Brace yourselves: We’re headed for the seventh straight year of watching New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels spin around the head coaching carousel.
McDaniels was rumored to be a head-coaching candidate as early as 2013, three years after he was fired as the Denver Broncos’ head coach and one year after he returned to New England as the Patriots’ offensive coordinator.
Since that time, it’s been an annual, and somewhat tiring, tradition of reporting on McDaniels’ interviews just to see him ultimately return to the Patriots.
McDaniels famously came closest to taking a job three years ago before backing out on the Indianapolis Colts at the last second. He’s been associated, through interviews or interest, with the majority of NFL teams at this point. He also recently restated his desire to lead a team one day.
So, what’s the likelihood he returns to New England?
There are two different ways to view the situation.
First, and perhaps most obviously, that head coaching opportunities have passed him by (for now). Quarterback Tom Brady left the Patriots, and New England couldn’t keep up its high-powered offensive attack without him.
Here is where the Patriots offense ranks in key metrics so far this season:
Total offense: 29th
Passing yards: 30th
Rushing yards: 5th
Pass DVOA: 31st
Rush DVOA: 7th
Yards per drive: 16th
Points per drive: 25th
This is not purely a Josh McDaniels problem. It’s also a Bill Belichick problem and a Cam Newton problem and an injury problem and a N’Keal Harry problem and … well, you get the point. But McDaniels is a little bit of a hard sell right now when the Patriots struggled without Brady.
McDaniels had much more success when Brady got hurt in 2008 and Matt Cassel took over at quarterback. The Patriots were fifth in total offense, eighth in scoring, seventh in DVOA and third in points per drive. McDaniels, Cassel and the Patriots also had Randy Moss and Wes Welker at wide receiver. Slightly different situation all around.
So, why is it still a possibility that McDaniels could leave? Quite frankly, it helps him that the Patriots are out of the playoffs. He can interview for whatever job he desires, and there are quite a few of them that could come available. McDaniels actually wasn’t able to interview with the New York Giants or Carolina Panthers last year before they hired Joe Judge and Matt Rhule, respectively. The Detroit Lions, Houston Texans and Atlanta Falcons already are looking for head coaches. The New York Jets, Los Angeles Chargers, Jacksonville Jaguars and Chicago Bears could join them at early as Monday.
There also aren’t incredibly obvious head coaching candidates on the rise. Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley, San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator Joe Brady, New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen, Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith, Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich and anyone in Sean McVay’s third-grade class are popular names, but there’s no Kyle Shanahan or Ron Rivera out there this year.
McDaniels also might see the writing on the way that he might not get another shot at a head coaching opportunity in the near future and jump on a job that he might have rejected in the past. Other Patriots assistants have jumped ship in recent years. McDaniels has stayed on board.
The Lions and Texans might be hesitant to hire McDaniels after firing Belichick disciples Matt Patricia and Bill O’Brien, but the Falcons, Chargers or Jaguars could take a shot on the 44-year-old Patriots offensive coordinator.
Based on the last seven offseasons, it’s more likely than not that McDaniels once again sticks around. The Patriots don’t have an obvious in-house candidate to replace him at offensive coordinator if he does leave to become a head coach. Two potential candidates actually would be fired head coaches: Bill O’Brien, who’s already been let go by the Texans, and Adam Gase, who has yet to receive his pink slip from the Jets.