A few days ago I wrote about about my three biggest Kyle Shanahan takeaways from Jourdan Rodrigue's excellent Playcallers podcast series for The Athletic. Today is all about Kyle Shanahan's right hand man, Mike McDaniel, who said a lot of things that raised my eyebrows.
As you'll see, McDaniel didn't specifically name Kyle Shanahan some of these quotes, so there's no way to be 100% sure who McDaniel was talking about. I am not saying for a fact that Shanahan was the subject of all of them. What I am saying is that all of these quotes could apply to Kyle Shanahan, and they caused me to lean forward in my chair while listening. When that happens, I always want to pass those things on to you.
Here we go. Let's start with a comment where Shanahan is expressly named:
"I don’t have an NFL career, I don’t even know what it would look like, if [Kyle Shanahan] hadn’t chose me to be his right hand man, however exploitative or not it doesn’t matter. So I wanted to do right by that in the worst way."
However exploitative or not, it doesn't matter is a hell of a phrase. At best, McDaniel is saying that he provided more value to Kyle Shanahan than McDaniel got credit for. At worst, McDaniel felt that Kyle was profiting from, and taking credit for, his hard work.
In the same soundbite, McDaniel added this comment about getting hired as offensive coordinator and having weekly press conferences in 2021: "I was not gonna be the secret anymore."
McDaniel makes it clear throughout the series that he felt he was under-appreciated for years before becoming a head coach and play-caller.
"The steady thing through those years," McDaniel said, "Was those kind of components of like recognizing. ‘Oh yeah it doesn’t matter if people see it yet, I can impact people the way I’ve always wanted to. I can become something really special in this game. All I need to do is stay in it. Stay in the NFL and over time people will start realizing stuff."
By his own admission, frustration with not getting promoted quickly enough led to an alcohol problem that caused him to lose his job in Houston. Thankfully, McDaniel recovered and returned to the NFL in Washington in 2011. To be fair, McDaniel also admitted he eventually realized that his expectations for advancement at that time were unrealistic.
The other quotes from the series are more ambiguous as to who they're about, but they're definitely throwing a lot of shade at somebody. For example:
"I think a lot of times people can become victims of their own ego. They end up throwing tantrums and shit which affect, residually, affect players from both sides of the ball.
I’ve been training myself for fucking ever [for] a way that I can separate myself from the rest. I don’t have emotional reactions. Not because I’m not feeling emotion, but because I’ve witnessed how many people it affects. How the disposition and belief of a team can be affected by it."
As I said previously, there's no way to know which coach (or coaches) McDaniel is talking about. He's worked under many different men throughout his career. We know that Kyle Shanahan is very demonstrative on the sideline during games and critical of his players behind the scenes, but that's circumstantial evidence at best.
Then there's this:
"There’s humility that needs to be involved for you to be capable of doing your best, I think, and that’s why I don’t get nervous in big moments. I don’t. It’s fun.
I know that’s different too. I knew that in 2016 in the Super Bowl. People were hemorrhaging before the game, even on the coaching staff. I was totally fine, but it was because I was prepared for it. And I kind of saw that scope even before I was a playcaller. I was just being a part of the whole thing.
But how stupid is it for people to think playcallers win and lose games? No, your players win and lose games. Are you the best person to maximize their talents? Hopefully, but isn’t that what we were hired to do?"
Obviously Kyle Shanahan wasn't the only coach on the Falcons' staff in 2016, and McDaniel could have been talking about any one of them. We do know that Shanahan called the plays for that team, however. And we also know that Kyle definitely has a big ego. Again, though, that doesn't prove Shanahan was the target of this particular criticism.
McDaniel would mention the sin of hubris multiple times throughout the series. Here's another example:
"I think it’s pretty asinine when coaches think they win or lose games, and I think that most of the playcallers think their play calls win or lose games. That’s cool and all but like I don’t understand how you can overweigh your contribution to the team when you’ve had so many examples of calling a trash play and it works, or calling the perfect play and it doesn’t work.
So if you can rectify that in your brain on the front end, there’s a tremendous amount of liberty to let go and just recognize that this is your best educated guess. If it was anything other than that- that’s all it is. You’re trying to put people in positions to succeed, but [the players] are the ones that are scoring touchdowns. They’re the ones that have to execute the assignment. And on top of that position coaches have to generally articulate those assignments.
All these things, so many people involved. How shortsighted and egotistical/dumb is it to sit there and act like your play call wins or loses the game?"
This easily applies to Kyle Shanahan, but it could also apply to other people that McDaniel worked with in his career, such as Sean McVay. McVay reportedly grew frustrated with Jared Goff because he felt like Goff could only succeed with the perfect play call. Hell, maybe it applies to both of them.
We'll never know for sure who McDaniel was talking about without further clarification from him, and I seriously doubt that is coming. I'd also love to know how the other coaches featured in the series feel about these comments, and if they think they were the focus. If I had to guess, I'd say the truth probably lies somewhere in between. Some of the comments probably apply to Kyle, and some probably apply to others in the coaching tree, or others that he worked with throughout his career.
Regardless of the actual answers to those questions, it's clear McDaniel thinks highly of himself and the value that he brought to teams before he became a coordinator or head coach. And he should, by the way. Just like Kyle Shanahan, Sean McVay, et al. should feel. They're all brilliant offensive minds who have earned whatever ego they might have.
I'm going to keep my eye on how these coaches interact going forward, and if they ever mention any of the comments made in the series. It's possible some new rivalries have started right before our very eyes.