MIAMI GARDENS — The man who is paid to have the answers had none, and no one was blaming him for it.
Mike McDaniel was about to coach his third game as an NFL head coach, but the game about to take place right outside his door may as well have been a million miles away.
“A dear member” of the Dolphins’ organization had just died. Jason Jenkins, a senior vice president and a man owner Stephen Ross depended on for friendship and so much more, was gone. Suddenly. It didn’t matter that he was only 47 years old. It didn’t matter that he had a wife and three young children and a community that respected him for tireless efforts to try to make it better than it was.
Just like that, gone.
More:Jason Jenkins, Dolphins senior vice president and community activist, dies
“I was at a loss,” McDaniel said. “Like, hey, what do I do about this?”
General manager Chris Grier and senior vice president Brandon Shore told him what to do. They told him it didn’t matter that Saturday night was just a preseason game that counted for players fighting for jobs but not much more. What Jason would want, they said, was for everyone to do their best, because for 14 years, that’s what Jenkins gave the organization.
“Do what you do,” McDaniel said Grier told him. “So that’s all I thought of. This at least gave me direction. Because you’re like, ‘OK, what is what am I doing?’ “
McDaniel keeps news bottled up inside during the game
So McDaniel bottled it up inside. It hurt so much that after the game, he became emotional at the podium, unable and unwilling to put on a brave face. McDaniel held it so well that quarterback Tua Tagovailoa said players had no inkling of the tragedy that had just unfolded.
Do the best you can? You might say the Dolphins did that. On the first play of a game of any kind that Tagovailoa played with Tyreek Hill, he dropped back, ran the play-action, then launched one that traveled 54 yards through the air into Hill’s hands. Officially, the play gained 51 yards. For good measure, Tagovailoa hit Hill on the next play for 13 more. In just four plays and 125 seconds, the Dolphins were in the end zone, well on the way to a 48-10 romp over the Philadelphia Eagles’ backups.
When Elijah Campbell intercepted a pass and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown, defensive tackle Christian Wilkins went nuts on the sideline as Christian Wilkins does. The players were having fun.
A couple of hours later, when they gathered in their locker room, they expected McDaniel to be handing out game balls to put an exclamation point on a successful preseason.
Tua Tagovailoa: Jason Jenkins ‘a beacon of the community’
That’s when he told them the news. Keep in mind, Jenkins wasn’t just a suit to the players, even if he did manage, on those 95-degree days, to often show up to practice wearing that very outfit. Everybody knew Jenkins. He made a point of it.
“Jason was a beacon of the community,” Tagovailoa said. “That’s what I think of when I hear Jason’s name, like, this guy is always wanting to do stuff for other people. ‘Hey, how can I help you with this?’ Like, ‘Hey, how can we help with your foundation?’ “
So yes, it was an emotional locker room. The NFL mandates that interviews be held postgame, which meant McDaniel had the difficult task of stepping up to the podium after informing the players. This wasn’t a night to ask football questions, obviously. So McDaniel began, unprompted, by stating what everyone knew: “Football pales in comparison.”
McDaniel has only been around Jenkins for about six months, but “It didn’t take long to see the great work he did.”
Someone asked about the impression Jenkins left on him. For just a moment, McDaniel mentioned how Jenkins always seemed to be dressed to the nines, bringing a touch of levity for just a moment.
“He was a force and positive positivity,” McDaniel said. “You know, the organization has been through some stuff.”
We all know what he means. We know that Jenkins’ boss, Ross, is currently feeling the pinch from the NFL. Through it all, Jenkins was Ross’ shield and confidante.
For 58 minutes of the game, McDaniel managed to focus, but at the two-minute warning, “it all came back” to him.
How shocking this day had been. How cruel.
“This is a part, a fixture of life,” he said. “It is a part of being human and it’s impossible. It’s inhumane.”
Even for the man in charge.
“As a head coach, you’re supposed to do stuff,” he said. “You’re supposed to lead and you’re supposed to do things and there’s nothing for me to do, you know?
“I can’t make it — I can’t make this one better”
Hal Habib covers the Dolphins for The Post. Help support our journalism. Subscribe today.