On his flights in and out of Tampa for the Bucs matchup in November, Brendan Daly’s thoughts drifted thousands of feet below and two decades into the past.
Somewhere under the Chiefs’ plane stood New Port Richey’s Wendell Krinn Technical School. Daly knows it by its old name, Ridgewood High, from his old job — the one that started a coaching career that has already earned him four Super Bowl rings with a shot at a fifth Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
Long before he was developing a pair of Pro Bowlers as Kansas City’s defensive line coach, he was a fresh-out-of-college assistant for an 0-10 Ridgewood team stuck in the middle of a historic losing streak.
“That was a special time for me,” Daly said.
The special time began in 1997 when new Ridgewood head coach Mike Looney was looking to fill his staff. Looney was once a graduate assistant at Drake University, so he called the Iowa school to see if they had any upcoming graduates who wanted to get into coaching.
Daly — an Illinois native with no Florida ties — fit the bill. The former collegiate tight end became the Rams’ offensive and defensive line coach.
“It was a phenomenal experience for me,” Daly said this week. “Obviously the first time you go through anything, you’re learning constantly.”
So was his new colleague, Jeff McDonald.
Like Daly, McDonald was just starting his career, after recently graduating from USF. But while McDonald was simply trying to make sure he had 11 Xs and Os on the white board, Daly was scheming up plays right alongside Ridgewood’s veteran coaches.
Beyond the football knowledge, McDonald remembers Daly’s passion and intensity, how he was always moving and motivating, even during warmups and stretches.
“There wasn’t one minute he wasn’t coaching somebody,” McDonald said.
The coaching could not, however, turn around a struggling program. Ridgewood’s 30-boy team was outscored 450-145 and finished winless for a second consecutive season.
“That part, it was tough,” said McDonald, now the head coach at Elmhurst University outside Chicago. “We felt like we did the most with what we had, but it wasn’t like we were winning a state title or anything.”
The Rams finally snapped their 35-game losing streak (four shy of the state record) two years later, celebrating with photographs in front of the W.F. Edwards Stadium scoreboard. Ridgewood closed in 2018 and reopened as a technical school.
By then, Daly was long gone. His lone year in New Port Richey started his coaching climb, from small colleges (Drake, Villanova) to bigger ones (Maryland, Oklahoma State) and finally the NFL.
Since breaking through with the Vikings in 2006, the 45-year-old won three Super Bowls with the Patriots, one with the Chiefs and will add another with a victory over the Bucs on Sunday.
“I lean on him a lot,” Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said. “I think he’s the best D-line coach in the league.”
The results back him up; the Eagles and the Chiefs were the only two teams to put a pair of defensive linemen (Chris Jones and Frank Clark) in the Pro Bowl.
Despite the diamond-covered rings and sterling resume, what impresses McDonald most about Daly is how his friend and colleague never changed.
When McDonald wanted to visit Oklahoma State to learn from a Big 12 program, Daly invited him down. When Daly was an assistant with the Rams, he made sure McDonald and his wife (a St. Louis native) got sideline passes before the game and tickets in the family section. Even when McDonald texted Daly last week, he took a break from Super Bowl preparation to respond within the hour.
“There’s a lot of guys that once they get into that big-time spot, they kind of forget the other folks,” McDonald said. “The thing about Brendan is, he’s never forgotten.”
Ridgewood is still not beneath Daly — even when he’s thousands of feet above it.
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