What would a Josh McDaniels candidacy look like to replace Packers' Mike McCarthy?

Charles RobinsonNFL columnist
Yahoo Sports

With Mike McCarthy out for the Green Bay Packers on Sunday night, a new question will orbit the franchise for the next month or two: Could New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels be the next man in?

A handful of NFL assistant coaches have indicated interest in joining a McDaniels-led coaching staff in Green Bay, according to sources who spoke to Yahoo Sports on Sunday. So much so that at least one has pulled his name from consideration for a college coordinator position. While such a development doesn’t guarantee mutual interest between the Packers and McDaniels, it is an indication the Patriots assistant is maintaining a list of staff candidates if he chooses to depart New England.

It remains to be seen whether the Packers would entertain a McDaniels pursuit, something that seemed unthinkable less than 10 months ago after McDaniels agreed to and then reneged on a commitment to take over the Indianapolis Colts. But league sources told Yahoo Sports as far back as last summer that McDaniels didn’t consider himself to be “burned” when it came to future head-coaching opportunities. An opinion that likely buoyed when he signed with Athletes First, which has a number of coaches as clients (including the now-fired McCarthy).

It’s hard to forget that Josh McDaniels burned the Colts earlier this year, but his offensive mind is still respected in the NFL. (AP)
It’s hard to forget that Josh McDaniels burned the Colts earlier this year, but his offensive mind is still respected in the NFL. (AP)

Whether McDaniels is a viable candidate for any job – let alone the Packers – depends on who you ask. From the camp of McDaniels supporters, there have been a wide array of backstories about why he spurned the Colts at the 11th hour. They have ranged from family considerations to concern about Andrew Luck’s then-undetermined health to the Patriots simply making an open-the-books pitch he couldn’t refuse. All of these reasons have been laid out at various times, largely off the record, likely in hopes that McDaniels’ long-term viability could be salvaged.

Whatever the reasoning for McDaniels’ decision, several of his key supporters who were working in the background in support of his reputation left the Colts decision feeling scalded by his waffling. His agent at the time, Bob LaMonte, cut ties with him amid the fallout. Others who lobbied in his favor with Colts general manager Chris Ballard privately vowed they wouldn’t advocate for McDaniels in the future. None of that matched the tattooing he took in the media (including from me) – which left his head-coaching career dead and buried with the decision.

But by the summer of 2018, there was already a sense around McDaniels that another chance may come. Those close to him relayed his confidence that his head-coaching window wasn’t slammed shut forever. At the time, it sounded like someone who lacked the self-awareness to understand his own reputation. But sources around the league weren’t resolute about his demise, either.

As one league executive told Yahoo Sports of McDaniels during training camp, “He’s still a young offensive coach who is extremely smart and creative, and that’s something everyone wants now. When the next [hiring cycle] comes, nobody will really care what he did to the Colts if they think they need him. Especially if there aren’t a lot of good guys to choose from.”

That’s one part of this that is discounted right now. As it stands, there appears to be a dearth of quality candidates who are young, experienced and have a track record of creative offensive success. At the moment, there is no obvious Sean McVay or Matt Nagy to be had in this next wave of candidates. It’s part of why Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley and former Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury are perceived to be hot commodities despite a lack of NFL coaching experience. Both have experience running wide-open schemes that have recently contributed to stretching the boundaries of NFL offenses with the likes of Patrick Mahomes and Baker Mayfield.

To some executives, an argument could be made that McDaniels is easily a better candidate than any college coach or most of the NFL retreads who often get jobs. Not only because he has run a successful offense for a sustained period, but also because he’s learned more than ever about the seams of the New England organization in the past 10 months. He also has been a young NFL head coach and failed to live up to expectations with the Denver Broncos, assumedly giving McDaniels valuable hindsight he lacked when he took over a franchise at 32 years old.

Does any of this make McDaniels a lock for the Green Bay job? Not in the slightest. In fact, some who know him well suggested Sunday night that McDaniels still has a lot to learn about the Packers’ structure, which has undergone a revamping that has left CEO Mark Murphy far more involved in the decision-making than ever before. While Murphy has always been the chief decider in the franchise, league sources told Yahoo Sports he has become more involved with some of the granular details in roster-building and contracts and to some extent, even personnel building. With that deepened involvement, he will stand as the direct boss to both the head coach and general manager Brian Gutekunst.

That significantly undermines any idea Gutekunst will be picking the next head coach on his own. If anything, he’ll have a role in the search and analysis, but the ultimate decision will be Murphy’s. And those close to McDaniels have said he has already been advised to stay away from teams with that kind of structure, where the head coach and general manager are on different platforms and reporting directly into some element of ownership that is deeply involved in operations.

The ideal for McDaniels is something more along the lines of how the late Paul Allen was running the Seattle Seahawks, delegating the personnel and coaching authority to the general manager and head coach, and then evaluating the bottom line when a season is over. Or in the “dream” scenario, the New England model, where Bill Belichick effectively runs everything and reports only to a largely hands-off owner.

Aaron Rodgers and the Packers are looking at a lost season at 4-7-1. Next season will be under a new head coach as Mike McCarthy was fired following Sunday’s defeat to Arizona. (Getty Images)
Aaron Rodgers and the Packers are looking at a lost season at 4-7-1. Next season will be under a new head coach as Mike McCarthy was fired following Sunday’s defeat to Arizona. (Getty Images)

Even beyond structure, it remains to be seen whether Gutekunst would support a McDaniels hire. Both were candidates for a San Francisco 49ers revamp in early 2017 and did some level of vetting on each other. But any details of how well they actually know each other (if at all, really) has taken place in a private setting that leaves a lot of guessing about any existing relationship.

Even the viability of Green Bay’s roster is up for debate when it comes to McDaniels’ preferences. While it’s likely attractive to join forces with a general manager who is at the beginning of his run, the aging Packers roster around quarterback Aaron Rodgers needs significant work over the next several seasons. And while Rodgers, 35, is still within his prime, the consistency of his health is becoming more of a running concern, and that won’t improve with age. Not to mention the fact that he has the most massive contract in the history of pro football.

Only three things are clear at the moment. First, the Packers are officially in the market for a new head coach. Second, McDaniels still fashions himself as being on a track to take over an NFL team. And third, some NFL assistants clearly believe a Green Bay and Josh McDaniels marriage is something that has a legitimate shot of materializing.

That’s more than we knew last week. And it’s less than we’ll know in a month or two. What happens during that span has yet to be written. But as we learned last offseason in Indianapolis, even if the interest between McDaniels and the Packers is mutual, nothing is finished until a contract is signed and he’s actually standing at his introductory news conference.

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