Colts ‘close’ to hiring Josh McDaniels as next head coach

New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels looks on during the first half against the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium on September 22, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Nothing is final, but all signs point toward Josh McDaniels being the next head coach of the Indianapolis Colts.

According to a source with knowledge of the situation, the team and the New England Patriots’ offensive coordinator are “close’’ to an agreement. However, nothing has been finalized and that can’t occur as long as the Patriots remain in the playoffs.

The Patriots entertain Jacksonville Sunday in the AFC Championship game. With a win, they advance to Super Bowl LII Feb. 4 in Minneapolis after which the Colts could officially hire McDaniels.

General manager Chris Ballard has spearheaded a “wide open’’ coaching search since Chuck Pagano was fired Dec. 31 after the Colts finished with a 4-12 record, their worst since enduring a 2-14 record in 2011.

After interviewing several candidates – McDaniels, Kansas City offensive coordinator Matt Nagy, Houston defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel, Seattle defensive coordinator Steve Wilks and Baylor coach Matt Rhule – Ballard narrowed his list to McDaniels and Vrabel.

Now, that list might include only McDaniels’ name.

McDaniels, 41, seems to check off most significant boxes. That includes:

  • Extended success as offensive coordinator in New England. He’s held that position for nine seasons during two different stints, and the Patriots routinely have fielded one of the NFL’s most prolific attacks. Tom Brady has been the catalyst, but there’s no denying McDaniels’ ability to utilize a versatile supporting cast and imaginative scheme.
  • Nearly two seasons as the Denver Broncos’ head coach. He led Denver to an 8-8 record in 2009 and was fired after a 3-9 start in ’10. McDaniels is adamant he’s learned from an experience that included run-ins with quarterback Jay Cutler and wideout Brandon Marshall and NFL discipline after a member of his staff videotaped an opponent’s practice, without his knowledge.
  • A relationship with Ballard. They share agent Bob LaMonte.

A day after the Colts fired Pagano, Ballard addressed the pending search and the importance of his successor being “the right fit.’’ He stressed the value of the GM and coach being compatible.

“We want a partner,’’ Ballard said. “And look, the head coach-GM relationship is one of the most important things for the success of this franchise.

“So we want to make sure we get the right fit for this organization.’’

That right fit appears to be McDaniels.

Ballard stressed he had no preference on the background of the new coach – offense, defense, special teams – but McDaniels’ addition should bring a smile to Andrew Luck’s face and better direction to his career. During McDaniels’ current six-year stint as New England’s coordinator, his offense has ranked no worse than 11th in total yards per game, including No. 1 twice, and ranked no lower than 4th in scoring.

The Colts have employed three different offensive coordinators since Luck’s arrival as the first overall pick in the draft in 2012: Bruce Arians, Pep Hamilton and Rob Chudzinski.

An added bonus would be McDaniels’ familiarity with Jacoby Brissett. Brissett was a third-round pick of the Patriots in 2016 who was acquired by the Colts in a September trade. Brissett started the final 15 games.

If McDaniels is indeed close to relocating to Indy, it would in spite of the uncertainty regarding Luck’s status. The Colts’ $140 million QB remains on the comeback from surgery on his right shoulder 12 months ago – it forced him to miss the entire season – and the team has not offered an update on Luck’s progress since he returned from a six-week rehab stint in the Netherlands in late December.

A source said the team expects to know more about Luck’s progress this week but all signs are positive thus far.

Staff changes:

If/when McDaniels is named head coach, he’ll be expected to bring in his own staff. NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported McDaniels is expected to name Dallas assistant Matt Eberflus his defensive coordinator. Eberflus is the Cowboys’ linebackers coach and passing game coordinator.

The Colts already have seen at least five members of Pagano’s staff leave: Joe Philbin (Green Bay), Tom McMahon (Denver), Jim Hostler (Green Bay), Greg Williams (Denver) and Jemal Singleton (Oakland).

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