MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Mike McDaniel often refers to his time in Washington as one of the most formative periods of his coaching career.
As an offensive assistant and later wide receivers coach under Mike Shanahan, McDaniel was able to build the competitive awareness and offensive ideology that he currently uses as the head coach of the AFC East-leading Miami Dolphins.
Not only did McDaniel learn under one of the NFL's most revered offensive minds in Shanahan, but he worked alongside other young wunderkinds who have gone on to have success as head coaches.
On one coaching staff, there was offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, currently the head coach of the NFC-West leading San Francisco 49ers; tight ends coach Sean McVay, who led the Los Angeles Rams to a Super Bowl victory just two seasons ago; quarterbacks coach Matt LeFleur, now coaching the Green Bay Packers; and McDaniel.
“It’s funny how life works out,” said McDaniel, whose time in Washington lasted from 2011-2013. “I was so fortunate to have the opportunity to be in that competitive atmosphere of coaches that were trying to all make a name for themselves in one way, shape or form.”
McDaniel has made a name for himself rather quickly after taking over in Miami last season, whether for his tendency to go viral for his quick wit and quirky idiosyncrasies, or for the rapid offensive success that he's ushered in on a Dolphins team that for decades was mostly known for its defense.
Sunday, McDaniel will return to Washington for the first time as a head coach when his Dolphins (8-3) face the Commanders (4-8).
Creative play calling and an elaborate rushing attack have become McDaniel’s calling cards as he has tweaked and enhanced parts of Shanahan’s scheme that he learned in Washington. There, McDaniel helped develop a system made up of elements of the spread offense seen commonly in college football for quarterback Robert Griffin III, and that offense finished first in the NFL in rushing in 2012.
“Mike Shannahan didn’t mandate that we go on a clinic circuit,” McDaniel said. “Kyle (Shanahan)’s acumen and the entire staff problem solving, quite literally thinking outside the box at that point in time ... all of those things kind of set a foundation of opening your mind, having assets, as you will, and finding a way to not fit people into something, but fit the play, the scheme, what you’re trying to do around the talent that you have. To have that happen to me at that age, I just don’t know any other way.”
The Dolphins have led the NFL in several offensive categories all season with a high-flying offense that uses speed to spread teams both horizontally and vertically down the field, as well as pre-snap motions and shifts to help get receivers open. They're averaging 430.5 yards per game, 6.9 yards per play and 145.2 yards rushing.
“Through studying Mike (McDaniel) and Kyle (Shanahan) and their years together, obviously, that was an integral part of what they did,” said Dolphins offensive coordinator Frank Smith earlier this season. "And coming here and us collecting and knowing how we both see and attack the defense, movement and shifting made complete sense, because that’s the only way you can sometimes get a true understanding of what they’re trying to do or attack a certain part of their defense.”
Washington is now led by coach Ron Rivera, whom McDaniel also has a history with.
When a young McDaniel was just out of college and looking for graduate assistant jobs in the NFL, he sent letters to coaches all over the country. Rivera, McDaniel recalled Monday, was one of the first coaches to respond.
“He didn’t give me a job,” McDaniel added jokingly, “but I have a lot of respect for him.”
Rivera expressed the same level of respect for the Dolphins' coach.
“He’s a very bright, very sharp young man. He really is,” Rivera said. "When people do things like that, they take the initiative, it goes back to that old saying that I was told back in the day when I wanted to get into coaching, and that is, ‘They’re not going to send a limo, so go get the job.’
"And that was my mentality, and I was very impressed with that. And that’s why I responded. He took the time and the least I could do is take the time to respond to him. And it’s kind of proven it because he’s turned into a heck of a football coach. He’s done a great job.”
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