First, it was going to be Sean Payton’s job, because Tom Brady was only coming as the Miami Dolphins quarterback if Payton came with him. So Payton quit the New Orleans Saints, saying publicly he wouldn’t be out of coaching long and privately he wanted $100 million over five years from the Dolphins.
This was last January, if you remember, just after team owner Steve Ross fired coach Brian Flores, but before Flores sued Ross in a way that stopped Brady and Payton from coming.
This also was before the league slapped a suspension and first-round penalty on the Dolphins for Ross either tampering with Brady or trying to pay his coach to fix games — take your pick, as the league did a public-relations two-step on that one.
What’s important today is how the Dolphins went from all this Dolphins-ing, just like they did for much of the past two decades, to being a 6-3 team where quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, receiver Tyreek Hill and general manager Chris Grier being are mentioned for big awards.
It’s not how, actually.
It’s who, if you study it.
Mike McDaniel didn’t arrive with Payton’s resume or even the owner’s stamp as his first choice. He didn’t even arrive with the anointed status of a hot-young assistant, considering the Dolphins were the only team to interview him for a coaching job.
McDaniel show the power one person can have, though. He’s given a lost organization direction. He sidestepped the inherited swirl, solved the quarterback and showed how to incorporate talent in a way that turned a lost organization into one with hope.
In doing so, he’s shown an understanding to the philosopher’s line of, “How do you make your dreams come true?”
Answer: You help others make their dreams come true.
His first order of business was to put an arm around Tagovailoa. Dolphins management had tried to replace Tagovailoa twice in his two years — first with Deshaun Watson, then with Brady. “You’re my guy,” McDaniel said from the time he stepped on the plane to South Florida and called the quarterback.
Tagovailoa could believe because McDaniel believed. He has an offensive system that works, too, not the three-headed coordinator contraption of last season. He leads the league in heady numbers like in passer rating, yards-per-attempt and passing percentage for first downs.
“Once he got a coach who truly believed in who he is as a person, who he is as a player, this organization got around him [and] look at the talent now he’s got around him,” Hill said of Tagovailoa.
That brings up the problem with touting Tagovailoa for the league’s Most Valuable Player award. Hill is the better choice right now. He’s the guy who puts fear in defenses, gives space to the passing game and isn’t just on pace to break the NFL record for receiving yards but leads the league in receptions (76) and is second in catch rate (76.9 percent).
“Coach McDaniel, Tua, finding me lanes,” Hill said this past week.
Hill was the big acquisition by Grier this offseason. Grier also spent big on tackle Terron Armstead and now edge rusher Bradley Chubb. Executive of the Year? Grier is in the running, if you listen to the national shows, just like Tagovailoa and Hill are in the running for MVP.
They all look good heading into Sunday’s game against Cleveland. McDaniel just looks better by making all of them better.
We waste a lot of time talking about everything from McDaniel’s windstorm glasses to his sense of humor, even if the humor is part of his arsenal. It helps him relate to people. It offers his intelligence. It’s fun to laugh even in the so-serious business of football, but it’s telling to see the football mind at work here, too.
You don’t have to go overboard with McDaniel’s good work. Tony Sparano turned a 1-15 team to a playoff team in in 2008 with Bill Parcells’ help. Adam Gase turned a lost team to a playoff team in 2016. Neither could build off that year.
McDaniel has done something important, though. He’s made this organization work in ways no one could see from the train wreck of last January.
Brady and Payton?
Nine games in, McDaniel and a saved Tagovailoa are doing just fine.