If and when Andrew Luck returns to football, he’ll likely have one of the most successful offensive strategists in recent NFL history to work with. The Colts have reportedly zeroed in on Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels in their head-coaching search, and McDaniels is expected to accept Indianapolis’s offer once his team’s postseason run is over, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero.
The 41-year-old is in the midst of a wildly successful run in New England, his second stint there as offensive coordinator. Since McDaniels returned to the job in 2012, the Patriots offense has ranked in the top four in the league in points scored in each of his six seasons. In that span, the Patriots have won two Super Bowls and reached the AFC championship game each year. This success mirrors his accomplishments with the team from 2006 to 2008, when New England ranked in the top eight each year in points scored, including the 2007 season, when the team fielded one of the most dominant offenses in NFL history.
That said, McDaniels’s achievements under Bill Belichick haven’t translated elsewhere. In 2009 he was hired to be the head coach of the Broncos, but before the team even took the field for his first game, a sour meeting with Jay Cutler resulted in the quarterback demanding a trade; he was sent to Chicago before the start of the season. McDaniels went just 11–17 in Denver and fielded a mediocre-at-best offense with Kyle Orton under center before being fired 12 games into his second season. After leaving the Broncos, McDaniels spent one season as the St. Louis Rams’ offensive coordinator under head coach Steve Spagnuolo. The Rams went 2–14 that year, their offense was the worst scoring unit in the league, and the franchise cleaned house in the offseason.
Soon after, McDaniels returned to New England and repaired his reputation. He’s talked openly about his struggles in Denver, and about how in his next head-coaching gig, he wants to listen more to his assistants, be patient in making decisions, and have more fun. And over the past two seasons, he’s become a hot coaching candidate once again. The 49ers, Rams, and Jaguars expressed interest in him last season before he decided to stick with the Pats; the Colts, Bears, Giants, and, as of early Monday, the Titans made runs at him this year.
Now McDaniels appears headed to the Colts, who won just four games this season, have a franchise player whose health is up in the air, and needs to rebuild its depleted roster from the ground up. But the biggest question facing McDaniels won’t be about the Colts or his history as a head coach — it’ll be the one that faces all former Patriots coordinators who move on to take head-coaching jobs: Was his success in New England simply a byproduct of working with Belichick and Tom Brady, or can McDaniels’s skills really translate elsewhere?
Unlike his time in Denver, McDaniels may not have to start from scratch with an Orton-type journeyman under center. If Luck can come back healthy to start the 2018 season, McDaniels will at least be jumping from one franchise quarterback to another — and that may be just as big a help to the coach as the past six years of preparation.