As a youth football player in Colorado, Mike McDaniel wrote a self-fulfilling prophecy — “I will be in the NFL” — inside his helmet.
But the career in football was not exactly in the front of his mind when his dedication to school work helped gain him admission into Yale University.
“I didn’t go into college thinking the end game was coaching football,” said McDaniel, whom 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan promoted to offensive coordinator this offseason. “But when I started investigating other avenues, it was an easy decision and something I never looked back on.”
McDaniel is the only child of Donna McDaniel, a single mom. She incentivized her son for straight A’s. In the early years, McDaniel received video games: Game Boys, Nintendo and Sega. He was rewarded with a six-cylinder Mustang when he turned 16.
His grades enabled him to get an Ivy League education while also playing wide receiver on the football team. McDaniel probably could have gone into a more lucrative line of work. But he said it did not take him long to realize that would not make him happy.
“I had a summer internship in business. There was some (investment-banking) stuff that I investigated,” he said. “And I realized for me to ultimately be satisfied in my career, I had to be passionate about it.
“There wasn’t that much I was passionate about besides football. For me to be at my best and be satisfied with my ultimate career, I knew for a fact I had to follow my passion.”
McDaniel earned his Yale degree in history. Perhaps it is no coincidence that one of his attributes as a coach is an amazing recall of past situations and the problem-solving that went into finding the right adjustments and answers.
McDaniel was passionate about football from an early age. He rode his bike daily from his home in Greeley, Co. to watch the Denver Broncos train at the University of Northern Colorado during the summer. He developed relationships with Broncos staff members, which led to an internship on Mike Shanahan’s staff in 2005.
That is when his education made him invaluable to an NFL team at a time when technology was rapidly changing.
“Coach (Mike) Shanahan wanted overlays,” McDaniel previously told NBC Sports Bay Area. “He wanted to be able to see the play on the screen with the play call and that took data entry that none of the assistant coaches wanted to do. So when I got there, I just nailed down any little odd job I could, so they could hopefully keep me for the season, and that sure enough they did.”
When Gary Kubiak left the Broncos to become Houston Texans head coach in 2006, he took McDaniel with him as an offensive assistant.
Kubiak hired Kyle Shanahan to his first staff as wide receivers coach. McDaniel was assigned to act as Shanahan’s assistant. The two men worked together at stops in Washington, Cleveland and Atlanta before Shanahan was hired as 49ers coach and made McDaniel one of his top assistants.
Since beginning his career in professional football, the only time McDaniel did not work with Shanahan was in 2009 and 2010, when he worked as running backs coach in the now-defunct United Football League with the Sacramento Mountain Lions under the late Dennis Green.
McDaniel said his passion for football comes from multiple levels. He is multi-racial, and the inclusive nature of the sport allowed him to enter a world in which he felt the only thing that mattered is how well you do your job.
Those seasons in a fringe professional football league only reinforced his decision to enter into the coaching ranks. But coaching in obscurity might have led some to question why he was not putting his Yale degree to better use.
“You get that question a lot,” McDaniel said. “It’s funny: ‘Aren’t there better things you could be doing with that education?’”
And for McDaniel, 38, the answer is easy.
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