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Colorado's Mike McDaniel: How the drop of a hat in Greeley led to becoming the Dolphins' head coach

Mike McDaniel reflects on career so far after watching a 9NEWS feature story from 2000.

DENVER — All it took was a single tip of the cap for Mike McDaniel to embark on his highly-respected NFL journey in Greeley 29 years ago.

Colorado native Mike McDaniel was introduced this week as the 13th head coach in the history of the Miami Dolphins.

"I think it's surreal for a lot of people, I haven't even really registered or digested it yet," said McDaniel said in an interview with 9NEWS. "I've just tried to do my job that I was just hired to do."

When McDaniel was a nine-year-old, he would frequently attend Denver Broncos Training Camp at the University of Northern Colorado campus in Greeley.

"As a kid I was a grinder, I knew their schedule which is pretty crazy that I knew what building they were going to and at what time and would stay there until like 7:30 at night," said McDaniel.

One summer day, McDaniel was fishing for autographs with many other kids.

"I remember I was trying to get Robert Delpino's autograph. He was number 39 at the time," said McDaniel.

In the middle of a scrum, McDaniels' Charlotte Hornets hat was knocked off. He could never find it again and sat on the grass sobbing.

That was where a Broncos video coordinator, Gary McCune, found him. 

"I feel like I've had like 15 Disney moments in my life," McDaniel noted.

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McCune went to the Greeley Mall, bought a new hat and gifted it to McDaniel the next day. McCune invited Mike to bring his family and to come and watch practice inside the ropes the following day.

McDaniel brought his single mother to practice and she and McCune fell in love and got married soon after while the young McDaniel stayed very active with the Broncos.

"It was the first time I had realized my obsession," McDaniel noted on his love for being at the practices. "I brought my cousin with me to Training Camp one day, it started at seven in the morning and by noon he was ready to tap out. I was like 'C'mon dude!' We've got seven more hours left."

The story of the ballcap was shared on 9NEWS in the fall of 2000, while Mike was a senior football player at Smoky Hill High School in Aurora and a ball boy for the Broncos.

> Here is the 9NEWS story in 2000 produced by Brian Olson and reported by Blake Olson:

The 9NEWS Sports team of Scotty Gange and Brian Olson shared this video with McDaniel this week. McDaniel couldn't believe he would watch it again for the first time in 22 years.

"No way! No way you guys have it? How surreal is this for me?! Wow!" McDaniel exclaimed.

McDaniel's eyes glowed at the 22-year-old video and he chuckled at the hoop earrings he proudly rocked as a senior.

"I knew that would come back to bite me," he said.

"I haven't seen a picture of me from high school in a while and I remember scoffing at adults like 'What? I'm not going to regret it! They don't know,'" he said with a smile.

Now, 29 years after he misplaced his hat and 22 years after the initial 9NEWS story, McDaniel is in charge of leading one of the NFL's most distinguished franchises, the Miami Dolphins.

When asked if him losing his hat as a nine-year-old boy was a catalyst to kickstart his long career in football, McDaniel agreed and acknowledged the help he's received along the way.

"Yeah, for sure [it was a factor], but I think it's more than that. Every person that you're in the journey with, whether they do something for you or not, people are invested. So it's really surreal to feel how happy people get and how they feel attached to it and I totally understand it. It makes me proud and it helps me push forward," said McDaniel.

Mike McDaniel, the kid who lost his hat in Greeley, and found his way to Miami.

Credit: AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell
Dolphins new head coach Mike McDaniel poses for pictures with his wife Katie McDaniel, and their daughter Ayla June on Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022.
Credit: AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell
Miami Dolphins new head coach Mike McDaniel arrives for an introductory press conference, Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022, in Miami Gardens, Fla.

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If you have a story idea you can email Scotty Gange at scotty.gange@9news.com or via Twitter at @Scotty_G6 or on Instagram at @scottygange

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