Mike McDaniel steers Dolphins with ‘opportunity cost’ mantra


Mike McDaniel is entering his second season as Miami Dolphins head coach. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI

Mike McDaniel is entering his second season as Miami Dolphins head coach. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla., July 31 (UPI) — Mike McDaniel says introspection led to him becoming the Miami Dolphins‘ coach. Now, his players have adopted his “opportunity cost” strategy, which prioritizes addressing obstacles head-on to allow for growth and strive for excellence.

The mantra is among the most common used by the second-year head coach, who says his vulnerability was important in earning the players’ respect.

McDaniel reaffirmed that belief last week at training camp in Miami Gardens, Fla., when he spoke about specific times in his life during which he lost opportunities because of lack of self-reflection. That led to his mantra.

“I think that really started to generate, you know, the obsessiveness that I had with it, probably when I became sober,” said McDaniel, who has divulged his previous battles with alcohol abuse and depression.

“Only because, in that, you kind of realize when you’re doing one thing, when you’re not addressing an emotion,” he said.

McDaniel, 40, said his past dissatisfaction with not rising up the NFL coaching ranks as fast as he wanted hindered his ability to do just that. The new mindset of separating controllable and uncontrollable aspects of his life led to his breakthrough.

“My product as a human being, as a husband, as a coach, was a completely better product,” McDaniel said.

Players follow mantra

McDaniel almost immediately made the Dolphins a better product on the field in 2022. A cornerstone of that revival was quarterback Tua Tagovailoa‘s rise from an underperforming 2020 NFL Draft pick to a midseason MVP candidate.

The Dolphins were 8-3 through a dozen weeks of the 2022 campaign. And although they stumbled down the stretch, McDaniel is credited with turning a stagnant offense into one of the NFL’s most-prolific.

Tagovailoa admitted last season that a lack of self-confidence was costing him an opportunity to improve. Aided by McDaniel and teammates like superstar wide receiver Tyreek Hill, he morphed into a confident, more vocal leader, with phenomenal production.

Tagovailoa characterized his personality as “guarded” before the coach’s arrival. Positive reinforcement, paired with McDaniel’s willingness to share from personal experiences and a reframing of his mindset, resulted in the quarterback creating room for growth even beyond the leap he took last season, when he led the league in passer rating.

“I think for my life, everything is an opportunity,” Tagovailoa said. “I think for you guys [reporters], as well. You guys look at everything as an opportunity, as well, whether you’re interviewing someone like me, whether you’re interviewing someone like Tyreek [Hill] or the offensive line.

“I feel like everything is an opportunity for us and that’s what makes us who we all are. So, yeah, I look at all of this as an opportunity.”

Tagovailoa’s turnaround came full circle this week when players voted him as one of the NFL’s Top 100 players. The quarterback, who once questioned if he “sucked,” was ranked No. 82 in a league that has nearly 1,700 active players.

“I think deep down, when you’re begging for a little positive reinforcement, and you’re considering if you suck, I do think that I can officially say if you’re on that list, you don’t suck,” McDaniel said.

The latest adversity to hit the Dolphins, a knee injury sustained Thursday by star cornerback Jalen Ramsey, offers another opportunity.

“Coach does a great job of just keeping everybody in the moment,” Dolphins linebacker Bradley Chubb said. “You are going to have good days and bad days. Thursday was a bad day when you lose a player like that [Ramsey].

“He does a great job of keeping you in the moment. He says, ‘Now it’s your turn to step up. The defense lost a piece, how are you going to respond?'”

Ramsey was expected to team up with Xavien Howard for one of the NFL’s top cornerback duos. Now the Dolphins will lean on Howard and backup cornerbacks, including Noah Igbinoghene, as they start the season without Ramsey.

Igbinoghene, a first-round pick in 2020, struggled through his first three seasons. He said early focus on outside pressure and where he fit in on the team hindered his opportunity to become better.

“My mentality has changed drastically,” Igbinoghene said. “I’ve learned a lot. There have been ups and downs in my past. Now, the mentality is that I’m not worried about the past anymore.

“I’m focused on the now. Coach McDaniel says it a lot. We just need to focus on the now and not worry about what happened in the past. Don’t even worry about the future, just worry about today.”


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