Like a handful of well-thought-of Bill Belichick assistant coaches, Josh McDaniels landed a head coaching job and promptly fell flat.
McDaniels took over the Denver Broncos in 2009. His first act was being involved in a messy trade drama involving then-quarterback Jay Cutler that unintentionally unfolded publicly, irreparably damaging the team’s relationship with Cutler. Another star, receiver Brandon Marshall, was benched during the season and traded in the offseason.
In his second season, the team’s video coordinator was accused of violating NFL rules by recording an opposing team’s practice. McDaniels was fired shortly after the incident, lasting less than two seasons on the job and compiling an 11-17 record.
McDaniels eventually returned to New England as an offensive assistant and has largely rebuilt his reputation, to the point that he’s been a head coaching candidate. Actually, more than a candidate. The Indianapolis Colts announced him as their new head coach in 2018, only for McDaniels to change his mind shortly after and return to New England. There were rumors that McDaniels might be New England’s in-house replacement for Belichick if he ever retired, but that proved to not be the case.
Instead, McDaniels officially left the Patriots this offseason to take over the Las Vegas Raiders. The Las Vegas Raiders are coming off of a tumultuous season in which coach Jon Gruden was fired after racist emails between him and other league officials from earlier in his career were leaked. Former Raiders wide receiver Henry Ruggs III also killed a woman in a car crash in which Ruggs was reportedly drunk.
But the team was able to regroup after the controversy and tragedy and make the playoffs, positioning this as a potentially good opportunity for McDaniels. Here are three key questions for him as he takes over.
Has he learned from experience?
The knock against New England assistants who have been unsuccessful when they get head coaching jobs is that they tend to fetishize and over-emphasize the disciplinarian aspects of New England’s culture over the football and system aspects. McDaniels was likely guilty of that in Denver, and he acknowledged as much.
“When I went to Denver, I knew a little bit of football,” McDaniels told ESPN. “I didn’t really know people and how important that aspect of this process and maintaining the culture and building the team was. I failed, and I didn’t succeed at it. Looking at that experience has been one of the best things in my life in terms of my overall growth as a person, as a coach. What do I need to do different, how do I need to handle my role, if I have another opportunity, and do better at it?”
That will be extremely important with Las Vegas, as there were a lot of players who hoped interim coach Rich Bisaccia would get the job permanently after he took over for Gruden and rallied the team into the playoffs. Bisaccia even got some Coach of the Year votes.
Can the team handle massive attention and expectations?
Derek Carr is perhaps the most underappreciated good quarterback in the league. His name has been whispered in trade rumors for several seasons now, although no deals have appeared to come close to happening. McDaniels appears to have taken the Raiders job, in part, to coach Carr. Now, instead of trade talk, the Raiders gave him a contract extension.
They also ratcheted up expectations. They surprisingly signed former Packers star Davante Adams in free agency. Adams will pair with Hunter Renfrow to give the team maybe the best 1-2 punch at receiver in the game.
They also added star pass rusher Chandler Jones to the defense and worked out quarterback Colin Kaepernick, though they’re yet to sign him. Rest assured, even if Kaepernick isn’t signed, plenty of attention will be on Las Vegas this season. The Raiders odds to win the Super Bowl currently sit at +4000.
Can he bring his red zone magic with him?
The Raiders often struggled in the red zone last season, despite having a great running game with Josh Jacobs and Kenyan Drake and an elite receiver in Renfrow.
New England, on the other hand, was one of the most efficient teams in the league in that spot. As Bleacher Report points out, getting healthy tight end Darren Waller will help give Carr a reliable big target, but the team could use more depth at wide receiver. Offensive line upgrades will not only protect Carr, they’ll also create more opportunities in the running game.
But above all, if McDaniels can bring some of his creative red zone offense with him and implement it, the Raiders have a shot at being one of the more improved offensive teams in the league next season.