By Jason Keidel
After most Super Bowls, the headlines leak from the locker room of the winning team. But while Philadelphia just hosted an epic parade and party — well-lubed with free Bud Light — all the newsworthy tremors are coming from Foxborough.
With all due respect to the Eagles, we can’t stop circling the Patriots. From their star tight end, Rob Gonkowski, pondering retirement, to their QB playing so well, well past retirement age, to his backup signing a record, $137 million contract with the 49ers, the Patriots are a walking, talking, mutating soap opera. It’s an odd position for a team so well known for being so publicly stuffy, sterile, and tight-lipped.
Not even Bill Belichick’s bland, post-game baritone can hush the discord that clearly rippled from their facilities. The carnage from a clear power struggle among the holy trinity that sustained this dynasty — Robert Kraft, Tom Brady, and Belichick — saw the team jettison quarterbacks Jacoby Brissett and Brady’s presumed successor, Jimmy Garoppolo, who just signed that mega-deal with San Francisco.
But perhaps the most curious story came from the man who’s staying.
Indeed, Patriots offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels, who all but inked a deal to become the next head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, left Indy at the altar, deciding to stay with his football family, while keeping his real family intact and in place.
And, for some reason, we’re offended.
For as long as we’ve followed football, we’ve heard about the hardscrabble life of the football coach. From teaching technique to designing plays to living under the horizontal cone of a projector’s light, the NFL coach is the ultimate lifer and quintessential gypsy. A pro football coach signs an implicit contract to pinball around the nation, inching up from gopher to position coach to coordinator to his ultimate goal, to wear that headset, the gridiron crown as boss of an NFL sideline.
It’s a life of long workdays that not only makes a mortgage useless, but also tears through families, leaving a trail of broken marriages and kids who live much like Army brats.
And they do it all for the very job Josh McDaniels spurned like a groom with frigid feet. We’re all guessing at the professional reasons. The latest is that McDaniels labored to his office to gather his belongings, where he was greeted by the team owner (Kraft) and iconic coach (Belichick), who sweetened the professional pot to such an extent, they made the football version of an offer he couldn’t refuse.
But what about the personal reasons? McDaniels has four kids — three under age 12 — who will now stay in the same schools, keep the same friends, maintain some sense of security and consistency. If you know anyone who grew up all over the place — my grandfather, an Army Colonel, dragged my mother and her sister from London to Tokyo to the Pentagon — you hear about fragmented memories, fractured friendships, and school yearbooks in oddly different binders.
Critics are at their self-righteous worst, asserting that McDaniels just shot himself in the vocational foot, that no team will interview him for a head coaching job for at least five years, that his reputation is now irrevocably scarred, for having the audacity to consider someone beyond himself. Internally and biologically, kids are changing daily, which is why they want some stability externally, at home. A good dad knows that. God forbid McDaniels sees himself as a dad who happens to coach, not a coach who happens to be a dad.
Yet McDaniels is being dissected like a lab rat because we can’t understand turning down a promotion for his family. It’s always easier to live someone else’s life, to lecture them on decisions we will never have to make. It can’t be what it looks like. We think it’s really some secret, haunting MRI he got on Andrew Luck, the sublime Colts QB who missed the season with a shoulder injury. Or it’s the Colts’ mercurial owner, Jim Irsay, whose father, Robert, was best known for trading John Elway and sneaking the Colts out of Baltimore one snowy morning in those ugly Mayflower trucks.
Even worse, McDaniels doesn’t have the heart or hardihood to lead a team, still shellshocked by his 11-17 record as head coach of the Denver Broncos. Even if many of the greatest coaches in NFL history didn’t find their coaching voice until their second jobs — like Don Shula, Tom Coughlin, Pete Carroll, Tony Dungy and, yes, Bill Belichick — we assume McDaniels, still a young man at 41 years old, has committed career suicide.
Indeed, it would be tragic if Josh McDaniels simply enjoyed his job as Tom Brady’s offensive coordinator for another two years, made more than enough money to own a house and pay those nagging bills, love his job and family all at the same time. The American industrial Alpha Male doesn’t care about incidentals like wives and kids and happiness. It’s all about victory, at all costs. The costs are all so convenient because we never have to pay them.
The placard on Josh McDaniels’ door may say coach, but perhaps the hidden parts of his soul say he’s a husband and a dad. Only in a business at once as beautiful and barbaric as football — where personal and professional peace are mutually exclusive — is that considered a bad thing.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.