The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Josh McDaniels says ‘clarity’ from Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft led him to dump the Colts

Neither Tom Brady nor Josh McDaniels is going anywhere. (Elise Amendola/Associated Press)

The about-face was embarrassing. It was arresting.

But Josh McDaniels did it, pulling a 180 and backing out of his decision to become the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts. It was a fait accompli, a done deal, and yet there was McDaniels, one of the hottest prospects in the NFL coaching ranks, slamming on the brakes and deciding to remain the offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots.

Weird, right?

Especially after he’d interviewed for six vacant head-coaching jobs over the last two years. In his first comments since pulling the ol’ switcheroo, he explained to the Boston Globe that he “absolutely” wants to be a head coach again. So what changed two days after the Patriots’ Super Bowl loss? A talk with owner Robert Kraft and Coach Bill Belichick, that’s what.

“Once I heard from Robert and Bill on that Tuesday [Feb. 6], it just gave me reason to pause and consider this whole situation,’’ McDaniels said, adding that he was given no guarantees about succeeding Belichick. However, his contract, which ran for another year, was adjusted and means that he can be the target of Tom Brady’s tongue-lashings for the foreseeable future.

“The opportunity to stay here and work for who I think is the greatest owner in sports and the best head football coach in the history of our game, to work with the best quarterback that has ever played. . . . Look, I’m privileged to have the opportunity to do that, and when they kind of crystallized that — ‘Hey, here’s what we see going forward and here’s how we would like you to fit into it’ — it gave me a reason to stop and say, ‘All right, what’s the best decision for me?’ And certainly it was difficult. But I made the decision on my own, nobody pushed me into it.’’

Which is nice for McDaniels, but the Colts were stung. The two franchises have something of a contentious history, including most notably the Deflategate drama the Colts prompted after a 2015 loss to New England in the AFC championship game. “We had an agreement in place, had two interviews. Both went very well. [We were] very confident even Tuesday morning,” he told reporters in February. “Then I got a call Tuesday evening saying he had changed his mind and was going in a different direction.”

The call, less than 48 hours after the end of the Super Bowl, lasted “around five minutes,” Ballard said. “’I’ve got bad news for you,’” he said McDaniels told him. “I just said, ‘Are you in or out?’ ”

Ballard, who moved on to hire Frank Reich, left little doubt that there would be lingering animosity, ending his news conference with a curt “the rivalry is back on.” McDaniels had gone as far as to hire assistant coaches once a verbal agreement was in place, a situation he had to address immediately.

“I spoke to all of them that night right away, shortly after I talked to Chris,’’ McDaniels said. “They were professionals. Like I said, it wasn’t easy for anybody. I apologized to them if it put them in an awkward position. They’re all there [in Indianapolis], which I’m very happy about. They have great opportunities, they’re great coaches, they’re great people, and I’m happy that it worked out for them in that regard.

“Again, it was never my intention to go into this and put anybody in an awkward position or do any harm to anybody or do anything to hurt anybody’s career. That certainly wasn’t a part of my thought process. I just felt like, once I knew the whole picture and I had the opportunity to make a decision, it was tough but I feel like I made the right one.’’

Kraft, Belichick and Brady meet in the wake of the Patriots’ Super Bowl loss

So now McDaniels, who was head coach of the Broncos in 2009 and was fired after 12 games in 2010, returns to the Patriots with what Boston observers believe is a wink-wink deal to follow Belichick one day.

“For the moment, he remains the Patriots’ offensive coordinator. But you know, and I know, and the Krafts know, and Brady knows, and I assure you Bill Belichick knows, that Josh McDaniels is the next head coach of the Patriots,” Steve Buckley wrote in the Boston Herald. “It’s just a matter of if he takes the reins next week or next season.”

“Say hello to the next head coach of the New England Patriots: Josh McDaniels,” the Herald’s Karen Guregian wrote. “The only question left to answer is when will that transition happen.”

Belichick turns 66 next month, and Ben Volin of the Boston Globe agreed, writing that “the McDaniels move was made not only with 2018 in mind, but the future of the Patriots. If Belichick doesn’t step down this year, it’s coming soon.”

Still, there’s no guarantee and strange things can happen. He need look no farther than Belichick’s own complex history of backing out of an NFL job twice.

“. . . I apologize to anyone who was affected in any way,” McDaniels said. “Indianapolis did a tremendous job. They have a tremendous organization, and I was lucky to be considered and I just think once I found out [what my future in New England was], I made the right decision for me and my family at this time.’’

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