The Patriots took an unconventional approach by not naming an offensive coordinator for the 2005 season. They filled the position yesterday, but again showed they're not afraid to think outside the NFL's traditional hash marks -- promoting 29-year-old quarterbacks coach Josh McDaniels.
McDaniels, who just completed his fifth season with the Patriots, is the youngest coordinator in the NFL.
''I don't really look at age being a factor one way or the other. Ever since I've been here, they've always given me an opportunity to perform a lot of things," said McDaniels, who has been a personnel assistant (2001), coaching assistant (2002-03), and quarterbacks coach (2004-05).
''The one thing that's been consistent is that if you've done those things well, they've given you an opportunity to move forward and accept more responsibility. That's kind of how I looked at this last season."
Although McDaniels didn't have the title in 2005, he had the playsheet in his hands on game day and was the voice communicating with quarterback Tom Brady on the field. He would often huddle with coach Bill Belichick during breaks in the action, one sign he was handling many of the traditional coordinator duties.
In the final weeks of the season, one Patriots player inadvertently referred to McDaniels as the offensive coordinator.
''We kind of set a standard in place at the beginning of the season and carried it through," said McDaniels, who didn't acknowledge calling any plays, saying the decisions were a group effort.
By promoting McDaniels, the Patriots stabilize their staff at a time when the NFL is undergoing significant coaching changes; 10 teams will have new head coaches in 2006. And that doesn't account for teams that lost coordinators or assistant head coaches.
''We're just going to try to maintain our [offensive] system; it's been in place for a while now," said McDaniels, noting the Patriots are a game-plan offense that tailors its attack based on the opposition. ''The fact that it's not going to change all that much is probably an advantage to us."
McDaniels, a receiver for John Carroll University from 1996-99, grew up in Canton, Ohio. His father, Thom, is a longtime high school coach.
''That would probably be the biggest thing in my entire career and life; I learned more growing up as the son of a football coach than I think I could have learned from a number of different sources," said McDaniels. ''Those experiences have carried me for a long time, not only in my professional life but in my personal life as well."
McDaniels began his coaching career in 1999 as a graduate assistant under Nick Saban, a close friend of Belichick's, at Michigan State. He was hired by the Patriots in 2001, serving as a personnel assistant while also breaking down film and scouting for the team's defensive staff. He was promoted to a coaching assistant in 2002, continuing to break down film and scout for the defense, before adding some responsibilities with the defensive backs in 2003.
In 2004, McDaniels landed his first positional job, working with the quarterbacks. He's held that position the last two seasons, although he appeared to have more responsibilities in 2005.
Just as McDaniels has grown on the job, so has his relationship with Brady, who has the freedom to change plays based on the look of the defense.
''It's probably one of the most positive things that I come to work looking forward to every day," McDaniels said. ''It's really a privilege for me to coach him. To try to improve a player of his caliber is tough. He's extremely diligent about his own preparations and that kind of forces you, as his position coach, to demand a lot of yourself in order to challenge him."
McDaniels, who indicated he will continue to work with the quarterbacks, said the staff is beginning to review the offense ''with a fine-toothed comb." One focus will be the running game, which ranked 24th in the NFL in yards per game (94.5), a far cry from the previous season, when the team finished seventh in the league, averaging 133.4 yards.
The passing game, on the other hand, ranked second in yards per game (257.5) this season.
''Josh has been one of the key components of our offensive staff," Belichick said. ''He is very well respected and we look forward to him taking on the coordinator role."
McDaniels credited former offensive coordinator Charlie Weis for immersing him into the team's offense, and one Patriots player sees a bit of Weis in McDaniels.
''He's more laid-back than Charlie but I see the similarities in the play-calling," said running back Patrick Pass. ''Josh is a young, smart coach who did a great job putting us in the best position this year."
Pass said players won't focus on McDaniels's age.
''I don't think it matters," he said. ''Look at [Eric] Mangini, he's  and just got a head coaching job in New York. It doesn't have anything to do it."
Already, it seems, the coordinator and his players are on the same page.
Patriots director of college scouting Thomas Dimitroff is scheduled to interview today with the Minnesota Vikings for their vice president of player personnel vacancy. Dimitroff, 39, was hired by the Patriots as a national scout in 2002 and was promoted to director of college scouting in 2003.
McDaniels's coaching career
|1999-00||Michigan State||Graduate assistant|
He attended John Carroll University, where he played wide receiver for the Blue Streaks. He was a teammate of Nick Caserio, the Patriots' director of pro personnel.
His first coaching job, at Michigan State, was under current Dolphins coach Nick Saban.
In his first season as position coach, he helped Tom Brady to a passer rating of 92.6, second best in Patriots history.
In his second year under McDaniels, Brady passed for a career-high 4,110 yards.