New Miami Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel said he’s never felt more relaxed and comfortable than he did before his first career game as a head coach.
“That’s the honest truth,” McDaniel said. “It’s because, yes, you are making play-calling decisions and a lot of your planning, you have to pay the piper. It’s black and white win or loss, but it’s not about that. It’s about doing right by all the people in the building, by the players, facilitating them coming together, and then we go out and have fun doing what we do.”
Regardless of how McDaniel felt before the game, he had to be happy with the results. The Dolphins defeated the New England Patriots 20-7 on Sunday, netting McDaniel his first career victory as a head coach.
McDANIEL ENDS DOLPHINS LOSING STREAK
McDaniel is the first Dolphins head coach (excluding interim coaches) to win in his debut since Nick Saban in 2005. He’s also the second Dolphins head coach to beat the Patriots in his coaching debut, with the first being Jimmy Johnson in 1996.
Since Saban, five head coaches had lost their Dolphins debut in Week 1 — Cam Cameron in 2007, Tony Sparano in 2008, Joe Philbin in 2012, Adam Gase in 2016 and Brian Flores in 2019.
At the end of the game, defensive tackle Christian Wilkins gave McDaniel his first career Gatorade bath, which McDaniel jokingly said was against his wishes, but he also admitted celebrating with the team was a “very cool moment.”
“This one is the one we can remember as the start of it,” McDaniel said in the locker room right after Wilkins poured the Gatorade on him. “All of the build-up, I’m so proud. We could feel it during the game. Things weren’t necessarily going the way that we wanted to, but we didn’t crack.”
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McDaniel’s focus on making the win Sunday about the players and not himself clearly resonated with wide receiver Tyreek Hill, who expressed how happy he was for McDaniel following the game.
“Yeah, it means a lot, man,” Hill said. “I don’t know if you guys know the history of Coach Mike. He is a team coach and has been through a lot in his life, so this means a lot, not only for me but for this whole team. It means a lot. A lot of guys take pride in what they do around here and they really look up to Mike as a role model, and so far he’s done a great job teaching us how to be pros, leading us in the right direction and creating moments for us to be a closer team. So far so good.”
McDANIEL’S GAMBLE WINS OVER PLAYERS
McDaniel had to make his first critical call with 24 seconds remaining in the second quarter. He decided to go for it on fourth-and-7 from the New England 42-yard line, and quarterback Tua Tagovailoa hit wide receiver Jaylen Waddle in stride, allowing him to split three defenders and score a touchdown to put Miami up 17-0.
“It was a cool moment for our whole team, but the mechanics of working with the game management guys and talking through the different scenarios, we were just at the fringe of Jason’s (Sanders) range,” McDaniel said about the decision. “Yeah, you can push the envelope, but the flip side is you miss it, and you’re a first down away from giving up points. So then it became, all right, it does kind of make sense to go ahead and go for it, have a couple of thoughts in mind. Then in communication with the offensive staff, I think it was (tight ends coach) Jon Embree kind of tipped the scales because they had a couple up. Then from that point on it’s all players.”
More than one of Miami’s players said the decision to go for it made them feel like McDaniel had a lot of confidence in them. Arguably the most important player to feel that way is Tagovailoa.
“I think Mike has the utmost confidence in us from things that we’ve shown in practice, from things that we’ve done throughout training camp, and also when we’ve had joint practices,” Tagovailoa said.
Although the Dolphins won, and his aggressive fourth-down call worked out, McDaniel already was thinking about getting his second career win next Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens.
“Man, I wish all you had to do is win one game because that would be cool,” McDaniel said. “That’s not the case, so I’m kind of thinking about Week 2. Again, time for reflection will come on my own time, not other people’s. Right now, people don’t need me to sit and think about my win/loss record. They need me to do my job, and that’s what I’m focused on.”