INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – No sooner had clarity formed in the Indianapolis Colts’ search for a head coach than clouds of uncertainty reappeared.
A source with knowledge of the process told Indy Sports Central over the weekend the team essentially had narrowed its list of candidates to two: New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and Houston defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel.
However, McDaniels’ status atop the Colts’ list might be in jeopardy on the heels of the Tennessee Titans “parting ways’’ Monday with head coach Mike Mularkey. According to national reports, the Titans have heavy interest in McDaniels.
“So Josh McDaniels goes from being a favorite in Indianapolis . . . to being a favorite in Tennessee,’’ ESPN’s Adam Schefter posted on Twitter. “McDaniels will get an HC job.’’
Colts general manager Chris Ballard already has met with McDaniels. With the Patriots still in the playoffs – they entertain Jacksonville Sunday in the AFC Championship game – the Titans are prohibited from having official contact with McDaniels until next week. Either New England’s season would be over if the Jaguars pull the upset or the Patriots would be in the bye week leading up to Super Bowl LII.
From a logistics standpoint, the Colts – or Titans – are prohibited from hiring McDaniels as long as New England remains alive in the postseason, although hypothetically an agreement could be reached. If the Colts believe a Titans-McDaniels hookup is inevitable, they could turn their attention to and immediately hire Vrabel.
The source, though, stressed Ballard hasn’t ruled out interviewing other candidates.
National speculation has McDaniels being more interested in the Titans than the Colts in large part because of each team’s quarterback situation: Marcus Mariota vs. Andrew Luck.
Mariota led Tennessee to a second straight 9-7 record, its first playoff appearance since 2008 and its first postseason win since 2003. The Titans won at Kansas City 22-21 in the wild-card round before being throttled at New England 35-14 Saturday.
The Colts, meanwhile, are coming off a 4-12 season and still don’t know whether Luck will make a full recovery from surgery 12 months ago on his right shoulder. The team remains optimistic, but that uncertainty will remain until it’s determined his shoulder is sound enough to withstand extensive and prolonged throwing.
“Andrew just makes (the job) that much more special and enticing because he’s coming back,’’ owner Jim Irsay said. “People are going to be excited about coming here and having a chance to get this job.
“I want to tell you one thing right now: you guys don’t know the fire that’s burning in No. 12’s eyes. You guys don’t know what type of fever he has for success right now. I mean, it’s a 107-degree fever towards success right now and the intensity he has.
“I’m not going to BS someone. I’m not going to BS my fans. I’m not going to BS you . . . I am telling you that I have no doubt in my mind that Andrew is going to come back.’’
The Luck vs. Mariota issue aside, there’s another individual in the mix who can’t be ignored: Jon Robinson. The Titans general manager developed relationship with McDaniels in New England.
While McDaniels’ Patriots’ roots stretch back to 2001 and include nine seasons as their offensive coordinator, Robinson joined Bill Belichick’s operation in 2002 as an area scout. He also served as a regional scout (2006-07), the assistant director of college scouting (2008) and director of college scouting (2009-13).
A day after the Colts fired Chuck Pagano, Ballard addressed the pending coaching search and the importance of getting “the right fit.’’ He stressed the importance of the GM and head coach being compatible.
“We want a partner,’’ Ballard said. “And look, the head coach-GM relationship is one of the most important things for the success of this franchise.
“So we want to make sure we get the right fit for this organization.’’