MIAMI — When he entered the interview room Tuesday after voluntary organized team activities, Miami Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel resembled more of an ad for high-end athleisure than a football coach — a gray sweatshirt and matching sweatpants with yellow Yeezy sneakers providing the only color to his outfit.
As Miami enters Phase III of offseason workouts, McDaniel has grown popular on social media for his fashion sense and among his players for his ability to connect with them. He was hired in February as an offensive guru, but his acumen appears to extend beyond X’s and O’s.
“He’s a players’ coach,” said receiver River Cracraft, who played last season for the San Francisco 49ers, where McDaniel was the offensive coordinator. “He gets along with players and he acts like he’s one of us in the sense that you can talk to him. He’s never going to big-time you or push you aside. … That’s what he’s doing with everybody here and that’s why I love playing for Mike, because you know what you’re going to get from him, just his honesty.”
The Dolphins began their offseason workout regimen in the first week of April, with McDaniel and his staff laying the foundation for their offensive system.
Miami made it a priority to add playmakers this offseason, trading for receiver Tyreek Hill (league-best 20 touchdowns of 50-plus yards since 2016). The Dolphins also signed receiver Cedrick Wilson, who showed big-play ability with Dallas last season, and running backs Chase Edmonds (runs of 54 and 40 yards in 2021) and Raheem Mostert (top speed of 22.73 mph on a 2020 play was the fastest by a ball carrier in three seasons, according to NFL Next Gen stats).
Now that the team has moved on from classroom and film study and drill work, it can begin to create a foundation to build on once training camp begins in July, McDaniel said.
“Realistically you want guys committed to getting better and you want to really establish how you’re going to go about business,” he said. “We had two voluntary minicamps and … our second OTA, and what was important to me was you don’t skip steps in this business. So if we want to make strides and progress as an organization and as a football team, we have to position ourselves so that when we come back for training camp, we’re able to practice and operate at a high-caliber level that fits our goals.”
Miami missed the playoffs for the fifth straight season in 2021, finishing with a 9-8 record. Coach Brian Flores was fired the day after the season ended on Jan. 10, with owner Stephen Ross citing communication issues as one of the deciding factors. McDaniel, who comes from an innovative coaching tree that has produced head coaches Kyle Shanahan (49ers), Sean McVay (Rams) and Matt LaFleur (Packers), was hired to fix an offense that ranked 25th in the NFL last season and to galvanize the locker room.
So far, his players have raved about his work in both areas. McDaniel has kept things light but focused at practice, holding a putting contest during conditioning drills this offseason and implementing a “practice player of the day” award, with perks that include donning an orange jersey and having full control over the next practice’s music playlist.
“He’s doing a great job of just bringing us all together,” cornerback Nik Needham said. “In team meetings he’ll say some jokes or just funny stuff, show stuff on film … I think all that stuff is building the camaraderie on the team.”
Of course, camaraderie can only take a team so far without a proper system in place.
There won’t be tangible evidence of the effectiveness of McDaniel’s schemes until the preseason begins, but the offensive players are excited about the revamped approach.
“I mean it’s a completely different offense, as you guys can probably tell from watching San Fran’s film,” second-year offensive lineman Liam Eichenberg said. “It’s just different. New coaches, new style, new scheme. [I’m] trying to improve every day, trying to learn the offense the best that I can.”
Said Needham: “We all feel the energy in here, and it just feels like a different vibe this year for sure. You never know what happens, but we just want to keep it going. I love what he’s doing here for sure.”