Josh McDaniels sent the Indianapolis Colts reeling Tuesday evening when he informed team officials that he had changed his mind and will not become the next head coach. Instead, he will remain with the New England Patriots.
The news came roughly eight hours after the Colts announced that McDaniels had agreed to terms on the position, with the team setting an introductory news conference for Wednesday.
But Tuesday instead ended both with a slew of questions regarding McDaniels’ reasoning and Indianapolis back at square one.
The Colts have experienced a rough few days after an alleged drunken driver killed linebacker Edwin Jackson. While Tuesday's news with McDaniels pales in comparison, it is still a significant blow for a team that’s already trying to recover from a difficult year.
The Colts’ statement described the team as “surprised and disappointed” over the news. However, people close to the situation, speaking to USA TODAY Sports on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the team's current circumstances, admitted a degree of uncertainty loomed on Tuesday morning despite the announcement of the pact with McDaniels. Colts staffers were under strict instructions to state that McDaniels and the team had “agreed to terms” on the job, but nothing more concrete.
Prior to Tuesday, however, the Colts felt great about their future. They had zeroed in on McDaniels weeks ago. Colts brass envisioned the arrival of the Patriots’ hotshot offensive coordinator as the perfect way to energize the fan base, boost ticket sales and help Andrew Luck return to prime form after the quarterback missed all of last season.
But the McDaniels about-face proved deflating Tuesday evening.
The coach’s reasons for backing out remained unclear as of late Tuesday night. But details should trickle out in the next 24 hours or so.
Speculation abounds, as some wonder whether Bill Belichick and/or Robert Kraft have promised him that the Patriots’ succession plan centers on him, or if Kraft gave him a lucrative deal to stay simply as a way to stick it to the Colts for their role in Deflategate. Perhaps McDaniels simply wasn’t truly at peace over leaving New England, and others have suggested possible concerns about Luck’s shoulder. This doesn't make McDaniels look good. And he now appears to have backed himself into a corner. He can't and shouldn't work anywhere but New England for the foreseeable future.
He had planned to take a few Patriots assistants with him to Indianapolis, including special teams coach Joe Judge and assistant quarterbacks coach Jerry Schuplinski. But what happens to those coaches now, as well as the others who were in line for jobs?
The only way for McDaniels to emerge from this with mitigated damage to his reputation is if he backed out because the Colts wanted to block some of his intended hires or if they wanted to force certain other assistants on him.
The Colts say they’re restarting their coaching search immediately. Their top two original choices were McDaniels and Mike Vrabel, who has taken the Tennessee Titans’ job. Indianapolis officials will have to settle on their third or fourth choice.
The early list of names includes Kansas City Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub, former Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. Now behind not only on assembling a coaching staff but also in knowing exactly what players would best fit them in free agency and the draft, the Colts will try to move quickly.
Follow Mike Jones on Twitter @ByMikeJones.