KRAVITZ: Three Colts assistants who were hired and then snubbed by McDaniels are all on board

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Bob Kravitz

The McDaniels Three were all in the Colts’ offices when the call came. It was Josh McDaniels, the Patriots offensive coordinator and Colts head-coach-to-be, and he had a message for general manager Chris Ballard.

“I’ve changed my mind,’’ he said. “I’m staying in New England.’’

And that was that.

But that, it turned out, was not all of it – not even close. See, three assistant coaches – defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo and defensive line coach Mike Phair – already had been hired during the post-season, ostensibly to work in concert with McDaniels. There was shock. There was dismay and there was anger, especially from Ballard, who had called for an introductory press conference to show off his new head coach the very next day.

Now came this Bert Blyleven curveball, and the McDaniels Three wondered what might become of them. They had uprooted their families or were in the process of uprooting their families. They had made a lifestyle change, in part for the chance to work for McDaniels, and now their worlds had been turned upside-down.

A few moments later, Ballard made the rounds to the three assistant coaches’ offices.

“Don’t worry about this,’’ he told them. “We want you here.’’

Deep breath.

Not only would all three coaches’ contracts be honored, but they would remain as key additions to the Colts’ reconstituted coaching staff under new head coach Frank Reich. It’s an odd and potentially uncomfortable arrangement – these were McDaniels’ guys, in concert with Ballard and the rest of the Colts organization – but now Reich, who didn’t know these men particularly well before they joined the staff, would adopt all three as his own.

Several months later, here was Phair, who really wasn’t enthusiastic about entertaining questions about McDaniels, looking at me and saying, “I haven’t heard that name (McDaniels) in a while.’’

Truth is, these gentlemen probably don’t want to be referred to as the McDaniels Three. They want to be referred to as the Reich Guys, as Indianapolis Colts guys. And several months after the snub heard ‘round the NFL, that’s what they are, having thrown themselves headfirst into the job of making the Colts matter once again.

Eberflus is in charge of helping the Colts transition from a 3-4 defense to a simpler 4-3, Tampa-2-style defense after a season when Indy was near the bottom of the league in every conceivable defensive category. He is a Tony Dungy-Rod Marinelli-Monte Kiffin disciple who believes the Tampa-2, a simpler style of defense, will allow Colts defenders to fly around without carrying the burden of having to think too much. See quarterback, get quarterback. See receiver, get receiver. Simple – if you have the athletes.

DeGuglielmo is the man charged with building the perpetually-porous offensive line, which hasn’t been any good since Howard Mudd roamed the 56th Street premises. The raw material is there, especially with the addition of two draftees, Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith. The Colts offensive line will be relatively young, but there’s little question Ballard has upgraded the talent and competition level.

Phair, the defensive line coach, has to take a relatively new core and conceive ways the Colts front four can get to the quarterback – another area where Indy was lacking last season, and several seasons, really. The last time the Colts consistently made life miserable for quarterbacks, Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, both now retired, brought the heat from the outside.

The McDaniels’ snub was an unquestioned gut punch, but the moment Ballard made the rounds to ensure the coaches they were safe and still welcome, the shock wore off and it’s been business as usual ever since. Arrive early, leave late and grind, always grind.

“Truthfully, everything happens for a reason,’’ DeGuglielmo said. “I’m so pleased that Frank (Reich) has embraced me as his line coach. I didn’t know Frank before this. I know this: I tried to come here to Indianapolis when they hired the last line coach (Joe Philbin), but I didn’t have enough connections with Coach (Chuck) Pagano at the time, so I went to work for his brother (John in San Diego). I tried desperately because of the reputation of the organization, the quarterback, and to be really honest with you, I see a group of really talented players in that room despite what’s gone on the last couple of years.

“…Thankfully, they kept me. Listen, one head coach or the other, I’m just fine. I’ve been in six buildings (as an NFL coach). I’ve seen a bunch of things. I was the line coach for the Butt Fumble (with the Jets). I was in Baltimore when we had four linemen for a playoff game. I’ve been fortunate to be a part of some good stuff and some bad stuff.

“Listen, I was so excited to be here because I wanted to be here. I didn’t come here for any particular individual, but now I feel so fortunate I get to work with Frank. Everything everyone says about the man is true. At that point (when McDaniels backed out), I’d met the Irsays, met a lot of people in the building who made me feel very comfortable in the week leading up to that happening.’’

All three coaches said McDaniels reached out to them shortly after he decided to remain in New England.

Was there anger?

“No, not at all,’’ Phair said.

Did you ask McDaniels for an explanation?

“No, I told him I didn’t need an explanation,’’ he said.

Life as an NFL assistant coach is a strange and unsettled business. Head coaches get hired, get fired, and assistants move along. It’s a transient existence. Of course, this was beyond the pale, but the one thing you learn about these men is, they learn how to roll with the punches.

DeGuglielmo laughed.

“Look, I’ve gone from winning a Super Bowl (in New England) to sleeping in a closet for six months waiting for my family (in Massachusetts) to take a job all the way across the country (in San Diego in 2016),’’ he said. “It’s the business we’re in. Chris (Ballard) came in immediately, said, `We’re going to honor your contracts and we want you to be part of it.’ He did his research on all three of us. He didn’t blindly hire people. He knew what he was dealing with and who he was dealing with.’’

It’s not an optimal arrangement, to be sure. In a more perfect world, Reich would have come in and had full freedom to choose the assistant coaches he knew and wanted. In many ways, this is like a large family that has been brought together by a second marriage – the McDaniels guys and the Reich guys. But in the end, they insist they will all be Reich guys, all Colts guys, just one big, happy family in the end.

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