ORLANDO- If you thought the Indianapolis Colts would be the last team in the NFL to oppose the so-called "Josh McDaniels rule,'' allowing teams to sign a head coaching candidate to a contract even if their original team is still alive in the playoffs, you thought wrong. Even though it seems counter-intuitive.
While the Colts were left at the proverbial altar in early February when Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels decided to stay in Foxboro and not accept the formal offer from Indianapolis that was presumed to be a foregone conclusion, Colts general manager Chris Ballard was vocal this week in spearheading the drive to leave the status quo in place in terms of the league's coach-hiring practices during the postseason.
The proposal was thought to have strong support among the league's owners, but the NFL on Tuesday wound up tabling the issue and not taking a vote. It is on the schedule to be brought back up at the spring owners meeting in Atlanta in May, competition committee chairman Rich McKay said, but it seems likely as time passes any sense of urgency to change the rule will seep away, the further we get away from hiring season.
"I just think we're opening a little bit of a Pandora's box if we force and ask coaches to be under contract to two different teams,'' Ballard said. "That's an issue. You don't want to disrupt the team your coach is coming from. You want to be respectful to that team. But now that coach has to go back into work knowing that he signed a contract elsewhere? I just don't like it. One of the things we lack in our hiring practice is patience, and it doesn't usually work well to get things done in a rush.''
According to the NFL Network, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick "made an impassioned plea'' against the rule change in a meeting to discuss the rule change on Tuesday, making the case that allowing an assistant to sign a contract while he was still working for a team alive in the playoffs was a step too far.
The Colts rebounded quickly after the McDaniels saga, which unfolded two days after New England's Super Bowl loss to Philadelphia in Minneapolis. Indianapolis had already announced McDaniels' hiring, before any contract was signed, but then turned to Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich, tapping him to replace the fired Chuck Pagano.
Sources in the room said the league's owners were prepared to vote for passage of the new rule, but that some coaches and general managers swayed support against it.
"My take is it worked the way it should have worked,'' Ballard said, of the Colts' hiring process. "On both sides. The club side and the coach side. If he signs a contract during a playoff run and then all of a sudden has second thoughts, that's not a good situation. Now you have a whole 'nother set of problems on top of it.
"Everybody's scared of the unknown. But I'd rather take the hit momentarily right then, than keep going and wind up having a bad marriage. Getting Frank Reich as our head coach was good for the Colts and he was still able to put together a really good staff, even though that's a concern that some people worry about.''
What Ballard didn't mention, of course, was that Reich's coaching staff now includes some assistants who left their teams and signed contracts with the Colts under the assumption they'd be working for McDaniels, a messy detail that posed some collateral damage. Those include defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, defensive line coach Mike Phair and offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo. Indianapolis said they had no problem honoring those deals and were happy to retain them, but it at least posed a potential conflict with Reich should he have already had his own staff fully manned.