The Dolphins have hired San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel as their next head coach, the team announced Sunday, bringing an end to the franchise’s month-long search for a new leader after the surprise firing of Brian Flores.
McDaniel, 38, becomes the 11th head coach in Dolphins history and the fourth hired since Stephen Ross became majority owner in 2009.
McDaniel has 15 years of NFL experience, starting out as an intern for Mike Shanahan’s Denver Broncos in 2005. He had stints as an assistant with Washington, Cleveland and Atlanta before joining Kyle Shanahan’s staff in San Francisco as run game coordinator. McDaniel held that role from 2017 to 2020 before being promoted to offensive coordinator this past season.
ESPN’s report Saturday that San Francisco was hiring Anthony Lynn as assistant head coach to be a “key cog in the 49ers’ offense and run game” added speculation that McDaniel could be headed to Miami.
A Yale graduate, McDaniel does not call the plays – Kyle Shanahan holds that role – but has been lauded by players and fellow coaches for his intelligence and creativity.
“Mike, his mindset, the way he creates things, his creativity, his outside-the-box thinking, his ability to communicate with people, he’s as good as they get,” said New York Jets coach Robert Saleh, who coached with McDaniel in San Francisco. “He’s been with Kyle for longer than any of us have. He’s been there since he and I were [quality control coaches] sitting across from each other with the Houston Texans back in . He’s brilliant. He’s every bit as deserving to be a head coach. [I] would not like him to come to the division but if it happens, so be it.”
With McDaniel, the Dolphins have continued the trend of hiring young assistants and first-time head coaches to lead their teams. The team hasn’t hired a head coach with prior NFL experience since Dave Wannstedt in 2000.
Amid Flores’ class-action lawsuit against the NFL, Dolphins and two others teams alleging racial discrimination, McDaniel, who is biracial — his father is Black — becomes the first minority hired in this year’s coaching cycle. The five teams that made hires before the Dolphins — the Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos, New York Giants, Las Vegas Raiders and Jacksonville Jaguars — all hired white men. As part of the NFL’s update to the Rooney Rule, the 49ers will receive third-round picks in consecutive drafts for having a minority assistant hired as head coach.
McDaniel faces a litany of things to address this offseason, beginning with his staff – there have been reports that Ross and general manager Chris Grier would like to keep most of the defensive staff in place. However, no issue is more chief than how McDaniel will work with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
Tagovailoa, the No. 5 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, has had an uneven start to his career, marred by injuries and inconsistencies not only with his play but the talent around him. The Dolphins had arguably the worst offensive line in the NFL in 2021, a bottom-five running game and injuries to their top pass-catchers.
In 13 games, Tagovailoa completed 67.8 percent of his passes – seventh in the NFL – for 2,653 yards, 16 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. The Dolphins offense, which ranked 22nd in scoring, was often criticized for lacking explosive plays. Tagovailoa averaged 2.52 seconds to throw and seven intended air yards per attempt; both ranked third-fewest among qualified passers, partly a byproduct of an offensive line that ranked last in ESPN’s pass block win rate metric.
San Francisco has relied heavily on a zone running scheme and creative play-calling that has masked the weaknesses of quarterback Jimmy Garropolo, who has made an appearance in two NFC Championship games and one Super Bowl as the 49ers’ starter. Wide receiver Deebo Samuel has also moonlighted as a running back, becoming one of the league’s most explosive players under McDaniel, who is expected to be elements of that offense to Miami.
“Mike’s awesome,” Garoppolo said in January. “I don’t want to say he’s the mastermind behind everything, but he’s kind of that guy in the background that doesn’t say a whole ton to a lot of people, but his mind is always moving.
“The ideas he comes up with are so fresh and new. [He’s] a cool guy to have on the staff. He’s a lot smarter than most of us. He dumbs it down for us and kind of gets us all on the same page and it’s just a good combination with him and all the rest of the coaches.”
However, whatever system McDaniel brings with him, he will be tasked with leading the Dolphins to postseason success the franchise hasn’t experienced in two decades. Miami, which posted consecutive winning seasons under Flores for the first time since 2003, hasn’t won a playoff game since 2001, the second-longest drought in the NFL.
This story will be updated.
This story was originally published February 6, 2022 6:12 PM.