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Mike McDaniel uses his vulnerability, lessons from past to teach Dolphins

Mike McDaniel uses his vulnerability, lessons from past to coach Dolphins

Miami Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel says he often shares stories from adversity in his past with players in an effort to connect to the team. Photo thanks to the Miami Dolphins

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla., July 28 (UPI) — Facemask yanking and spit-spilling screams aren’t staples of Mike McDaniel’s repertoire as a first-year head coach. Instead, he uses his vulnerability and lessons learned through personal adversity to lead the Miami Dolphins.

Between your grind of players fighting for roster spots, McDaniel — who was simply hired in February — says its hard to carve out time and energy to get one-on-one sessions, but he uses the free moments he finds to talk about his stories.

“I believe it is important, for connection purposes, for me personally to talk about things to allow them to become familiar with me and we are able to have that experience,” McDaniel said this week at a news conference at the Baptist Health Training Complex in Miami Gardens, Fla.

“There’s some vulnerability for the reason that, that I believe players respect. … But do you know what? In case a guy plays bad, you are going to say some disparaging things. They need to wear that pressure.”

McDaniel hopes to alleviate a few of that pressure by sharing stories in “rabbit pellet” fashion, slowing revealing more info about his personal journey, as a means of respecting the pressure the players face.

“I believe that’s something they deserve and I’ve no issue doing,” McDaniel, who’s 39, said.

The Yale graduate started his NFL journey being an intern with the Denver Broncos. He went onto many other offensive roles with the Houston Texans, Washington Commanders, Cleveland Browns and Atlanta Falcons.

Then gained national interest for a potential head coaching job while serving as a run game coordinator and offensive coordinator for the SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA 49ers, assisting to form the team’s innovative and dominant rushing attack.

In-between those assorted stops, he confronted issues with alcohol and was identified as having depression. He got help address those issues, which once resulted in his firing by the Texans and may have permanently derailed his NFL career.

McDaniel’s players say his stories from those times, among others the coach shares about his life, make the team closer and stronger.

It’s simpler to spot the ways other McDaniel pertains to Dolphins players. The 5-foot-9 coach often sports trendy Yeezy shoes and jogger-style pants, and presents a jovial demeanor in his news conferences — that included a seflie with reporters at Wednesday’s news conference.

Starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa said he considers the coach “swaggy,” and gave him the nickname “Mystic Mac,” due to his fondness to make predictions.

Tagovailoa is among the NFL quarterbacks beneath the most pressure to execute in 2022. The No. 5 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft was benched multiple times in 2021, and contains yet to log a complete season of starts.

McDaniel, who says Tagovailoa is “super hard” on himself, recently drew from his past to greatly help the quarterback with the pressure.

He told Tagovailoa he previously similar moments of self-imposed stress during his days being an NFL assistant where he was tasked with adding to offensive game plans.

“I acquired in the tank and I felt like I allow team down,” McDaniel said Thursday. “I didn’t realize until feeling that how I was totally wrong in the first place. For me personally to sit here and think, or one to think, you’re the reason why you win or lose, you do not obtain the big picture.

“You may have an ideal game and may not win. It isn’t about this. It’s about being your very best, but also counting on your teammates.

“Unless you prosper, or in my own case when I developed a casino game plan that has been trash, that wasn’t all on me. Players still need to play and it’s really nothing individually. It’s all collective. That is the biggest lesson I’ve told him.”

Dolphins running back Raheem Mostert, who spent six seasons with McDaniels on the 49ers, credits the coach for helping him stay static in the NFL.

Mostert didn’t shine through his first four seasons in the league. Then broke out for pretty much 1,000 yards and 10 scores in 2019, with McDaniel strategizing the 49ers’ ground attack.

Mostert earned the biggest contract of his NFL career under McDaniel’s leadership. Mostert’s breakout and the 49ers’ rise led McDaniel into his current role.

“I wouldn’t be here without him basically,” Mostert said. “We’re always talking. He’s always saying, ‘Hey, Raheem. I wouldn’t be here without you, man.’ I’m saying a similar thing to him.

“That’s just the partnership we’ve and the partnership that he’ll build and manifest into other players — it will likely be awesome to see.”

Mostert said McDaniel’s football expertise and vulnerable personality boosted their personal bond.

“It’s nearly learning him and learning his story,” Mostert said.

Dolphins wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, who spent time with McDaniel on the Falcons and 49ers, said the coach’s vulnerability is “uncommon.”

“Once you learn that even the top guy faces adversity, it can help everyone be relaxed. Every day, another guy faces adversity on or off the field. If you have a coach start it certainly makes you convenient. It’s special and enables you to study and play a whole lot harder.

“It requires an uncommon individual to accomplish something similar to that.”

McDaniel is able to breakdown complicated football language and concepts with east. He’s got used that ability, paired along with his personal lessons, to create bonds throughout his football journey.

Yale coach Tony Reno told UPI that McDaniel was “savant-like” when he played receiver from 2001 through 2004 for the Bulldogs.

He served as a translator of football language, easily digesting dense offensive and defensive schemes and relaying the info for teammates.

“It’s no real surprise he’s got had the ascend he’s got has due to how bright he could be and how hard he works,” Reno said.

“He just recognized and understood things at another level. Guys gravitated to him since they knew he understood things maybe they couldn’t quite understand.”

Reno said he still talks frequently with McDaniel, and he invited the coach to talk with his team two seasons ago.

“I never thought there is a limit to how good he could easily get due to his intelligence and work ethic,” Reno said. “It isn’t a surprise he was sort of the brains behind the operation in SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA and just how much success that they had offensively. Now he could be taking that to Miami.”

The four candidates for Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback (L-R) Chris Oladokun (5), Kenny Pickett (8), Mason Rudolph (2) and Mitch Trubisky (10) attend training camp at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa., on July 27, 2022. Photo by Archie Carpenter/UPI | License Photo

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