• Villanova Sports Law Blog

McDaniels Makes a U-Turn, Could He Face Legal Action?

Updated: Sep 12, 2018

By Anthony Malky



Just two days after allegedly agreeing to terms to become the next head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, Josh McDaniels made the decision to remain as the offensive coordinator of New England Patriots.  It is unclear why the former Denver Broncos head coach and current Patriots signal caller decided to turn down the offer.  It appears the two sides had agreed to key contractual terms before McDaniels decided to withdraw from the agreement.  However, McDaniels had yet to be sign an employment contract.  Absent a written agreement, the Colts would likely not be able to pursue legal action against McDaniels for his change of heart.


Employment contracts are tricky and extremely difficult to enforce without a written agreement.  While it is clear the Colts and McDaniels’ met, discussed, and ironed out the terms of a contract, the two sides never came to more than a verbal agreement.[1]  A mere verbal agreement by McDaniels to the Colts is not enough to establish a binding contract.[2]  Under the Statute of Frauds, certain contracts must be in writing in order to be enforced at law.[3]  For instance, most states statutes requires a written “memorandum” for a contract worth more than $500 or one that cannot be performed within one year.[4]  McDaniels and the Colts had an agreement in principle on the terms of a contract, but without anything in writing, it was not a binding contract and the agreement cannot be legally enforced.[5]  An NFL coaching contract is loaded with responsibilities, requirements, and stipulations, all of which would need to be in writing before a contract would be finalized between a team and prospective coach.  Here, it does not appear McDaniels ever signed an actual employment contract.[6]  Because of the lack of a written contract, McDaniels’ action likely does not constitute a breach under the law, and thus the Colts would not be able to take legal action.


While the Colts were ecstatic to have landed (or so they thought) the mastermind behind Tom Brady and the Patriots’ offensive success, the McDaniels’ camp was eerily silent throughout the parties’ discussions.  Part of this was undoubtedly due to the Patriots’ Super Bowl preparations, but at the same time it may have signaled McDaniels’ hesitancy with accepting the position.  Lack of stability at the quarterback position with Andrew Luck’s mysterious injury status certainly may have been cause for worry.  Maybe McDaniels was waiting for a better contract from New England, or upon another Super Bowl title, a career decision from Bill Belichick or MVP Tom Brady. Certainly the Patriots had to sweeten McDaniels’ contract in order for him to turn down the Colts’ head coach offer, but Belichick remains at the helm and McDaniels will go back to calling the plays.


Perhaps this decision solidifies McDaniels as the “Coach-In-Waiting” of the Patriots.  Upon McDaniels’ decision to remain in New England, current Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick stated that he was ready to “open up his world” to the offensive coordinator, allowing McDaniels to enroll at the Belichick school of football so to speak.[7]  On the other hand, this could simply be another attempt at retribution by Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft.  Since the “DeflateGate” scandal, the Patriots have tried to do all they can to get back at the Colts. Regardless of the motive, the Colts-Patriots rivalry is certainly back in play. At a press conference, Colts’ General Manager Chris Ballard addressed the McDaniels’ flip-flop and concluded by saying, “the rivalry is back on.”[8]




[1] Michael McCann, No Signed Contract, No Deal: Legal Fallout for Josh McDaniels and the Colts, Sports Illustrated (Feb. 7, 2018), https://www.si.com/nfl/2018/02/07/josh-mcdaniels-colts-patriots-coach-legal-fallout

[2] Id.

[3] Ind. Code Ann. § 32-21-1-1 (West)

[4] Id.

[5] Michael McCann, No Signed Contract, No Deal: Legal Fallout for Josh McDaniels and the Colts, Sports Illustrated (Feb. 7, 2018), https://www.si.com/nfl/2018/02/07/josh-mcdaniels-colts-patriots-coach-legal-fallout

[6]  Id.

[7] Chris Chavez, Bill Belichick Convinced Josh McDaniels to Change His Mind on Colts Job, Sports Illustrated, (Feb. 7, 2018), https://www.si.com/nfl/2018/02/07/bill-belichick-josh-mcdaniels-indianapolis-colts-head-coach-job

[8] Kevin Patra, Colts GM Chris Ballard: ‘Rivalry is Back on with Patriots’, NFL.com, http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap3000000915249/article/colts-gm-chris-ballard-rivalry-is-back-on-with-patriots