REGGIE HAYES: Josh McDaniels faces two needs for success now that he’s officially Indianapolis Colts coach

In this Jan. 13, 2018, file photo, New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels watches from the sideline during the second half of an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Tennessee Titans in Foxborough, Mass. (Photo by the Associated Press)

As Josh McDaniels officially steps in as the new Indianapolis Colts coach, he’ll immediately face two essential needs for success.

One he can control, the other he cannot.

The Indianapolis Colts announced today they have come to terms with McDaniels, the former New England Patriots offensive coordinator.

As he takes over the Colts, the factor McDaniels can control, or at least ignite, is a fresh winning culture. The one he cannot control, as vital as it is, is quarterback Andrew Luck’s health.

Let’s start with what McDaniels can control.

“Culture” is a popular word in sports these days, although it can be vague and difficult to quantify. Teams brag about possessing a culture of winning. It’s all about expecting excellence, demanding excellence and achieving excellence. And it’s easier said than done, of course.

A coach can set it in place, and McDaniels comes from the Patriots, so he knows well some of the earmarks of a winning culture.

Three of those earmarks are a solid plan, strict expectations and innovation:

A solid plan

McDaniels’ first address to the Colts players and the coaching staff he assembles will be critical. He’ll need to lay out his master plan for moving the franchise forward. The last three seasons, hampered as they were by Luck’s shoulder issues, the Colts finished 8-8, 8-8 and 4-12. That’s not a winning culture and only qualifies as a break-even culture if you throw out last season.

Not all players who were part of the Colts a year ago will be back, but as McDaniels begins his tenure, he must articulate his plan. How will he turn the Colts from mediocre to playoff contender? He’ll need to bring specifics. What will be required of the team as a whole and the players individually?

This goes from the style of workouts, to the requirements of film-room study to the everyday approach to the job.

With his Patriots background, McDaniels arrives with the presumption that he has some insight into the most successful approach of an NFL team in the last 15 years. He needs to lay it out, with specifics, for his team to see. The public won’t be privy to this, but it’s imperative inside the building.

Strict expectations

One of the hallmarks of the Patriots’ success has been the expectations for players. If they match those expectations, they play. If they don’t, they sit or the team moves on to the next player.

Look at how many running backs the Patriots have used, to much success, over recent years. They aren’t afraid to make changes. They focus on production, and their either get that production or they try someone else.

McDaniels doesn’t have the head-coaching experience of the Patriots’ Bill Belichick, but he can bring that high expectation mindset.


McDaniels knows the Colts need a jolt of freshness in their everyday approach, but they also need to see that he’s bringing something new to the play calling.

He’s coming off a Super Bowl game where quarterback Tom Brady threw for 505 yards. Some of that is Brady’s excellence, certainly, but there are schemes and formations and plays that McDaniels formulated that led to that moment. The idea that his playbook is on the NFL cutting edge should excite the Colts’ returning offensive players.

So much, at least offensively, rides on Luck. Will he be back by training camp? Will his arm be what it once was? Will he be able to shake the rust and return to the promise of his first three years in the league when the Colts were winning 11 games a season and becoming a playoff factor?

McDaniels can’t control Luck’s health. It’s the wild card looming over everything the Colts do moving forward.

Luck is not Brady, and might never come close to Brady’s ability and production, which has made him the greatest quarterback of his time and perhaps all time. But, Luck can be a Top 5 quarterback in the league. That should be more than good enough to make the Colts a contender again.

Yes, it’s up to general manager Chris Ballard to build a competitive roster. Better players make for better coaches.

McDaniels’ challenge is clear: Rebuild the winning culture. He can control and direct the building of that culture, setting the foundation.

He must make use of his fresh voice as the man in charge.

Everyone else in the Colts organization should pray he has a healthy Luck to put the plan in motion.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at