The Jacksonville Jaguars need to replace freshly fired head coach Urban Meyer with someone who can properly develop phenom quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
How about the guy who’s done wonders with another 2021 first-round draft pick?
That would be New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, whose work with quarterback Mac Jones this season has revitalized his case for a head-coaching gig.
Jones was the fifth QB selected in this year’s draft, but under the direction of McDaniels and Bill Belichick, he’s become the front-runner for Offensive Rookie of the Year, vastly outperforming his fellow first-year signal-callers while piloting the Patriots to the best record in the AFC.
It’s possible Jones would have enjoyed similar success in another NFL system, but McDaniels — who, of course, spent much of the past two decades working closely with Tom Brady — has created an ideal ecosystem for the young quarterback to thrive.
The Jaguars must do the same for Lawrence as they move on from the disastrously short-lived Meyer era, which makes McDaniels an intriguing candidate for their new vacancy.
Lawrence, this year’s No. 1 overall pick, has not played well as a rookie (58.2% completion rate, nine touchdowns, NFL-high 14 interceptions), but it’s impossible to accurately evaluate him amid the dysfunction that defined Meyer’s 13-game tenure. The chance to work with the most highly touted quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck could be appealing to McDaniels, who last year said he “absolutely” wants another shot at being a head coach.
Other factors would need to align, though. First, Jags owner Shad Khan would need to prefer McDaniels over other potential candidates (Bills OC Brian Daboll, who’s been instrumental in Josh Allen’s development, could be another target). McDaniels also would need to be satisfied with Jacksonville’s organizational structure, or willing to make concessions in that area to coach a player like Lawrence.
McDaniels reportedly “loved” Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield during the 2018 pre-draft process. But after interviewing for the Browns’ head-coaching job before Mayfield’s third pro season, he was deemed a poor fit because his hometown team was unwilling to make the “sweeping” structural changes he desired. Lawrence is a more talented prospect than Mayfield was, but admiration for a passer isn’t the only variable to consider here.
Under a new NFL rule put in place earlier this season, assistants and coordinators can begin interviewing for head-coach openings during the final two weeks of the regular season if they receive permission from their current club. It’s unclear whether Belichick would grant McDaniels that permission during a playoff push, but the Patriots head coach did give him what amounted to a public letter of recommendation a few weeks back, comparing McDaniels to Nick Saban and saying he doesn’t have “any weaknesses as a coach.”
“I’ve learned a lot from Josh,” Belichick said last month. “I really have. He really excels in every area. I don’t think it’s any one thing — play-calling, fundamentals, strategy. It’s really all of them.”
Interest in McDaniels, who flopped as head coach of the Denver Broncos in 2010, has been tepid since he famously spurned the Indianapolis Colts after the 2017 season. The 45-year-old has interviewed for just three head-coaching jobs since that 11th-hour reversal — Green Bay in 2019, Cleveland in 2020 and Philadelphia in 2021 — and was passed over for all three. We’ll see if Jones’ stellar rookie season changes the league-wide perception of McDaniels during this upcoming hiring cycle.
Jaguars offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell will serve as the team’s interim head coach. The 2-11 Jags are scheduled to visit the Patriots for a Week 17 matchup on Sunday, Jan. 2.