After a 17-year friendship and history together, DeMeco Ryans reunited with Mike McDaniel this week in Houston during joint practices between the Houston Texans and Miami Dolphins.
"He's one of the best coaches I have been around and one of my favorite people," McDaniel said. "I'm really excited to see his team take on his personality, which I know is the mindset of a winner, the mindset of a competitor. And he's all about maximizing player's talent, which is something that that I firmly believe in, and we hold in step."
Back in 2006, McDaniel first met Ryans on the very same practice field as both were getting their coaching and playing careers started, respectively. Ryans, a second-round draft pick, was already taking first-team reps as the starting Mike linebacker.
Meanwhile, McDaniel was working towards his first coaching paycheck as an offensive assistant under then-head coach Gary Kubiak.
"When I was here and knew McDaniel as a young assistant, [he was] kind of tied at the hip with Coach Kyle Shanahan, and just doing anything that was asked of him," Ryans said. "I think working hand-in-hand with Coach Kubiak, and Kyle and the offense, I think that's where he cut his teeth and that's where he learned this offense and he's done a great job throughout his career."
McDaniel worked on the Texans coaching staff for three seasons before the two parted ways. When Ryans hung up his cleats following a 10-year playing career, Shanahan, now head coach for the San Francisco 49ers, wooed the All-Pro back into the NFL as a coach. McDaniel served in various roles during his time in San Francisco, from run game coordinator to offensive coordinator. Ryans, a young defensive coaching assistant, had an office right next to McDaniel. Known for his laidback vibe and propensity to crack jokes, McDaniel was also entirely different when he was in work mode, Ryans recalls.
"Working with Mike, he's like in his black hole," Ryans said. "He's quiet. [There's] not a lot of people going in messing with him. His office was dark, and the film was just running. And I see [that] the wheels are turning just [thinking] on, 'What motion can I do to run the same play?' He's just always thinking, forward-thinking in the way he approaches the game, the way he watches film, and just the way he teaches."
McDaniel's offensive preparation and scheme are a big reason why Ryans wanted his team to practice against the Miami Dolphins in training camp.
"So it worked," McDaniel said, joking. "Little did anyone know that I was doing that to impress DeMeco the entire time. And for the longest, I didn't know he noticed."
This week, Ryans and McDaniel reunited for a third time. On side-by-side practice fields, Ryans coached up his defense while McDaniel supervised the Dolphins offense. The two first-time head coaches, McDaniel with one season under his belt, got a lot of good work accomplished ahead of their preseason game.
"It's fun always to go against Mike because he's going to prepare you for things you would probably never see from other teams, so it's very challenging," Ryans said. "And that's why I really wanted the opportunity to practice against him because I know the type of coach he is, and I know the challenges that he'll present to us defensively. And then just as a person, Mike is one of the smartest coaches I've been around. Always keeps it low-key, fun – always having fun, always cracks a joke at the right time.
After watching him earn AP Defensive Rookie of the Year honors and then working alongside him as a coach, McDaniel isn't surprised to see the 39-year-old Ryans now leading the Texans 17 years later.
"Some of the things about DeMeco that are inspiring, just as a human being, he has that classic balance of he's such a well-intentioned, nice, really a guy that you gravitate towards, on a personal level," McDaniel said. "But then has a fire that I think players can really, really relate to and respond to. He's had leadership in his blood from the day we saw him as a 22-year-old, and then to watch him progress in the coaching field right alongside him. It didn't surprise me, but it was so impressive that I'd be at a loss to say I expected it. I think he's exceeded expectations in everything he's done. And I think the Houston Texans are very lucky to have him."
The Texans will kick off their preseason matchup against the Dolphins from NRG Stadium at 3 p.m. Saturday.