McDaniels and Ziegler

BY LEVI EDWARDS | TEAM REPORTER

Josh McDaniels and Dave Ziegler go back.

Like way back.

Like lived-together-in-college back.

McDaniels was a room down from Dave Ziegler in a house with six tenants in University Heights, Ohio. The senior mathematics major was on his way out of John Carroll University with Ziegler, a history major, a year behind him.

"We met each other right away; we acclimated to one another," said McDaniels. "We played receiver together, and we were just kindred spirits if you will."

Being roommates with McDaniels is something Ziegler looks back fondly on. Early on, he could see the dedication in his friend and teammate from living with him that has translated to them arriving to Las Vegas together 24 years later. A lot can be learned about a person's habits from living with them for a full year.

"He had the room right next to mine. He had a little sliding door so you could peek into his room," Ziegler laughed. "He was a very good roommate. Very responsible, very clean – both of us were. He was a math major, I was a history major, but we were both pretty dedicated to our studies too. We took the academics pretty seriously.

"We were good roommates, good teammates and had some fun along the way."

The two met in spring of 1995. McDaniels hosted Ziegler for his recruitment trip to John Carroll, but McDaniels had made an impression on Ziegler even before the two met. They grew up in neighboring cities in Ohio – Ziegler in Tallmadge and McDaniels in Canton, where he was a standout quarterback at Canton McKinley High School, a football powerhouse run by his father and 1997 high school football Coach of the Year Thom McDaniels.

"I went to see Josh play in the playoffs against Massillon (OH)," Ziegler said. "There were over 24,000 people in the stadium at a high school football game. And so, I knew of Josh McDaniels. It was pretty cool when I got to John Carroll to know he was there because he was a guy who I watched and kind of admired to a degree. I didn't play at this massive powerhouse high school program.

"When I got there, I was excited that we hit it off and became friends."

McDaniels reciprocated the admiration.

After arriving to John Carroll, McDaniels switched from quarterback to wide receiver, alongside Ziegler who was already on his way to becoming a Division III football star.

In Ziegler's four seasons as a Blue Streak, he had more than 3,000 all-purpose yards and still holds school records for punt return yards, punt and kick return touchdowns, and average yards per punt and kick return. He also led the NCAA Division III in kick and punt return yardage in 1999.

"He was an explosive receiver. He was a track guy so he could run," McDaniels recalled. "Dave, for a long time, was the all-time leading returner in Division III history. He was fearless when he played. He was tough, he was fast. We bonded right away and we've had that bond ever since."

The two aren't the only NFL success stories to come from the Division III school in Ohio.

John Carroll has deep NFL roots dating back to Don Shula, the NFL's winningest head coach, who played halfback at the university from 1947-1951.

Meanwhile, McDaniels and Ziegler had Nick Caserio, the current General Manager of the Houston Texans, as their quarterback. Caserio came on to the Patriots staff as a personal assistant with McDaniels in 2001, and was the director of player personnel for the team prior to Ziegler taking over after Caserio left for Houston. Not to mention Los Angeles Chargers General Manager Tom Telesco was a receiver with McDaniels in 1994.

But perhaps their most well-known John Carroll teammate is London Fletcher.

Before Fletcher was a Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion with the St. Louis Rams, he was a dual-sport star at John Carroll University and 1998 Division III Linebacker of the Year. Fletcher said that he could envision McDaniels going into coaching while they were teammates, considering his father Thom "was a legendary high school coach in Ohio" and the great attention to detail he seemed to have acquired from his father.

"Really smart football player, he caught a lot of passes and knew how to get open," Fletcher said of McDaniels. "We had a lot of success as a team. My last year there, we went 10-2. Only team we lost to was Mount Union – we lost to them twice. [McDaniels and Ziegler] were very smart football players and very good football players too."

Over a span of four years, Fletcher and McDaniels went from being Blue Streak teammates to being on opposite sidelines in Super Bowl XXXVI, resulting in McDaniels and the Patriots getting the best of his former teammate in what was considered a huge upset over "The Greatest Show on Turf."

"It's crazy because when you think of John Carroll, you don't think about it being a football powerhouse," said Fletcher. "I can remember dating all the way back to 2001. I'm not even sure what role he was playing at that point in time with the Patriots when I was with the Rams. We were on competing sidelines, competing for that Lombardi Trophy. It was very surreal because of John Carroll and it not being a typical football factory, so to speak.

"As Josh became offensive coordinator and I'm out there as a middle linebacker – he's drawing up plays trying to take advantage of me, and I'm trying to dissect his offense. We would chat before the games and things like that, so there's ton of respect. I know he was trying to beat me, and I was trying to beat him. It was just great competing against him."

Dave Vitatoe was another who had first-hand experience watching the commitment to excellence McDaniels and Ziegler showed as a wide receiver duo. Vitatoe, now the assistant vice president of alumni relations at John Carroll, was an All-American placekicker for the Blue Streaks – graduating in the same class as Ziegler. Vitatoe was also a top recruit in the state of Ohio and was on that fateful recruiting trip with Ziegler.

"With Dave, it was all about him on the field. He flashed on the field. He was a dynamic player," Vitatoe said. "Every time he touched the ball, he could take it to the house. He was just faster and quicker than everyone else and had confidence and swagger. And he could back it up with big play after big play."

Vitatoe also described how even as a player, the John Carroll coaching staff would allow McDaniels to attend coaches meetings to be a part of the game-planning process. McDaniels would often also stop to give Vitatoe a few words of encouragement prior to kickoff of big games or even in the middle of the game before game-deciding field goals to "help get [his] mind right."

"We knew who Josh was, and we knew what his background was, so there was instant credibility there with him," said Vitatoe. "What I found was he was a fiery competitor on the field. And it was more of a fire that burns inside of him that drives him versus what comes out of him. You could just tell how much winning meant to him.

"Just looking back at that, I knew he had a way of connecting and he knew what it took to win even at that age."

While McDaniels was in the early stages of finding his footing in the NFL with the Patriots, Ziegler was attempting to do the same in Scottsdale, Arizona. There, he was a special teams coordinator and educator at Chaparral High School.

While most wouldn't assume that being a high school guidance counselor would prepare someone to be an NFL general manager, Ziegler begs to differ.

"When you talk about teaching, you talk about commanding a room. Teaching is one of the hardest jobs that I think anyone could really have," said Ziegler. "When that bell sounds on first period, you're on. And you're on all day and have the responsibility for teenagers to command the room, to instill knowledge in them, to connect with them and navigate a lot of different issues and problems.

"I experienced a lot of things from the counseling side of things. Real-life problems and how to problem solve those things. Having to connect people from all types of backgrounds and make a genuine connection. Those are things that have really been a fabric of who I am and I think it's given me an advantage in connecting with people and leading people."

His ability to connect with people and navigate through problems made him a school favorite and a catalyst for a team that became 5A Division II state champions in 2009.

"He was genuine," said David Isenberg, who was a wide receivers coach and teacher at Chaparral with Ziegler. "He told you how it is. He'd give you an honest assessment but he did it in a way where you respected him. All the kids respected him, he got along with all types of people. He was very organized, very prepared. His section of practice with special teams was always on point, done professionally.

"When he left Chaparral to go work with the Broncos, it doesn't shock me where he's at now," continued Isenberg. "The crazy thing is, I'm a huge Raiders fan and to think that some dude that I would go out and eat lunch with and just kind of hang out with is now making personnel decisions for the Raiders – that's kind of the crazy part."

Ziegler and McDaniels' paths converged in 2010 when Ziegler joined McDaniels' scouting staff. Three years later, they reunited once again in New England. In their eight seasons together at the Patriots, they molded rosters that brought another three Lombardi trophies to Foxborough, Massachusetts.

Now they'll try to do it again for one of the most historic franchises in professional sports.

The duo have a few roster areas they'll need to address, but one thing the two won't lack in their quest to improve the Silver and Black is chemistry.

"It's really convenient, and Josh has a lot of experience in this league," Ziegler said about teaming back up with McDaniels. "He's been in the league a lot longer than I have, so he has a lot of knowledge and a lot of experience where I can still learn from him. Being able to talk the same language, being able to have an understanding of what we look for in players, what roles are important to our team – all those things a lot of people have to work through and learn. For us to be able to hit the ground running already having that connection between ourselves is a huge advantage and will be a big foundational piece to what we do here."

"He's been a great friend of mine for a long time, upwards of two decades now," said McDaniels. "And we've had a great opportunity to experience some really great things together in New England. And now to just be able to share this experience with him, someone who I trust, and respect and admire as much as I do – it's really special."

The two arrived for their first day on the job in Las Vegas on January 31 in matching suits and ties – like any best buds would. After their press conference, the two took a tour of the facility capped off with a quick photo shoot on the inside practice field in Intermountain Healthcare Performance Center.

As the two held up their jerseys for a photo op, Josh McDaniels turned to his general manager, teammate and friend in awe of the situation they now found themselves in – having first met close to 30 years ago.

"Can you imagine?" McDaniels said in astonishment to Ziegler. "Little kid from Ohio?"

View photos of General Manager Dave Ziegler and Head Coach Josh McDaniels' first day on the job as members of the Silver and Black.

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