Doyel: The Colts are expected to hire Josh McDaniels ... why?

Gregg Doyel
New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels watches from the sideline during the second half of an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Tennessee Titans, Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018, in Foxborough, Mass.

INDIANAPOLIS – Josh McDaniels will get a second chance, but not a clean slate. That isn't how these things work, not for any of us. We get a clean slate just once, same as Josh McDaniels, and his came in 2009 when he was hired to coach the Denver Broncos. And in less than two years he spray-painted so much graffiti on there that the Broncos fired him for a variety of reasons, so take your pick: his abrasive personality, his horrific judgment of talent, his team’s penchant for losing games, or those broken NFL rules.

Here in Indianapolis, where Josh McDaniels is about to be entrusted with our city’s crown jewel – he’s expected to be the next head coach of the Indianapolis Colts – are we to pretend Denver didn’t happen?

Look, if that’s what you want to read, it won’t be hard to find. Someone, somewhere, will gloss over his disastrous Denver tenure – or take an eraser to history and argue something nobody can possibly know, that McDaniels learned from his mistakes in Denver and therefore will be much better with the Colts.

You’d like to think so. Colts general manager Chris Ballard clearly does think so. He believes Josh McDaniels 2.0 is no longer a virus, and that’s the only thing – Ballard’s approval – that makes me wonder if I’m wrong to hate this hire. And I do: I hate it. That sentence, this whole column, will go over well with McDaniels, won’t it?

Screw it. Let’s be real here, and let’s be fair, and this is both: Ballard is really, really good as a GM. He’s not perfect, nobody is, whiffing on one draft pick (fourth-round offensive tackle Zach Banner out of USC) and one free agent (receiver Kamar Aiken). But man oh man was Ballard good in his first go-around as Colts GM, nailing most of his free agent signees, several of his draft picks and his one big trade: receiver flop Phillip Dorsett to New England for quarterback revelation Jacoby Brissett.

Chris Ballard thought Josh McDaniels was worth pursuing, and he wasn’t alone. McDaniels has been a coveted candidate on the current coaching carousel, interviewing with the Colts as well as the Chicago Bears and New York Giants, and for the last week Colts fans have been mostly in agreement on social media: We want McDaniels.

And I’m just like … why?

Yes, I’m aware, the Patriots offense led the league in scoring in 2007 and ’12 and ranked in the Top 10 in all nine of his seasons as New England’s offensive coordinator – 2006-08, and 2012-17 – but it’s like Barack Obama once said: You didn’t do that. And you didn’t, Josh McDaniels. Sorry, not sorry: But you did not.

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Tom Brady has been the quarterback in New England and Bill Belichick the head coach, forming a brilliant Hall of Fame sandwich around the filling that is Josh McDaniels.

Is McDaniels empty calories, or is he brilliant himself? Well, fair is fair: He was OC in 2008 when Brady was injured in the season opener, and someone named Matt Cassel quarterbacked the Patriots to an 11-5 season.

Then again, in his one season as offensive coordinator in St. Louis, McDaniels guided the 2011 Rams off a cliff: last in the NFL in points, next-to-last in yards. That was former No. 1 overall pick Sam Bradford’s second year in the NFL, and he posted career-low totals in passer rating (70.5), quarterback rating (34.4) and completion percentage (.535). You read that right: In Sam Bradford’s mostly disappointing seven-season NFL career, his worst season by far was under the tutelage of Josh McDaniels. The Rams went 2-14, head coach Steve Spagnuolo was fired, and McDaniels returned to New England.

And that gives me pause, too. Bill Belichick obviously respects Josh McDaniels, and that’s impossible to ignore. Of course, so is this: Belichick also respected Charlie Weis, who left the Brady-and-Belichick cocoon to fail at Notre Dame, failed spectacularly at Kansas, and now is tending bar in Hoboken, N.J. Or not. I don’t much care where Charlie Weis is today, same as I’m not interested in the whereabouts of other former Belichick coordinators who failed as head coaches, Eric Mangini and Romeo Crennel.

The only branch on Belichick’s coaching tree that interests me is Josh McDaniels, whose tenure in Denver was so toxic, he clashed with players who worked closest with him (quarterback Jay Cutler, receiver Brandon Marshall, tight end Tony Scheffler) and one coach (that we know of, defensive coordinator Mike Nolan) and left this impression on punter Mitch Berger:

“I felt like I was playing for an equipment manager or something – he was like a little punk …” Berger said of McDaniels. “As soon as I had a game that wasn’t up to his standards, he wouldn’t talk to you or look at you. I never played for a guy in my life who guys wanted to play for less. He was just a guy you didn’t care about.”

McDaniels went 11-17 and was fired during his second season in Denver, a week after the NFL fined McDaniels after one of his staffers was caught illegally video-taping an opponent. Neither the NFL nor the Broncos could determine that McDaniels ordered the taping, but if we’re not going to give Belichick the benefit of the doubt on all the cheating that happens under his watch, let’s not give the benefit of the doubt to McDaniels just because he’s about to take over the Colts.

And I still can’t believe this is happening. Can’t believe McDaniels will soon be hired by the Colts, and entrusted with Andrew Luck. Can’t believe he was the hottest commodity on the coaching market this fall. McDaniels is Lane Kiffin to me, an arrogant young punk who ascended rapidly after Daddy got him a cherry first job in coaching – McDaniels’ father, Ohio high school legend Thom McDaniels, was friends with Nick Saban, who hired Josh as a grad assistant at Michigan State in 1999 – and who kept getting promoted to the point of failure.

Monte Kiffin’s boy needed four tries to find a semblance of success – Lane flopped in the NFL with Oakland and in college with Tennessee and USC – but he failed three times before going 11-3 in his first season at FAU. Weis, Mangini and Crennel also got second chances as head coaches. They also failed. Most retreads do. Losers lose. Bill Belichick is an exception.

The Colts believe Josh McDaniels’ second chance will be the one where he gets it right. For my city’s sake, I hope so. For my own sake – readers gobble up stories on winning NFL teams – I hope so.

But I just …

I can’t stop wondering …


Find IndyStar columnist Gregg Doyel on Twitter: @GreggDoyelStar or at