Kyle Shanahan’s most trusted assistant, and the man who has worked as the creative brains behind Shanahan’s run game for the better part of the last 15 years, Mike McDaniel, is departing.
McDaniel has accepted the head coaching job with the Miami Dolphins after a reported 10-hour long interview on Friday.
Due to the NFL’s rules on the hiring of minority coaches and McDaniel being half Black, the 49ers will receive two compensatory third-round picks: one this year, and one next year. The same thing occurred when Robert Saleh took the Jets job and when Martin Mayhew took the general manager job in Washington.
When players and other coaches talk about McDaniel, some of the words you’ll frequently hear in praise of him are “wizard,” “genius,” and, in Jimmy Garoppolo’s case, stopping just short of “mastermind.”
He started his career out as an intern for Mike Shanahan, biking to Broncos practices in Greeley, Colorado, and was a football player at Yale.
A drinking problem caused him to depart Gary Kubiak and Kyle Shanahan’s staff with the Houston Texans after the 2008 season. But after two-year stint from 2009-10 with the Sacramento Mountain Lions, he rejoined both Shanahans in Washington, on the vaunted, yet mostly unsuccessful coaching staff which featured Mike Shanahan, Kyle Shanahan, Sean McVay, Matt Lafleur and McDaniel, as well as a number of other stellar assistants.
The only question for McDaniel was if, given his diminutive stature, and laid-back, Colorado disposition, was whether he would ever get a his shot as a head coach, given how farcical some of NFL hiring practices are purported to be.
And if he did get that shot, would it be the right one? Would he leave Shanahan? In the Dolphins’ case, would the recent lawsuit from Brian Flores — which alleged owner Stephen Ross offered him $100,000 per loss — dissuade him from taking the job?
Part of what has endeared McDaniel to so many of his players, is — besides his intelligence — his sense of humor, and ability to relate to them on a personal level. He would open just about every presser with a sarcastic quip before roughly 10-minute sets of insightful answers.
Below is a compilation of those openers:
But it’s not just the intelligence and humor that landed McDaniel this head coaching opportunity. It’s his relentless attention to detail. And while much has been made of how detailed all NFL coaches are, McDaniel is borderline compulsive about it.
Part of what defines him as a coach is the way he seeks to exploit every millimeter of the game. Below, he describes how the 49ers took opponents’ expectations of an outside toss and turned it into potential hesitation from the defense, giving the 49ers’ backs an advantage when cutting back inside.
This is without question, the most substantial loss to Shanahan’s staff in his coaching career. Robert Saleh and other defensive coaches have been massively important, but no one has been more trusted than McDaniel, for longer.
The addition of former Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn in a reported assistant head coach role appears to be a clear attempt to replace some of McDaniel’s impact, and it would not be surprising if offensive quality control Bobby Slowik — also a Shanahan disciple since the Washington days — takes on a more significant role in the coming season.
Shanahan has spoken in the past about how much he leans on his quality controls — McVay was one for him in Washington — and its become a pipeline of sorts for coaching talent. Slowik could be next up.
This is a well-deserved opportunity for McDaniel, one of football’s brightest minds, and it is also a major challenge for Kyle Shanahan.