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Evaluating Josh McDaniels as Las Vegas Raiders head coach

Moe Moton
Josh McDaniels, Las Vegas Raiders
Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

The Las Vegas Raiders didn’t play Sunday, but they are bringing Super Bowl rings home with Josh McDaniels and Dave Ziegler joining the organization.

Las Vegas officially hired Ziegler as its general manager Sunday and McDaniels is set to join him as head coach, per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.

Coming from the New England Patriots, Ziegler and McDaniels are a package deal, aligning the general manager and head coach positions on the same timeline. It’s something the Raiders haven’t had since Reggie McKenzie and Dennis Allen accepted those roles, respectively, during the 2012 offseason.

Related: If you’re a fan of the Raiders, check out #RaiderNation rumors, rankings, and news here.

The Raiders’ reported choice in a head coach drew strong opinions—many unfavorable across social media. While McDaniels raises some concerns, he’s also a quality candidate with strong positives.

What should Raiders fans look out for and what should they look forward to under McDaniels?

Why you should be concerned about Josh McDaniels

NFL:  St. Louis Rams at Denver Broncos
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Skeptics have expressed their uneasiness with McDaniels’ past. Hired by the Denver Broncos in 2009, his two-year stint saw the franchise go through plenty of problems.

During that time frame, McDaniels moved up in the 2010 draft to select quarterback Tim Tebow. The NFL fined him and the team for videotaping the San Francisco 49ers’ practice before a game in London. Shortly after, the Broncos fired McDaniels amid a disappointing losing season.

  • Josh McDaniels record: 11-17

While McDaniels had a disastrous run in Denver, he took that job at 32 years old and likely learned from past mistakes, but the 45-year-old still has to build up his credibility.

While the videotaping incident happened 12 years ago, another scandal happened when he returned to New England. In 2019, the league fined the Patriots for filming the Cincinnati Bengals. Though McDaniels served as an offensive coordinator at the time, notice the pattern of underhanded tactics and unreliability in his past.

Related: Top NFL free agents of 2023 – Lamar Jackson, Deebo Samuel lead the charge

He also backed out of an agreement to become the Indianapolis Colts head coach in 2018, a decision that isn’t forgotten around the NFL years later.

McDaniels, either through association or on his own watch, isn’t a stranger to controversy, which isn’t good for a team that’s coming off a season filled with off-field headlines and distractions. The Raiders don’t need any more negative spotlight. The new regime has to run a buttoned-up and smooth operation.

Furthermore, McDaniels has to establish his own brand of leadership. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick pulls all the strings in New England, and his assistants have struggled with personal relationships elsewhere.

Former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores had a “deteriorating relationship” with general manager Chris Grier and quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, per NFL Network’s Cameron Wolfe. Former Houston Chronicle reporter Aaron Wilson used the words “toxic” and “dysfunction” to describe Bill O’Brien’s relationship with former Houston Texans general manager Rick Smith before the team fired the latter. Matt Patricia nearly lost the Detroit Lions locker room a week into his first campaign with the team:

While some question the success of the Belichick coaching tree, remember, O’Brien won four division titles with the Texans—two before the team drafted quarterback Deshaun Watson. Unfortunately for him, he made poor roster moves and reportedly had issues with the front office, leading to his downfall. Flores had back-to-back winning seasons with the Dolphins while Tagovailoa battled injuries and missed seven games over the past two terms.

Patriots assistants have a track record of wearing out their welcome with players and front-office personnel. With a few stains on McDaniels’ credibility, he’ll have to earn the respect of veteran guys in the Raiders locker room and prove he’s a trustworthy leader of men.

Why you should feel optimistic about Josh McDaniels

NFL: New England Patriots at Baltimore Ravens
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

While head coaches usually influence roster moves and decisions, McDaniels is paired with someone he trusts in Ziegler, who’s worked with him in New England and Denver. The two also played together at John Carroll University in Ohio.

With so much history between them, McDaniels and Ziegler should get along with respect for each other’s opinions. Neither should feel the need to undercut the other as they’re coming from the same organization and likely have shared philosophies.

When it comes down to the X’s and O’s, McDaniels has earned leaguewide respect. In 13 years as the Patriots offensive coordinator, he’s fielded a top-eight scoring offense for 12 of those seasons.

Before you say McDaniels had the benefit of working with quarterback Tom Brady for most of his career, keep in mind he put together a top-scoring offense with Matt Cassel under center in 2008 and rookie Mac Jones for the 2021 campaign.

McDaniels’ offensive brilliance goes beyond Brady, and he proved it with Cassel and Jones, who had the best season of all the rookie quarterbacks in 2021. Under his tutelage, quarterback Derek Carr should fare well because of the play-caller’s ability to utilize the strengths of his personnel and fit the game plan to attack the opponent’s weaknesses.

With McDaniels calling the plays, the Raiders would likely have a flexible offense that can run the ball 30-plus times against a poor defensive front or pick apart a porous secondary because of his exceptional game planning.

In New England, we know McDaniels runs the offense because Belichick has a defensive background.

Final rating for Josh McDaniels: 8/10

NFL: New England Patriots Training Camp
Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

Coming from New England, McDaniels could bring attention to detail with an emphasis on playing smart football, which may drop Vegas’ rate of offensive infractions. For the 2021 season, the Raiders committed the second-most penalties on offense (124) while the Patriots ranked 24th (95) leaguewide.

McDaniels could carry over those staples from Belichick’s regime, but he shouldn’t try to emulate the head coach’s persona. While you can learn tactics from others, every leader has to find their own lane.

Assuming Ziegler and McDaniels keep Carr, who the duo reportedly favors, per Michael Silver of Bally Sports, the Raiders should have a roster that’s ready to win right away after a 10-7 season with a playoff appearance.

In his first year, McDaniels needs players to buy into his system and philosophy. The Patriot Way only works if the team has the wins to show for it.

McDaniels cannot head to Vegas and flash his six Super Bowl rings and expect everyone to fall in line with what he says. He must show that his methods yield results away from Belichick and the Patriots organization.

Fortunately for McDaniels, he’ll have a better quarterback and roster than he had in Denver 12 years ago. Owner Mark Davis’ decision to hire a head coach-general manager pair from the same organization could lower the probability of a dysfunctional power struggle between the coaching and front-office ranks.

If McDaniels builds solid relationships with his players and those around him as opposed to alienating them, he can redeem himself as a head coach in his second stint.

Maurice Moton covers the Raiders for Sportsnaut. You can follow him on Twitter at @MoeMoton.