After almost a month of searching, the Miami Dolphins finally have a new head coach. On Sunday night, San Fransico’s offensive coordinator and running game coordinator Mike McDaniel officially became the eleventh coach in team history.

The 39-year-old first-time head coach became a popular name on Dolphins’ Twitter thanks to his connection to Kyle Shanahan, his reputation as an offensive savant, and his outgoing personality. 

McDaniel’s hire comes as the team is mired in a legal battle with its former coach, Brain Flores, who has accused the organization of paying him money to tank games, amongst other things. We’re not going to talk about that here though. Instead, it’s time to walk through why McDaniel makes sense as the next head coach of the Miami Dolphins. 


Before looking at scheme and player fits, it’s essential to break down where McDaniel comes from. While this is his first head coaching job, McDaniel has been a coach for a long time and has been around many prominent names. 

He worked with Washington from 2011-13 as an offensive assistant and wide receivers coach before heading to the Browns in 2014 in the same role and then heading to the Falcons for the 2015 and 2016 seasons. 

Finally, he headed off to the 49ers in 2017, where he started as a run game specialist and slowly worked his way to offensive coordinator for the 2021 season. 

Why does all of that matter? McDaniel spent that entire time working with Kyle Shanahan. Everywhere Shanahan went, McDaniel, followed. One of the reasons McDaniel was promoted to offensive coordinator this season was because Shannan didn’t want to lose him in the coordinator hiring cycle. He even interviewed for Miami’s position last season. 

Shanahan is one of the game’s brightest minds. His bringing McDaniel everywhere and working to keep him isn’t a coincidence — it means he’s a legitimate football mind. 

McDaniel’s pedigree goes beyond Shanahan, though. He’s worked with Gary Kubiak, Mike LaFleur, Dan Quinn, Sean McVay, Mike Pettine, and plenty of others. 

He’s been on two teams that have reached Super Bowls and have been a part of four division-winning staffs. McDaniel has been a part of success at pretty much every aspect of his career. That is something Dolphins‘ fans can be excited about despite his lack of experience as a head coach. It also means his hiring pool for potential coordinators and position coaches will be broader than people think. 

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Offensive Scheme

The easiest way to explain the offense McDaniel has helped culture through the past couple of years is to break it down into two parts. It’s a wide zone run scheme paired with a west coast offense passing scheme. 

The wide zone offense has become a hallmark of successful NFL offenses. It involves each member of the offensive line stepping in the same direction to get a horizontal push. This can be as many as five players or as many as eight. This allows a running back to survey the blocking and then pick the right hole to explode through. 

This requires a lot of chemistry between offensive linemen and running backs, something Miami has lacked for years.

The West Coast passing offense is comprised of a lot of slants and crossing routes. Those combined, with the wide zone running offense, make for a deadly play-action passing game that stresses linebackers to their extreme. 

It’s what made quarterbacks like Jimmy Grappoalo, Kirk Cousins, Jared Goff, and Matt Ryan all reach their probable peak as players. It also allowed running backs from first-round pick Todd Gurley to the likes of undrafted free agent Raheem Mostert to have their most successful NFL seasons. 

While that is the basis for the offense and its benefits — maximizing quarterback and running back play regardless of overall talent — the offense is not a one-trick pony. The 49ers started to work in power running concepts using their stalwart fullback Kyle Juszczyk as a lead blocker. 

This was a counter to teams who figured out how to stop the wide zone approach with something called a “tilt” front. It was the front Bill Belichick used to stop Sean McVay’s Rams in the Super Bowl — something Dolphins’ fans should care about, given he’s still the coach in New England. 

Miami doesn’t really have a tight end or fullback who can fill that hole right now. Assuming McDaniel is bringing almost an exact copy of his 49ers offense — the main reason you hired him — Miami should think about investing in those types of players this offseason. It’s easy to run this offense when you have players like Juszczyk, George Kittle, Trent Williams, and even Joe Staley. Miami is missing a well-rounded tight end and the offensive tackle play to get the most out of this scheme.  

What about Defense? 

This is harder to talk about, given McDaniel is an offensive guy, and his staff hasn’t been announced yet. 

Reports are floating in McDaniel could bring with him former Broncos’ head coach Vic Fangio as his defensive coordinator or potentially keep current Dolphins’ defensive coordinator Josh Boyer. 

Either of those decisions leaves McDaniel with an experienced and at least somewhat successful defensive coordinator. Fangio is a defensive savant who has been wildly successful everywhere he’s gone. 

He’s served as the inspiration behind some of the NFL’s latest defensive innovations. He helped pioneer the “tilt” front I mentioned earlier. Brandon Staley gets a lot of credit for his defensive taking over the NFL after his success with the 2020 Rams, but his concepts are ripped right out of the pages of Fangio’s playbook. 

As for Boyer, he allows Miami to keep a defensive system intact that has largely carried them to a 19-14 record the past two seasons. It’s way different than the scheme Fangio runs, but keeping the familiarity with the players already on the team is a good and legitimate option to explore if you’re McDaniel. 


Like a lot of people on Dolphins’ Twitter, I’ve been on board the Mike McDaniel hype train for a while now. I lamented the Dolphins for going against the grain when they hired Flores and when they hired two in-house offensive coordinators last offseason. 

The current successful model for team building is getting a good offensive play-caller paired with a young, exciting quarterback. More specifically, it seems that the offensive play-caller should be someone from the Shanahan coaching tree. McDaniel will become the 12th play-caller in today’s league to come off that tree. Both head coaches in the next week’s Super Bowl are off that coaching tree. 

Hiring McDaniel at least gets one part of that equation heading in the right direction. It also simultaneously gets the other part of that equation moving in the right direction. Even if Tua Tagovailoa isn’t the world-stopping franchise quarterback Miami thought he was, McDaniel should be able to maximize him and be successful with him. 

That is good news regardless of which side of the Tua debate you come down on. Miami is doing right by its quarterback and finally getting in touch with the model that has been successful for so many other teams. 

Given the state of the franchise, I’m not sure Dolphins’ fans can ask for much more than that.