Dolphins coach 'fired up' by Tua Tagovailoa's ability to channel anger

Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa led the Miami Dolphins to a 9-3 record this season. File Photo by Larry Marano/UPI
1 of 5 | Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa led the Miami Dolphins to a 9-3 record this season. File Photo by Larry Marano/UPI | License Photo

MIAMI, Dec. 8 (UPI) -- Mike McDaniel now gets positively "fired up" when Tua Tagovailoa makes a mistake. The Miami Dolphins coach says his reactions are recognition of the quarterback's recently acquired ability to convert anger into fuel.

McDaniel says the asset, gleaned from the likes of sports icons like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Tiger Woods, is "never going away" from the quarterback's repertoire.


"No one expects to be infallible, so then why commit to that? And I'm seeing it from Tua in an incredible fashion," McDaniel, who led the Dolphins to a 9-3 start, said Thursday at a news conference.

"You want to talk about a coachable person -- these are philosophical, psychological things. It's one thing to hear it, but in the course of a year and a half, I was really fired up because he captured it. ... He is locked in on the moment, and that's what you have to be. That's never going away."


In the past, McDaniel said Tagovailoa's frustration from errors, like interceptions, fumbles and missed reads, led to being overly self-critical, prompting pressure and leading to more miscues.

The coach worked closely with the fourth-year quarterback on how to transfer that energy into an endless supply of mental gasoline, ensuring that the Dolphins' engine doesn't stall.

One of those coaching moments was caught on camera on the latest episode of Hard Knocks: In Season With the Miami Dolphins. Tagovailoa, who threw three interceptions in his two previous games, tossed another to cornerback Jalen Ramsey last week at practice.

McDaniel pulled the rattled quarterback aside and called the repetition "great." It was another chance to rein in rage and turn turbulence into a stronger will to execute.

"You feel how you feel," McDaniel told Tagovailoa. "And if you're frustrated, which I can tell you are, then you [expletive] channel it! Really, when you list off anybody that has done it, Jordan, Kobe, Tiger, that's what that is."

Like many fans, McDaniel said he grew up watching the sports icons. He called Jordan "one of the most impactful people" in his life. The six-time NBA champion remains revered for his ruthless demeanor and untamed confidence.


But McDaniel also remembers the games when Jordan couldn't make shots, but the struggles didn't stop him from stepping up in the fourth quarter, when his team needed him most -- and that's when he thrived.

"It's not about how much you succeed," McDaniel said, "it's about the invariable failure that will happen. What do you do with that?"

Like Jordan, Tagovailoa's admittedly-high "best-in-the-league" standard, paired with a honed mindset to harness fury, led him into a league MVP conversation.

"I'm able to move on from it a lot quicker than I have in past years," Tagovailoa said Thursday when asked about his mistakes. "I think that's just the level of growth for myself as a football player and as a person.

"Not everything is going to go your way, but how you react to it, you have control over that. You never win the game in the first, second or third quarter. So if you throw interceptions, you always have however much time left to redeem yourself."

Tagovailoa's 24 touchdown passes are tied with Josh Allen for the second-most in the league, two behind leader Dak Prescott. He ranks third in passer rating (106) and passing yards per game (288.1), while aided by McDaniel's top-ranked motion offense, receiving yardage leader Tyreek Hill, the NFL's No. 2 rushing attack and a vastly improved offensive line.


Right tackle Austin Jackson, who guards Tagovailoa's blind side, is another player growing under McDaniel. Like Tagovailoa, the lineman sometimes struggled with confidence, injuries and production through his first few seasons.

Tagovailoa said that led to criticism of both players from the previous coaching staff and the media. Jackson's improvement under the new coaching regime has helped spark the offense and was rewarded Thursday with a contract extension.

"It's truly remarkable," Tagovailoa said of the teammates' growth under McDaniel. "To sit in meetings and have things told about you [by former coaches] that you know aren't true, but get planted in your head and you have the media on you, as well.

"Then you have someone like Mike and his coaching staff come in and basically just build you back up."

Former Dolphins coach Brian Flores benched Tagovailoa several times during his rookie year. Reports later emerged about an allegedly strained relationship between the quarterback and former coach, who was fired in 2022.

Flores denied those rumors last year on the I AM Athlete podcast, calling the reports "a crazy narrative."

Tagovailoa continues to be vague in responses when asked about his relationship with Flores, now defensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings. He said last year that he had no comment on Flores' firing, but was thankful to the coach for selecting him with the No. 5 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.


On Thursday, former Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick elaborated on the Flores-Tagovailoa relationship. Fitzpatrick, who split the starting job with Tagovailoa in 2020, said Tagovailoa was mentally and emotionally wrecked under Flores and the former coaching regime.

"He was broken from Brian Flores, [with] the way he treated him and the way he coached him," Fitzpatrick said on Prime's Thursday Night Football broadcast.

"What happens? Mike McDaniel comes in and he restores his confidence. He gets it back and now he's an MVP candidate."

Tagovailoa is listed as a Top 5 MVP favorite, according to most sportsbooks, behind fellow quarterbacks Brock Purdy, Jalen Hurts and Dak Prescott.

Hill, who leads the NFL with 1,481 receiving yards and is on pace to break Calvin Johnson's single-season record (1,964 in 2012), also is a Top 10 contender.

The Dolphins, who hold the No. 1 seed if the AFC playoff race, will host the Tennessee Titans (4-8) on Monday at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla. That game will air at 8:15 p.m. EST on ESPN.

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Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow looks to pass against the Cleveland Browns in Cleveland on September 10, 2023. Burrow, who makes $55 million a year, signed a 5-year, $275 million contract extension last off-season. He sustained a season-ending wrist injury November 13, 2023, in a loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Photo by Aaron Josefczyk/UPI | License Photo

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