The chatter began on Super Bowl Sunday.
As the Philadelphia Eagles were upsetting the New England Patriots on the field, social media was alive with speculation on the future of Josh McDaniels. The Patriots offensive coordinator had agreed to become the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts after a second meeting in Massachusetts during the Super Bowl bye week.
Was McDaniels wavering in his decision?
As Eagles coach Doug Pederson answered questions in his postgame news conference, McDaniels' agent, Bob LaMonte, was asked about his client’s future, according to a source. LaMonte was shocked there was even a question. “He’s going to Indy,” he said, unequivocally.
Meanwhile, the Colts were dealing with tragedy with the death of linebacker Edwin Jackson, who along with Uber driver Jeffrey Monroe was struck and killed on the side of the road by a drunken driver early Sunday morning.
“Sunday was a hard day,” Colts general manager Chris Ballard said. “I didn’t watch the Super Bowl. My mind was around Edwin Jackson and his family, Jeffrey Monroe and his family, that’s where my mind was. ... I don’t deal with [the rumors] world. I deal with what’s going on internally, where we’re going, what our internal perception is, making sure our fans understand where we’re coming from. All the rumors -- everybody has got an opinion or a take. Some are true, some are not.”
Ballard insisted he had no indication McDaniels might be wavering.
Monday into Tuesday morning
On Monday, McDaniels returned from Super Bowl LII with the Patriots with a sense of finality. One of the last things on his agenda was to meet with owners Robert and Jonathan Kraft and coach Bill Belichick. Up to this point, they hadn’t discussed anything regarding McDaniels’ future.
McDaniels began exit interviews with the Pats on Monday but seemed focused on his new beginning Tuesday morning when Ballard checked in with his coach-in-waiting. The two talked on the phone, making sure everything was on track for McDaniels' arrival in Indianapolis. They went over the agenda for a planned Wednesday news conference and the plane the Colts were sending to pick up McDaniels. McDaniels told Ballard he had his suit picked out and was ready to go.
Around 11 a.m. ET, after Ballard’s call with McDaniels, the Colts tweeted the news that he would be their new coach, with a news conference set for 3:30 p.m. ET Wednesday.
Tuesday afternoon, things shift
By Tuesday afternoon, Robert and Jonathan Kraft, as well as Belichick, met with McDaniels again and made an aggressive pitch. McDaniels' conversation with Belichick had particular influence, a source said. Belichick wasn’t trying to talk McDaniels out of going, but he knew his offensive coordinator was having second thoughts.
Belichick offered to include McDaniels on more of the inner workings of the organization, from roster construction to financial/salary-cap related considerations. That was viewed as “extremely valuable” to McDaniels. Ownership also endorsed it as a way to extend Belichick’s influence on the organization in future years, although no assurances were given to McDaniels that he would succeed Belichick. McDaniels, who a source confirmed got a significant raise, has privately said in the past that he did not want to be the coach who succeeds Belichick. Although he since may have changed his mind, McDaniels knows Belichick, after five Super Bowl victories, will be a hard act to follow.
Beyond financial and professional stability, McDaniels also was thinking of his family. He wanted a long-term commitment from the Patriots so his four children, ages 12 to 3, would be able to attend the same schools over the next several years. The transient life of a coach doesn’t always make that possible.
After hours of meetings on Tuesday, McDaniels was swayed by the Patriots' pitch. He called Ballard, who was in a draft meeting at Colts headquarters, at 7:15 p.m. ET on Tuesday, and told him he had changed his mind and was “going in a different direction.”
“He called and said he had bad news for me,” Ballard said. “I said, ‘I just need a yes or no answer. Are you in or out?’ We went around for a minute and he said he’s out and I said. ‘OK, we’re going to move forward. I wish you the best of luck.’”
Ballard said he did not try to persuade McDaniels because he wanted his new coach to be “all-in.” The five-minute conversation ended, and Ballard told Colts owner Jim Irsay and then the public. A news release was sent out at 8:34 p.m. ET confirming McDaniels would not be the next Colts coach.
What’s next for Colts, McDaniels
Ballard was “pissed and angry because he was completely blindsided by the whole thing because the process was at the finish line,” according to a source. Ballard’s focus shifted from the initial shock of McDaniels’ call to going back to his pool of candidates he had worked on compiling to find a coach who's “all-in on the vision” of the franchise.
Ballard took the blame for scheduling a news conference without a signed deal.
“I thought a lot about that but I was very confident," he said. "That’s on me; that’s not on the organization. That’s on me. I was very confident that a deal was in place and that we were going to be moving forward and having a press conference [Wednesday]. That’s on me.”
McDaniels has been looking for the perfect head-coaching situation after his first stint with the Denver Broncos went sideways quickly. The Broncos wanted McDaniels to bring the Patriots' winning ways with him to the Rocky Mountains when they hired him in 2009. What they got instead was their very own videotaping scandal to go with losing and personnel blunders. McDaniels was fired less than halfway through his four-year, $8 million deal with an 11-17 record.
He has been working his way back ever since, keeping an Excel file on his laptop titled “lessonslearned.xls.” McDaniels has in recent years turned down opportunities to pursue available head-coaching jobs in Cleveland, Los Angeles and Atlanta.
One source said: “He’s always just insisted that everything be right, or he wasn’t going to leave.” It’s unclear what it was about the Colts' job that McDaniels ultimately decided wasn’t perfect, but he reached a point where he believed he was better off staying in New England.
ESPN senior NFL writer Dan Graziano contributed to this report