Josh McDaniels says it’s obvious.
That he wouldn’t be the coach of the Raiders. Or even working in the NFL at all if not for Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
“He’s been invaluable to me in a lot of ways,” McDaniels said. “Hard to measure all of them. Obviously, football background, understanding how this league works.
”I got to see firsthand how to try to do it the right way.”
McDaniels, 46, for the second time as a coach is preparing for a matchup with his mentor, under whom he worked 18 years. First as a personnel assistant. Then as a defensive assistant. Then as the quarterbacks coach and for 14 years the offensive coordinator, winning six Super Bowls as an understudy and thus departing New England to coach in Las Vegas.
He will coach Sunday at Allegiant Stadium against Belichick, the grizzled 70-year-old regarded as perhaps the greatest coach in NFL history.
Don’t expect them to get sentimental on the sideline, though.
“I don’t think he’s going to care a whole lot about how much he mentored me or what he did and vice versa. And that’s not a bad thing,” McDaniels said. “I don’t think he would expect anything less from me than to just compete and do everything we can to help our team win, and I know that’s what he’s going to do.”
Belichick prepped McDaniels for his first head coaching opportunity in Denver (2009 to 2010) — and welcomed him back two years later to New England upon his dismissal. It was during his second stint with the Patriots that McDaniels began observing “different things” about Belichick beyond the schematics he employed on Sundays.
“How he handles adversity.”
“What he’s doing here in the offseason.”
“How he’s handling the bye week.”
“What he’s doing in April, May, June.”
“It gave me a great opportunity to kind of look at it through a different lens and really try to take some time to process those things while I was watching somebody that’s obviously the best that’s ever done it do it again,” McDaniels said. “The time for me was important for me personally and obviously, like I said, he’s always given to me time, attention and information. He’s been very open and honest with me about everything, and I wouldn’t be standing here if it wasn’t for him.”
The second head coaching opportunity in Las Vegas has afforded McDaniels the chance to craft a culture in his image, albeit with some of Belichick’s natural influence.
Like Belichick, McDaniels emphasizes accountability.
Like Belichick, he emphasizes teamwork.
Like Belichick’s Patriots, his players reveal next to nothing about the process of their preparation.
“There’s always going to be similarities. Josh spent … 20 years there. There’s always going to be some type of carry-over, some similarities,” said Raiders safety Duron Harmon, one of four former Patriots players on the roster.
“But Josh is doing a good job doing it his own way as well.”
Typically with a more affable public persona — and with an emphasis on offense compared to the defensive emphasis of Belichick, who guides the NFL’s No. 5 scoring defense.
“(McDaniels) believes in the type of football he believes in. We’ve been doing our best to put that in motion,” Patriots turned Raiders fullback Jakob Johnson said. “We’re the Raiders. And we do things our way in Vegas.”
Beat him before
As do the Patriots, who seemingly miss McDaniels and his influence despite their 7-6 record. They’re scoring 5.4 fewer points per game in 2022 than they did in 2021 with largely the same personnel — and a more experienced quarterback now that Mac Jones is in his second season.
Belichick elected to downplay McDaniels’ departure, explaining to reporters this past week that the Patriots have “been in transition every year” regarding changes on his coaching staff.
“Obviously, he got a chance to coach a football team, and he’s done a great job,” Jones told reporters. “They’ll go against our defense. It’s how you have to look at it, but he knows a lot of our stuff. … We’re familiar with them, too. I think it’s a good matchup. He’s done a good job over there, watching his games. Whether it’s crossover film or seeing it on TV.”
Lest we forget that McDaniels knows what it’s like to beat a team coached by Belichick, having done it Oct. 11, 2009, as the coach of the Broncos.
Denver on that afternoon improved to 5-0 during McDaniels’ first season as an NFL coach, thanks to a 20-17 overtime win over New England. His offense totaled 424 yards, 330 courtesy of quarterback Kyle Orton, who added two touchdown passes and engineered a 12-play, 98-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter to force overtime.
A game-winning field goal prompted a raucous celebration from McDaniels, who emphatically pumped his fists while parading down his sideline in celebration.
“It was a little bit more special to me because I knew how hard it was to beat him,” he said afterward.
Time to try to beat him again.
“It’s a football game on Sunday,” McDaniels said. “It’s really not a reunion; that’s not really what this is about. And I think our team has had a great approach to it. There will never be a game that will be about me or some other person specifically. This is about the team, and it’s a big game for us, a big game for them.”