What to watch for as Josh McDaniels begins his new role as Colts’ head coach

Josh McDaniels


Tuesday evening, it was announced that Josh McDaniels has decided not to accept the job as Colts head coach.


INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Soon, Josh McDaniels will settle into his new office at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center on West 56th Street.

Soon, the 10th full-time head coach in the Colts’ Indy era will take time to peruse the steady decline of a team that reached the AFC Championship game after the 2014 season – McDaniels had a choice view as New England demolished the Colts 45-7 – and fully grasp the enormity of the challenge he’s undertaking.

Wednesday, the Colts formally announced McDaniels as Chuck Pagano’s successor and the man who, along with general manager Chris Ballard, must rebuild the roster, reenergize a fan base that’s inching way too close to apathy and prove he’s capable of success when not standing next to Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.

Some topics to consider as we dive into the Josh McDaniels era.

Will McDaniels go from one elite QB to another that has displayed elite tendencies?

The early portion of Wednesday’s presser will deal with McDaniels leaving the comfort of the Patriots and striking out on his own again. What did he learn from his misadventures in Denver (an 11-17 record in 2009-10, then fired)? How is he better equipped to handle the big-picture responsibilities required of a head coach after spending the last six seasons solely focused on his offensive room?

Then, we’ll ask about the elephant in the room that’s actually on the West Coast. What’s the update on Andrew Luck? Has the Colts’ $140 million quarterback begun throwing – really throwing – under the supervision of QB gurus Tom House and Adam Dedeaux?

When he launched his coaching search last month, Ballard stressed he wanted someone who wanted to come to Indy for all the right reasons, not simply because Andrew Luck was on the roster. We understand that. But we’re not buying that McDaniels opted for the Colts without some assurance Luck was going to be ready for 2018. What, he’ll be OK taking a second shot as a head coach with Jacoby Brissett? No disrespect to Brissett, who was with McDaniels in New England for parts of the last two years, but it’s hard to imagine McDaniels relocating to Indy if there was a strong possibility he’d be designing the offense for Brissett, not the Franchise Guy.

Hopefully, McDaniels or Ballard will offer some clarity.

Is that versatile, prolific offense transferrable?

That’s the certainly the expectation. The trademark of McDaniels’ offenses in New England was aggression and adaptability. He routinely was able to find defensive weaknesses and exploit them. He did what every quality coach does: maximize his players’ strengths, steer clear of their weaknesses.

“He’s an amazing coach,’’ Patriots wideout Danny Amendola said. “He gets his players to play hard and he gets the most out of them. He’s smart. He’s creative.’’

Over the past six seasons with McDaniels as coordinator, the Patriots’ offense averaged 29.5 points per game and scored touchdowns on 62.1 percent of its red-zone trips. Both are league highs during that stretch. They also turned the ball over just 86 times, fewest in the league. By comparison, the Colts averaged 23.1 points and suffered 139 turnovers.

How much of that extended offensive success rests with Brady? Over the last six seasons, Brady has averaged 284.6 yards per game with 188 touchdowns and 45 interceptions.

And how much should be credited to McDaniels’ creative mind? In the past six seasons, four different Patriots receivers have eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark and four backs have led them in rushing.

We’re about to find out.

How will McDaniels maximize T.Y. Hilton’s strengths and minimize those games where the four-time Pro Bowler is a non-factor? Can he fully tap into running back Marlon Mack’s big-play skills by getting him the football in the open field? Is there another level to Jack Doyle’s game?

Building a staff:

Again, we’re reminded of Ballard’s comments. While getting the right guy was critical, so was the right guy’s ability to surround himself with a quality staff. Ballard stressed the importance of the coaching staff being filled with teachers capable of developing young players.

We’re still early in the process and nothing is official, but a portion of McDaniels’ staff apparently is in place. Matt Eberflus reportedly is in line to be defensive coordinator, Dave DeGuglielmo offensive line coach and Mike Phair defensive line coach. Two of McDaniels’ colleagues from New England might follow him to Indy: assistant quarterbacks coach Jerry Schuplinski and special teams coach Joe Judge. A recent report, though, noted the Patriots are attempting to keep Judge from departing.

It’s uncertain what position awaits Schuplinski. It might be as quarterbacks coach, or coordinator. However that shakes out, there’s little doubt McDaniels will oversee the offense.

The addition of Eberflus probably portends a scheme switch from 3-4 to 4-3, which means tweaking the personnel. But it remains to be seen how dramatic a switch it will be. In today’s pass-happy NFL, teams are in nickel formations about 60 percent of the time.

Personnel matters:

Welcome to Indy, Josh. Now, we’ve got the NFL Scouting Combine starting Feb. 27; which of our own free agents we want to retain; veteran free agency, which hits the middle of March; and, oh yes, the April 26-28 NFL Draft.

There’s every reason to believe Ballard will retain final say over the construction of the roster. But let’s not kid ourselves: he’ll listen to his new coach.