The third time isn't always the charm, apparently. At least not when it comes to current Las Vegas Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels. At 5-8, one of the most notable acolytes of Bill Belichick has proven once again what many already seemed to know long ago - he's not a good head coach. It's almost universally acknowledged that McDaniels is a gifted offensive mind, as borne out by his lengthy list of accomplishments while serving as offensive coordinator with the New England Patriots. But the bloom seems to have come off the rose when talking about McDaniels in any position outside of that particular role.
I'm not going to get into the "Bill Belichick Coaching Tree" here. Plenty of others have picked apart and analyzed the branches of that story. Instead I want to focus on McDaniels - who inexplicably keeps getting chances to get things right, only to crash and burn in spectacular fashion.
Josh McDaniels: A Young Rising Star
Josh McDaniels got his first taste of coaching while serving as a graduate assistant for another notable head coach - Nick Saban - at Michigan State in 1999. After taking a year away from the game, he landed in New England as a personnel assistant in 2001. He'd spend a couple of years working on the defensive side of the ball for the club before switching over to the offense in 2004, becoming the quarterbacks coach. He'd be promoted to offensive coordinator in 2006 (after a 2005 season where no offensive coordinator was named, but McDaniels was reportedly calling the plays). His offenses, led by Tom Brady, put up record-breaking numbers between 2006 and 2008, fueling rumors that he'd jump ship for a head coaching gig. In 2009, that's exactly what happened.
Strike One: Bucked by the Broncos
The Denver Broncos hired McDaniels to be their new head coach in January of 2009, signing him to a 4-year deal. His tenure began with the trade of quarterback Jay Cutler to the Bears after news of potentially bringing Matt Cassel with him from the Patriots was leaked. Despite attempts to resolve the miscommunication, reconciliation proved impossible, and the team sent Cutler to Chicago in return for Kyle Orton and some draft picks. Despite all of that, McDaniels managed to lead the team to a 6-0 start which included a victory over his former team. It all went downhill from there, however, as the Broncos would lose their next four games and ultimately miss out on the playoffs on the final day of the season, thanks to a 44-24 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. McDaniels wouldn't even make it to the end of his second season with Denver. He was mired in a videotaping scandal during the team's game in London against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 8. While investigations ultimately showed that McDaniels knew nothing about the actual videotaping, he was held accountable by the NFL and the Denver Broncos for not reporting it to the league when he learned of the issue. The broken trust around this incident, combined with a 3-9 record, ultimately led Denver to fire McDaniels.
His next job would end up in St. Louis, where the Rams hired him to be their offensive coordinator for the 2011 season. It proved a disastrous season, with McDaniels helming one of the worst offenses in the league (in large part due to having multiple QBs thanks to injury). On the heels of that disaster, McDaniels returned to familiar territory - signing back in New England as the Patriots offensive coordinator. He'd spend the next decade with Belichick and the Patriots, finding the old form that put him on the head coaching radar in the first place. His offenses consistently ranked in the top ten in the NFL, and he was part of three Super Bowl Championships during this time. The story took a turn during the 2018 playoff run.
Strike Two: A Quick Stop in Indianapolis
Given the success McDaniels had found in his second stint with the Patriots, it was not surprising that teams had been inquiring about possibly making him their head coach. He'd apparently had offers from multiple teams but turned them down, opting to remain in New England. One team, however, seemed to have convinced him that it was time to branch out again - the Indianapolis Colts. They had fired their head coach, Chuck Pagano, on the final day of 2017 and began the search for his replacement. The long and short of it is this: McDaniels agreed to take the job only to back out of it, choosing to stay in New England instead (you can see a more in-depth timeline of events here). The handling of this entire situation led McDaniels' long time agent, Bob LaMonte, to stop representing him - yikes. So - it was back to New England for McDaniels, where he'd stay until another misguided franchise decided he'd be worth taking a chance on heading into this season.
Strike Three?: Getting Unlucky in Las Vegas
The Las Vegas Raiders were a team in search of a change. The franchise had just moved from Oakland and were dealing with the fallout from an email scandal involving Jon Gruden, the head coach they'd recently signed to a 10-year, $100 million contract. In the wake of the scandal, Gruden stepped down and Rich Bisaccia was named interim coach for the remainder of the 2021 season. Bisaccia turned the season around for Las Vegas, ultimately leading them to the playoffs, but the franchise decided to make a change rather than offer him the job formally. Josh McDaniels was hired to be the new head coach in January of 2022.
The team had a busy offseason after naming McDaniels as their new coach. They landed wide receiver Davante Adams from the Green Bay Packers and brought in defensive end Chandler Jones along with a plethora of improvements to the roster through free agency, trades, and draft picks. Despite all of that, the Raiders began the season 0-3, highlighted by some questionable decision making from their head coach in their Week 2 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. They finally managed to notch a win against the absolutely dreadful Denver Broncos in Week 4, but followed it up by dropping a Monday Night matchup to the rival Kansas City Chiefs 30-29. Yet again, a dubious coaching decision seemed to seal the team's fate. Rather than kicking an extra point late in the 4th quarter to tie the game, McDaniels opted to go for two points and the win. That attempted conversion failed and the Raiders went into their bye week with a 1-4 record, lamenting "what could have been" yet again early in the season.
After a week's rest, they took care of business against another dreadful team - the Houston Texans. But the good vibes didn't last long. They were shut out 24-0 by the New Orleans Saints in Week 8, then lost to the Jaguars in Week 9 before their Week 10 matchup with the Indianapolis Colts. There were multiple twists surrounding this game. Sure, this was McDaniels facing the team he spurned in 2018, but that wasn't even the biggest story. Instead, it was all about the Colts having just fired Frank Reich and naming former player and club legend Jeff Saturday as their interim coach - with ZERO head coaching experience. Surely, given the state of affairs in Indy, the Raiders would have a leg up in the matchup right? Nope - instead, the Raiders lost 25-20, a new low point for their season and their head coach.
Where to Go From Here?
Surprisingly, the loss to the Colts seems to have lit a fire underneath the Raiders. Since that debacle, they rattled off three straight wins. Sure, one of them was against the Broncos, but the others were over the Seattle Seahawks and Los Angeles Chargers! Last week they stumbled to a Thursday Night loss against the hapless Los Angeles Rams, but they are technically still in the playoff hunt heading into this weekend's matchup with - you guessed it - Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots. It could prove to be a pivotal game for not only the Raiders' playoff hopes, but for the future of Josh McDaniels. Given his head coaching history and the tumult so far this season, I don't think many would be surprised if he didn't survive the year. But a win against his mentor could buy him some more time to turn things around and finally prove that guys who come from the "Belichick Coaching Tree" can be successful as head coaches. Of course, there's also this possibility - maybe he's just not meant to be an NFL head coach.
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