MIAMI GARDENS — Mike McDaniel expected Tuspan Tspangovspanilospan’s confidence to be shattered. Had to be considering the beating — internally and externally — the Dolphins quarterback had taken since being deemed the savior of a floundering franchise.
But the depths of that damage were far more than even McDaniel envisioned when he arrived in February as the Dolphins’ new coach.
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“Getting beat up and having your existence being completely tainted by people saying you are X, Y or Z … ” McDaniel said when asked about restoring Tagovailoa’s confidence.
“And then on top of that, I felt he was put behind the 8-ball in a way with, you know … basically his strengths he couldn’t play to. And if you’re not able to play to your strengths … I felt how could he with all the things going on. It’s a lot of loud noise you try to ignore. People are human.”
So McDaniel had a plan to rebuild the psyche of a man who had known nothing but success as a prodigy in Hawaii and national champion at Alabama. He started by showing Tagovailoa highlights of about 700 plays to boost the confidence of a man, who, according to a report Sunday, doubted himself so much he started asking, “Do I suck?”
McDaniel soon found out that answer. As did Tua.
“Anyone here can attest to someone believing in them and how that changes how they see themselves but also things around them,” Tua said after Miami’s 30-15 victory over the Texans Sunday, a game in which he was pulled midway through the third quarter after building a 30-0 lead.
“It was awesome.”
OTAs first sign of Tua getting McDaniel’s offense
The a-ha moment for McDaniel came months later, in May, during OTAs. That’s when Tagovailoa did something McDaniel never had seen another quarterback accomplish in his offense.
From that point on, McDaniel had no doubt Tagovailoa would become everything we have seen this season.
“We’ve been running a very similar offense since 2006 or so,” McDaniel said. “Concepts within it you build from. It may look different but the principles are the same.
“There were several plays in a practice in May that for the 12 or 13 years of cut-ups of running said play didn’t have one example of a quarterback being able to pull off a play he did.”
The fact that McDaniel is the best thing to happen to Tagovailoa since he left the warm embrace of Nick Saban is indisputable. And if there was any doubt, we now know the worst thing to happen to the sensitive quarterback was being drafted by a team coached by Brian Flores.
They didn’t say it directly and never will, but the comments by McDaniel and Tagovailoa were a indictment on Flores and his staff.
“Seeing him every practice once he started getting a little bit more confidence each and every day, you could see his personality evolve, that’s when I knew how deep it was,” McDaniel said about the damage to Tua confidence.
The transformation has been remarkable.
To illustrate just how good Tua has been this year, he threw for 299 yards, with one touchdown and no interceptions Sunday, and his passer rating for the season from 118.4 to 115.7.
“I think you guys have seen the residuals up close and personal,” McDaniel said to reporters.
The game was the perfect tune-up for the most difficult stretch of the Dolphins season. With road games against San Francisco, the Los Angeles Chargers and Buffalo looming, Tagovailoa’s day ended early Sunday.
The move almost backfired. Tua was told to be ready to return if Houston was able to make it a one-score game. That never happened.
Where would Dolphins, Tua be today if Flores remained coach?
But the day — and the course of the Dolphins’ future —- could have been much different had Flores remained in power and gotten his way.
Instead of Tagovailoa leading the Dolphins to a fifth straight win, or being serenaded by chants of “MVP, MVP,” he could have been in another city Sunday, wearing another team’s colors, having his breakout year for, say, the Washington Commanders.
And on the Dolphins’ sideline, waiting for his NFL imposed suspension to expire, could have been Deshaun Watson. He was so intriguing to Flores and GM Chris Grier that the Dolphins were willing to overlook the disturbing reports from two dozen women who alleged Watson committed sexual misconduct during massage therapy sessions, and pull the trigger on a trade that almost certainly would have meant dealing Tagovailoa.
Instead, it was Flores who was sent packing. And McDaniel who arrived intent on restoring Tua’s confidence.
“There were a lot of things that are telling me this player may not have the confidence that he should,” McDaniel said. “It was easy, he had the stuff on the tape. To his credit, he’s really listened, taken the coaching that he’s good (and) said, ‘OK, coach. I believe you.’ “
A belief that has gone both ways.