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Mike McDaniel uses his vulnerability, lessons from past to coach Dolphins

Mike McDaniel uses his vulnerability, lessons from past to coach Dolphins
Miami Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel says he often shares stories from adversity in his past with players as a way to connect with the team. Photo courtesy of the Miami Dolphins

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla., July 28 (UPI) -- Facemask yanking and spit-spilling screams aren't staples of Mike McDaniel's repertoire as a first-year head coach. Instead, he uses his vulnerability and lessons learned through personal adversity to lead the Miami Dolphins.

Between the grind of players fighting for roster spots, McDaniel -- who was hired in February -- says its hard to carve out time to get one-on-one sessions, but he uses the free moments he finds to share his stories.

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"I think it's important, for connection purposes, for me to share things so they can get to know me and we can have that experience," McDaniel said this week at a news conference at the Baptist Health Training Complex in Miami Gardens, Fla.

"There's some vulnerability in that, that I think players respect. ... But guess what? If a guy plays bad, you're going to say some disparaging things. They have to wear that pressure."

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McDaniel hopes to relieve some of that pressure by sharing stories in "rabbit pellet" fashion, slowly revealing more information about his personal journey, as a way of respecting the pressure the players face.

"I think that's something they deserve and I have no problem doing," McDaniel, who is 39, said.

The Yale graduate started his NFL journey as an intern with the Denver Broncos. He went onto various other offensive roles with the Houston Texans, Washington Commanders, Cleveland Browns and Atlanta Falcons.

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He then gained national interest for a potential head coaching job while serving as a run game coordinator and offensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers, helping to form the team's innovative and dominant rushing attack.

In-between those assorted stops, he confronted problems with alcohol and was diagnosed with depression. He got help to address those issues, which once led to his firing by the Texans and could have permanently derailed his NFL career.

McDaniel's players say his stories from those times, and others the coach shares about his life, make the team closer and stronger.

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It's easier to spot the other ways McDaniel relates to Dolphins players. The 5-foot-9 coach often sports trendy Yeezy shoes and jogger-style pants, and presents a jovial demeanor in his news conferences -- that included a seflie with reporters at Wednesday's news conference.

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Starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa said he considers the coach "swaggy," and gave him the nickname "Mystic Mac," because of his fondness for making predictions.

Tagovailoa is one of the NFL quarterbacks under the most pressure to perform in 2022. The No. 5 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft was benched multiple times in 2021, and has yet to log a full season of starts.

McDaniel, who says Tagovailoa is "super hard" on himself, recently drew from his past to help the quarterback with the pressure.

He told Tagovailoa he had similar moments of self-imposed stress during his days as an NFL assistant in which he was tasked with contributing to offensive game plans.

"I got in the tank and I felt like I let the team down," McDaniel said Thursday. "I didn't realize until feeling that how I was totally wrong to begin with. For me to sit here and think, or anyone to think, you are the reason you win or lose, you don't get the big picture.

"You might have the perfect game and might not win. It's not about that. It's about being your best, but also relying on your teammates.

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"If you don't do well, or in my case when I came up with a game plan that was trash, that wasn't all on me. Players still have to play and it's nothing individually. It's all collective. That's the biggest lesson I've told him."

Dolphins running back Raheem Mostert, who spent six seasons with McDaniel on the 49ers, credits the coach for helping him stay in the NFL.

Mostert didn't shine through his first four seasons in the league. He then broke out for nearly 1,000 yards and 10 scores in 2019, with McDaniel strategizing the 49ers' ground attack.

Mostert earned the largest contract of his NFL career under McDaniel's leadership. Mostert's breakout and the 49ers' rise led McDaniel into his current role.

"I wouldn't be here without him and likewise," Mostert said. "We're always talking. He's always saying, 'Hey, Raheem. I wouldn't be here without you, man.' I'm saying the same thing to him.

"That's just the relationship we have and the relationship that he's going to build and manifest into other players -- it's going to be awesome to see."

Mostert said McDaniel's football expertise and vulnerable personality boosted their personal bond.

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"It's just about getting to know him and getting to know his story," Mostert said.

Dolphins wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, who spent time with McDaniel on the Falcons and 49ers, said the coach's vulnerability is "uncommon."

"When you learn that even the head guy faces adversity, it helps everyone be at ease. Every day, a different guy faces adversity on or off the field. When you have a coach open up it makes you more comfortable. It's special and makes you study and play a lot harder.

"It takes an uncommon individual to do something like that."

McDaniel also is able to break down complicated football language and concepts with ease. He has used that ability, paired with his personal lessons, to form bonds throughout his football journey.

Yale coach Tony Reno told UPI that McDaniel was "savant-like" when he played receiver from 2001 through 2004 for the Bulldogs.

He served as a translator of football language, easily digesting dense offensive and defensive schemes and relaying the information for teammates.

"It's no surprise he has had the ascend he has has because of how bright he is and how hard he works," Reno said.

"He just recognized and understood things at a different level. Guys gravitated to him because they knew that he understood things maybe they couldn't quite understand."

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Reno said he still talks frequently with McDaniel, and he invited the coach to speak to his team two seasons ago.

"I never thought there was a limit to how good he could get because of his intelligence and work ethic," Reno said. "It's not a surprise that he was kind of the brains behind the operation in San Francisco and how much success they had offensively. Now he is taking that to Miami."

The Pittsburgh Steelers report to training camp

The four candidates for Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback (L-R) Chris Oladokun (5), Kenny Pickett (8), Mason Rudolph (2) and Mitch Trubisky (10) attend training camp at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa., on July 27, 2022. Photo by Archie Carpenter/UPI | License Photo

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