A prevailing thought across sports is that a team takes on the personality of its coach.
It sure seems to be the case with the 2022 Miami Dolphins through their offseason and organized team activities.
There’s a noticeable difference in the vibes around Dolphins players in new coach Mike McDaniel’s first several practices led than under his predecessor, Brian Flores, more of a disciplinarian. Players are looser. They’re having fun in practice. They’re not uptight in press conferences.
That’s not to say it’s better or worse from a football perspective. Many can argue Flores, the way he did things, got the most out of the Dolphins roster he had the past two seasons, leading them to back-to-back winning seasons and a game shy of a postseason berth each year.
McDaniel’s unique coaching style, which will be coupled with a more complete roster, is still unproven. But, if successful in a highly competitive AFC, McDaniel could one day become a trailblazer that demonstrates this approach could work in NFL circles.
It was evident McDaniel wanted to inject an easiness in his players as a first-time head coach when he relayed a simple message to new star receiver Tireek Hillwhom the Dolphins acquired in a blockbuster trade with the Kansas City Chiefs, upon him landing in Miami: “Just be you.”
This week, Hill had to catch himself from being himself a little too much in an interview setting, turning an answer to a question about quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s passes into a sexual innuendo before backing off the sentiment and sticking to praise of his new quarterback’s passing accuracy.
Tagovailoa himself appears refreshed. While he goes into a pressure-packed season for his career where he has to show strides in Year 3 with everything he needs around him seemingly in place, he said earlier in the offseason that he doesn’t view the situation as pressure but, rather, opportunity.
He also spoke highly of the support he feels from McDaniel, while indicating he didn’t have many fond memories of working with Flores over the previous two seasons.
“I think support, for any of us, means a lot,” Tagovailoa said. “To be able to have the support of the head coach, the head guy, that should tell you a lot.”
McDaniel’s player-friendly approach started from his first paid job as a Houston Texans offensive assistant where he looked to earn the respect of former Miami Hurricanes great Andre Johnson. He did it by proving to Johnson he was there to help him. And McDaniel does that by offering his innovative football mind his.
“He’s a super genius,” said receiver/returner River Cracraft, who has previously played under McDaniel with the San Francisco 49ers. “That’s all you need to know. He’s smarter than everybody else, no offense to everyone else. The guy knows what he’s doing, and he’s going to prove it this year.”
Players that have experienced the before and after of the transition from Flores to McDaniel have taken notice of the difference in coaching style.
“We all feel the energy in here, and it just feels like a different vibe this year, for sure,” cornerback Nik Needham said. “You never know what happens, but we just want to keep it going. I love what he’s doing here, for sure. He’s a great coach.”
There was a mutual respect between the players and their new coach from the start.
“We came in, we all bought in,” said defensive lineman Christian Wilkins. “We gave him a chance. He gave us a chance to show what we got. It just felt natural since Day 1.”
McDaniel, 39, is young for a head coach but still considerably older than most players on the Dolphins roster — most.
“It’s my first time having a head coach that is my generation, and it kind of feels like one of my buddies as the coach, which is kind of cool,” said punter Thomas Morstead, 36, who signed with the Dolphins this offseason. “It’s cool to see people like him that are of a unique background getting opportunities to do what they do, provide value and help build a team.”
The Dolphins, who had two weeks of organized team activities, shift to a two-day mandatory minicamp on Wednesday and Thursday, before one final week of OTAs to follow. Around late July, training camp will begin ahead of the 2022 season.