"I’m happy here. My family is happy here. We’re excited about what’s ahead of us here in the playoffs, and to talk about any other opportunities at this point is, to me, irrelevant, because I’m totally focused on this season and what this season holds."
-- Josh McDaniels, Dec. 30, 2012
Josh McDaniels will be the next head coach of the New England Patriots. Take out the ink and write it (people still do that, right?). No idea when, or for how long, or who will be on the roster, or what kind of say McDaniels will have in the construction of that roster (this is the author of Tim Tebow, first-round pick), but I am absolutely convinced McDaniels will be the guy to follow The Guy as the HC of the NEP.
And how did I come to this conclusion, you might ask? Well, how does reckless speculation work for you?
Look, I don't actually know anything about the plan of succession for Bill Belichick, now the longest-tenured head coach with his current team in the NFL (would you believe Marvin Lewis is second?), of course. No sources (in ESPN-speak, "sources" appears to be code for "Jay Glazer"), no whispers, nothing. Pretty sure this organization is going to keep that one quiet, as it should.
But this thought struck me on Monday as coach after coach and GM after GM lost their jobs, as organizations such as Cleveland and Buffalo and Kansas City prepare to start over (again) with basically zero history of recent success, nothing close to a franchise quarterback and the virtual certainty these same teams will be starting over in two or three years: Bill Belichick always has a plan.
You might not always agree with it, you might not always understand it, but there is always a plan. And yes, it helps when you have Tom Brady, we all understand that. But the Hall of Fame is stuffed with quarterbacks and none of them -- not a one -- was the single constant on a roster for 12 years of success. Think about it: Bill Belichick wins 11 games with Tom Brady and 52 other guys (who were a lot more than just other guys -- you know what I mean) in 2001 and he's a genius. He wins 12 games with Tom Brady and 52 different other guys in 2012 and no one blinks.
As great as Brady is, obviously Belichick (the other constant) is deserving of a significant amount of credit for this dynasty (or whatever title you feel comfortable giving to three Super Bowls in four years and the blizzard of 12-win seasons since). And preparation has been a Belichick hallmark, the one thing we've read and watched in all stories about his success, from David Halberstam to "A Football Life."
So, and I'll assume this will be his call, why wouldn't Belichick have a plan for his final move as head coach, whenever that is?
If you want to rank 'em, I have Belichick ranked second in Boston sports history among head coaches and general managers. Red Auerbach is No. 1 in both spots, not even a debatable argument when you look at the results. When Auerbach stepped down as coach in 1966 (after winning his eighth straight title) he had a replacement ready. The only coach who could still motivate Bill Russell, Auerbach figured, was Bill Russell, who won two NBA titles in his three years as player/coach.
I'm going to assume Belichick won't follow Red's lead and name Brady head coach -- whatever happened to the player/coach, anyway? A smart, veteran NBA player could do both with the help of eight assistants today -- but I'm guessing if Brady's still around he's going to want some kind of veto power on the next coach. And McDaniels would get a smooth confirmation from Brady. So there's that.
Belichick has seen his share of discord between coaching staffs and the front office in his 38 years in the NFL (or at least in the quarter-century before he took over in New England), and since I assume he'll still be in the organization in some capacity (very possibly still in the role as lead voice over football operations) after his coaching career is over, he'll want a head coach on board with his philosophy. By every account that description fits McDaniels.
The indisputable fact that Josh McDaniels was a failure during his first stint as an NFL coach -- 11-17 in his 1 3/4-season stint in Denver, loser of 17 of his last 22 games, troubles with the league and in his locker room -- wouldn't give Belichick, a student of NFL history, much pause. First, if Belichick thought McDaniels such a disaster he wouldn't have hired him back to run his offense. But also this: Bill Belichick failed in his first go-round as a head coach (circumstances were different, but it was not a success and Belichick was far from blameless). He learned lessons, paid his dues again and made sure not to make the same mistakes the second time around. Belichick's mentor (Bill Parcells) brought him back to his staff after he was fired and now we've seen the same with Belichick and McDaniels. I'm guessing the transformation of power, if it occurs, will be cleaner than it was with Parcells and Belichick (that whole thing about history and learning from mistakes).
Again, I'm sure this isn't a 2013 or even 2014 conversation. Who knows, maybe Belichick (now 60 years old) will coach until he's 75 and McDaniels leaves after next season to coach the Calgary Stampeders. This is all pure spitballing. I keep going back to these questions, though: Why would Josh McDaniels -- who I would imagine has aspirations to be a head coach again, to prove that what happened in Denver isn't who he is as a coach -- turn down job interviews? How often does that happen? Take a look at the current staff of the Patriots and around the NFL -- who else better fits as the eventual replacement to Belichick? McDaniels seemingly has all the requirements -- he is young (still only 36), is smart, will have the blessing of Tom Brady and will be loyal and only too willing to listen to Belichick.
I believe the plan is in place. Belichick is too smart to not have a successor ready. And that successor will be Josh McDaniels, who will debut on Sept. 11, 2016, a 38-31 win over the Dolphins with Tom Brady (yup, at age 39) throwing three TD passes.
Is that enough reckless speculation for you?