordinators.
In response to those who said McDaniels shouldn’t be criticized for his decision, former Colts coach Tony Dungy described it best, saying, “Don’t get married, start a family, then say I changed my mind. He didn’t sign the contract but he said ‘I do.’ That is common decency and integrity. You don’t do that to the families of your peers.”
Josh McDaniels swindled everybody around him. He didn’t want to let the Colts job slip away, so he verbally agreed to take it and began assembling a team – as many coaches have done in the past. Companies pull job offers and teams pull contracts from players quite frequently, so McDaniels had every right to renege. The team has already moved on, hiring former Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich as its new head coach. The disheartening part of the situation comes from the profound impact McDaniels’ vacillation and lack of integrity will have on the lives of those he deceived. No ill will should be wished on McDaniels — but it cannot be forgotten how detrimental his flip-flopping was. The situation should highlight the importance of integrity in a profession that throws around the term “it’s just business” far too often.
The McDaniels reneging is the first major one in American sports since NBA center Deandre Jordan publicly spurned the Dallas Mavericks to return to the Los Angeles Clippers in 2015. During the opening days of the summer free agency period, Jordan reached a verbal agreement with Mavericks owner Mark Cuban to become the team’s new starting center. However, days later – and hours before the official signing period began – Jordan had broken off communication with the Mavericks and began talking to his Clippers teammates. Clippers All-Stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin infamously flew down to Jordan’s house in Houston, barricading his front door until the All-NBA center signed a new contract with the Clippers – much to the ire of the Mavericks organization and its fans. Jordan handled the ordeal very immaturely, as he said nothing to the Mavericks organization until tweeting following his signing with the Clippers, causing the Mavericks to miss out on other key free agents because the team believed it was investing in Jordan. And yet while the optics were not ideal, what Jordan did to the Mavericks pales in comparison to what McDaniels has done to all of those involved in the Colts head coach saga. Only one party was directly impacted by Jordan’s decision, and despite disrupting Dallas’ 2015 free agency, the decision’s effects on the franchise are irrelevant at this stage, as the Mavericks would merely have elevated to a slightly above average team. Children are forced to leave their friends and hometowns for what is now a less-than-ideal job opportunity for their fathers.
While many believe Jordan ultimately made the right decision by returning to the more talented Clippers, the same cannot be said about McDaniels. He turned down a team with a star quarterback still in his 20s to be an assistant for a team that at best has an elite yet aging quarterback for the next five years and a legendary head coach on the way out. There is certainly something McDaniels knows that nobody else does. Reports have surfaced Kraft guaranteed him the Patriots head coaching job once Belichick retires, which would make the decision more understandable. However, nothing excuses the indecency McDaniels showed to those he had personally recruited to uproot their families’ lives for perceived greener pastures in Indianapolis.
Every man must do what’s best for himself and his loved ones. However, that decision should not come at the expense of others’ lives. Josh McDaniels crossed a line – and those he lied to are now left stranded on the other side.
Contact Zach Naidu at znaidu ‘at’ stanford.edu.