MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Barely 24 hours had passed since the Miami Dolphins arrived home from last weekend’s game in Germany. Mike McDaniel was getting settled behind the lectern for a pre-bye week media session and someone pointed out he looked more tired than usual.
McDaniel needed only a couple seconds to reply.
“It was the one day I didn’t put on mascara,” he said.
This was peak McDaniel. Quick with a quip, always entertaining.
Make no mistake: The coach of the AFC East-leading Dolphins is serious about a lot of things — his wife and daughter, winning, the health and welfare of his players, his sobriety. He’s also a viral moment waiting to happen, someone who sprinted away from a cameraman after a halftime interview, told his quarterback Tua Tagovailoa that his high school technique was trash, and offered up profane analysis during a faux interview to be part of the “ManningCast” on Monday night football.
“I think people respond best to authenticity, to know that nothing that you say or do is fabricated,” McDaniel said. “So, I just try to stay true to my personality and I feel like that’s owed to people. You have to give yourself, if you’re in a leadership role where you’re serving other people. You have to give people yourself and so I just try to pride myself on that and hold nothing back because I feel like that’s what people deserve.”
He might hold a little bit back; such is the nature of football coaching, where at least some mystery is required.
But not much.
McDaniel can be called a lot of things; boring is not one of them. It seems the only time he has been quieted in his 21 months with the Dolphins was the opening few seconds of his introductory news conference, when the microphone he was trying to speak into wasn’t turned on. The mics have been open ever since, the cameras always rolling, awaiting the next moment.
“He’s unapologetically himself,” Dolphins long snapper Blake Ferguson said. “And I think that’s why guys buy into what he’s selling. That’s why we’ve been able to have the success that we’ve had, because he’s just himself. He’s quirky. He knows how smart he is. And he makes himself relatable. He’s been through a lot of adversity in his life. He’s able to channel that into a passionate coach who cares about his players. But he sees the world in such a unique way that he just says whatever he’s thinking.”
It would be impossible to list all of McDaniel’s moments of comic genius. But some examples:
— Before a game last season, as Tagovailoa warmed up nearby, McDaniel just happened to say into his headset: “Georgia is definitely the best SEC school, without a shadow of a doubt.” Tagovailoa, of course, attended Alabama.
— “Did you guys enjoy that clinic?” That one, offered with a smile, came after a 19-3 preseason loss to Atlanta.
— “Mission accomplished. … Our goal was output after five games.” That one came after he was told the Dolphins had more yards through five games than any team in NFL history.
“It works because it’s him and every time he’s being funny, he’s just authentically him,” Dolphins linebacker Bradley Chubb said. “He’s not trying too hard. He’s not going out of his way to do stuff, not like switching up all of a sudden. If you meet him, he’s that 24-7.”
McDaniel — who’s almost always in sweats and sneakers, and was amazed that his sideline uniform became a Halloween costume for many, including Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra a couple weeks ago — just thinks he’s being honest about who he is. He doesn’t hide the funny, nor the not-funny, like how he used to drink to excess or the difficulties that sometimes presented themselves when he was growing up in a single-parent home.
The thing is, comedy might just be second nature to McDaniel. One of his closest friends — going back to when they grew up together in Aurora, Colorado — is comedian Dan Soder, probably best known for his role as Mafee on the recently wrapped Showtime show “Billions.” Soder was likely one of the first to realize that being funny comes naturally to McDaniel; now, anybody who pays attention to the Dolphins is likely aware of that trait.
“I didn’t grow up with money so being paid as a head coach, I really appreciate. I didn’t grow up with a family, so being a part of a team is extremely important and I don’t lose that at all,” McDaniel said. “All those things, I’m kind of in the middle of a dream, living it, and have a lot of work to do. So, to say that I could have forecasted any of this wouldn’t be honest. But I very much appreciate each and every part of it for sure. I’m very, very blessed in that way.”
Whatever McDaniel is doing, it’s working.
The Dolphins will emerge from the bye atop the AFC East, no matter what happens this weekend. They’ve gone 6-3 through nine games in each of McDaniel’s two years at the helm; Miami hasn’t had a better record this deep into a season since 2000, when it was 7-2. He has the team in position to make back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time in more than 20 years.
That’s no joke, either.
“Hopefully that isn’t what I’m known for ultimately, when my tenure is done, whenever that time is,” McDaniel said. “I’d hope that it would be my concrete dedication to every person that’s involved and every person that I’m responsible for. I’m hopefully in the process of however things unfold, that I leave people better off with having me than not having me.”
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