Mike McDaniel wisely keeps focus on Dolphins vs. 49ers, not himself vs. Kyle Shanahan – The Denver Post


Give Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel credit for not making Sunday’s game against San Francisco about him and his friend, Kyle Shanahan, the 49ers head coach, in any way. Sometimes that’s a fine line to walk.

McDaniel continuously insists this week’s game is about two of the NFL’s hottest teams — the Dolphins (8-3), who are riding a five-game winning streak, and the 49ers (7-4), who are riding a four-game winning streak.

This game, McDaniel says, is not about him and Shanahan.

And McDaniel, in what’s become typical fashion, has chosen to handle the situation with his trademark dry sense of humor.

“I will not be undertaking any Oklahoma drills … this week on the field with him,” McDaniel said about Shanahan.

Compare how McDaniel has handled things to how Tampa Bay coach Todd Bowles handled a question about a coaching matchup with Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin earlier this season. Bowles’ response blew up into national headlines when he was asked about facing a fellow Black head coach.

Bowles said he didn’t think it was a big deal.

“We don’t look at what color we are when we coach against each other,” Bowles said. “We just know each other.”

Bowles later added, “I think the minute you guys stop making a big deal about it, everybody else will as well.”

Boom. National headlines.

McDaniel won’t travel that road.

Clearly, one of the big storylines this week is McDaniel’s relationship with Shanahan.

McDaniel was Shanahan’s run-game coordinator and then offensive coordinator in San Francisco for the previous five seasons. McDaniel has known Kyle, and his father, Mike, since 2005, when McDaniel was an intern for Mike when Mike was head coach in Denver.

McDaniel and Kyle Shanahan began working together in 2006 in Houston. It was one of five stops together — Houston, Washington, Cleveland, Atlanta, and San Francisco.

McDaniel has said he won’t be looking at the coach on the other sideline, and that’s usually the case in these highly-publicized coaching matchups. Coaches don’t pay attention to the other coach.

“It’s a tough test,” McDaniel said of the 49ers, “and that’s the bigger deal.”

He’s right. And that’s one of the things you like about the 39-year-old McDaniel. Even amid his whiz kid offense, his rejuvenation work with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, and having the Dolphins sitting in first place in the AFC East, McDaniel opts to keep the focus on his players, not himself and not the coaching matchup.

There have been a ton of these high-profile coaching matchups through the years for a variety of reasons.

Indianapolis’ Tony Dungy and Chicago’s Lovie Smith became the first Black coaches to oppose each other in a Super Bowl when their teams played in Super Bowl XLI in Miami.

Last season, Pittsburgh’s Tomlin and Buffalo’s Sean McDermott faced each other in the opener. The two were once teammates at William & Mary. Tomlin’s Steelers won, 23-16, giving Tomlin a 1-2 record against McDermott.

Also last season, Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay faced his good friend, Green Bay coach Matt LeFleur. The Packers won, 36-28. The Packers also defeated the Rams in the 2020 playoffs, 32-18.

New England’s Bill Belichick has faced a host of assistant coaches through the years and has usually handled the situation correctly, meaning it didn’t blow up into something that overshadowed the game.

Likewise, Kyle Shanahan, when asked about McDaniel on Monday, kept the focus on the team, not the man or their relationship.

“He’s doing what he always does, moving guys around well, using his personnel very good,” Shanahan said.

“The quarterback seems to be playing at a very high-level. Their receivers are as scary as it gets and I know just from seeing some of the crossover of that defense and things like that over the years, how active they are, how aggressive they are in their blitzes, how aggressive they are in their coverage. And, to me, it’s not a coincidence why that team’s playing so well.”

So there you go. Two men who know each other very well, and face each other Sunday, could have made headlines, but they’ve opted to make the game about their teams, not themselves.

“The bigger thing is that we’ve been progressing week by week,” McDaniel said, “and in the NFL if you’re aspiring to do big things, you have to play big-time football in December and January against big-time teams.

“That’s something that I think our team will be excited for, and I know the 49ers will be excited to play football like they always are each and every week.”



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