Read the transcript from Head Coach Mike McDaniel's press conference on Friday, Sept. 30, 2022.
(How is QB Tua Tagovailoa feeling based on your discussions with him last night and today? And do you have the MRI results yet?) – "So he was – I think his teammates or me, I'm not sure who was most excited to see him on the plane. He was honest about the fact that he had a headache. But his personality was definitely normal Tua. Talking to him this morning, I think he was still feeling some of those headaches. He's probably just finishing his MRI right now. We'll find the results on that. That was just an extra kind of precaution on top of the CT scans and X-rays that were taken last night."
(Obviously there's TE Cethan Carter. Concussions affect everybody differently. Is there a chance you guys may put QB Tua Tagovailoa on short-term IR just as a precaution?) – "I mean honestly, to be completely forthright, I'm not even thinking about timetables or anything regarding him as a player right now. It's all about Tua the person. What gets lost in all this is there's human relationships. These aren't just create-a-players. These are people that we mutually invest in and somebody I've grown very, very close to. So when it comes to head injuries and concussions, with things that severe, the only thing I'm worried about is the person first. We're just worried about him getting healthy and getting all the testing done that he needs to get done, and us working with him so that we can feel good about where that injury is at. Then we'll cross the bridge in terms of timetables and however long. I really haven't even thought about that at this point."
(Last night, when you were asked if you would do anything differently, you said, 'No chance,' pretty much. Now that you've had time to reflect, is there anything either you would have done differently or you wish any of the medical personnel would have done differently dating back to the original hit on Sunday against the Bills?) – "I appreciate all the concern, really just because I care about the guy and I appreciate all of the concern for the individual. What I was kind of referring to in terms of not changing anything that I'd do was because the whole process for what happened on the Bills game was he was evaluated for a head injury immediately. That's what we brought him into the tent for or brought him inside for. He was evaluated and then cleared by several layers of medical professionals, who – I don't pretend to be one – but those people, the collection of them, cleared him of any head injury whatsoever. He had a back and ankle issue. So in terms of deciding whether or not to play a guy on a Thursday night game, I was concerned about his lower back and his ankle, and putting him in harm's way. I have 100 percent conviction in our process regarding our players. This is a player-friendly organization that I make it very clear from the onset that my job as a coach is here for the players. I take that very serious and no one else in the building strays from that. So when I am talking about deciding whether or not to play, the only thing that would keep me from playing him would be something going against medical advice that would be just completely abstract on top of all that. I had no worries whatsoever. I'm in steady communication with this guy day-in and day-out. We're talking about high-level football conversations about progressions and defenses and recalling stuff from two weeks previous and then him having to reiterate a 15-word play call. All things, absolutely no signs. There was no medical indication, from all resources, that there was anything regarding the head. If there would have been, of course. If there would have been anything lingering with his head, I wouldn't have been able to live with myself if I prematurely put someone out there and put them in harm's way. This is a relationship that I have with this human being. I take that serious. I wouldn't have put him out there if there was any inclination given to me whatsoever that he was endangering himself from that previous game."
(Have you talked – last night on the plane, you had conversations with QB Tua Tagovailoa I presume? You said he brought his personality with him. Can you elaborate for us? Did he talk about the incident itself?) – "We just wanted to get him a little more space. He came up and sat next to me on the flight. We talked a little about the game. I kind of was asking him questions about how he was feeling and that happened for about 15 or 20 minutes, and then he pulled out his phone and started playing my cult favorite classic movie MacGruber that he watched and was laughing with me. I think he was just happy to be with him teammates. All of his teammates were so elated. I mean this was a scary, scary situation for all of us. I'm sure you could tell by his teammates' body language and everyone that was on the field. It was something that did not just go away once the game restarted. All of his teammates were absolutely elated to see him on the plane. He was elated. It brought him some joy, which was good to see. It's one of the reasons you get into team sports."
(On the last 12 hours for him as the head coach) – "It's one of those things that you recognize as part of my job. For me, I don't do anything without being extremely accountable and hard on myself. I can say with conviction certain things because I go back and I make sure that the due diligence, that I've done everything correctly with all the information given. Football is a unique sport. It's one of the reasons that we love it is there is so much unpredictability, so many variables. It's also one that is violent and can have injuries. You really comb all things that come across your plate to make sure that you are doing right by everyone involved, specifically and most importantly and non-negotiably, the human beings, the players. It's to the point that I'm thinking about the play call. I'm thinking about all of this stuff. It's hard but I recognize it's an important part of the job that you don't get to dictate circumstances. You're supposed to help lead individuals to be a team. You never want to – I don't think I'll ever be comfortable, I'll ever get used to, it will never feel normal for me personally and the type of person I am – I know you guys are just starting to learn. But I will never be comfortable with a player getting carted off the field. Ever. It's something you never want to be a part of and when I put myself there, this is what happens. It's not fun. I'm just really, really, really glad that I can hear normal Tua in his voice. I know his teammates who talked to him feel the same way."
(Is there a change in the extent of his back injury? Has that been looked at?) – "That's also part of the deal with him. Yeah, it is. That and his ankle are still lingering, so those are pieces of concern for player. But again, right now it's more about person. We're 100 percent devoted to worrying about this concussion and having him pass through it in a healthy manner and then obviously the medical staff will be attending to those other injuries that are in the back of my mind right now."
(You spoke about QB Tua Tagovailoa hitting his head, but he did not have any lingering effects throughout the week, reiterating play calls and things like that, but still he hit his head during that game against the Bills. Was there enough consideration maybe taken by whether it was the organization, doctors, both team or independent, that QB Tua Tagovailoa could possibly hit his head again? Do you think there was enough of a measurement there?) – "Again, I totally understand the concern and appreciate the concern. When I tell you that beyond an eyeball test, which I know for a fact you guys would not be very comfortable if I was just relying on that, and not – I mean, it's the reason why we have tests. He did not have a head injury. So, guys hit their heads all the time, and that's why I was adamant (that) he was evaluated for having a head injury and he did not have one. And when I tell you he was in complete mental concert, talking to us through it, and then he played the whole game and then he did a press conference and then he did media all week. As far as – if I were to sit someone for a medical issue going against medical people abstractly, then when do I play him again? I don't – this was not, the timing of all of it, how things played out, I get the optics. I get exactly what it looks like. I understand all this and I understand people's concern. But the one thing that I'm that I can exude with 100 percent conviction is that every person in this building had 100 percent the correct process and diligence. That's why there's not a player or person that you'd be able to talk to in the building that would think otherwise, because it is clear, contrite and not something that is negotiable, in any way, shape or form."
(Did you relay that to QB Tua Tagovailoa as well, since he's a competitor? Have you told him until everything is clear, don't even think about it?) – "Yes, I talked to him today and I reiterated the same thing, because he was bringing up to me, 'Man, I just hope I don't miss X, Y or Z game.' I was like, 'Tua, let's stop this right now. Don't even think about a game. Let's just think about doing everything the right way to listen, to get opinions that you need. Let's worry about you and your head and being a healthy human being through it and then we'll worry about playing football later. But I don't want to have that conversation right now.' I didn't really give him that option, because it was – again, that was very easy for me to do because the shape that he was in doesn't stray from you far, again, from the human element. I think you do have to do that to protect people against themselves, in some way, shape or form."
(I know you talked about the timing of it, but another question. Is there a possibility with respect to long term that QB Tua Tagovailoa won't play the rest of the year? Is that anything that you all have even thought to?) – "Again, I can't be – the most honest and forthright I could be is I literally have no timetable or even thought to it. That's where I would feel irresponsible is even thinking about it. I just want him, I just want to see – I want him to get all the evaluations possible. I want him to do all the things recommended from all of the medical counterparts. And I want him to get on the road to recovery from that as a human being and then we'll cross that bridge. But in terms of a timeline of crossing that bridge, I have zero idea."
(Based on what you've experienced these past five days, is there anything that you would suggest to the league in terms of any changes to improve the protocols for concussions?) – "Honestly, from my medical understanding, with two unrelated events, from all the information that I've been given – two unrelated medical events – I don't see a problem with the protocol if there's not scientific backing to illustrate that he was suffering from a head injury. So from my vantage point, it's pretty, pretty thorough when you're talking about not only having designated people from your own organization who specialize in the field, but then you have independent neurologists, advising as well, I cannot express it enough – this was not a case of, 'Hey, he has these effects, but…' He had absolutely no head injury symptoms whatsoever once he was evaluated. I wouldn't be able to from this specific situation draw anything from the protocols for good or bad, except that they are very thorough and thorough on the level of anything that has been in the National Football League since I've been in."
(So the protocol, is QB Tua Tagovailoa not involved in any practices leading up to the Jets game?) – "Right. You're in the protocol until you're out of the protocol."
(Is QB Tua Tagovailoa here at all? Or does he stay home? How does that work?) – "It all depends on where they're at in their significant symptoms – whether you're sensitive to light and there's a bunch of different stuff. I know he'll be back here in the building this afternoon for a second. But as far as moving forward, we're just going to do what's best for him. And if we have any indication that traveling in a car or coming around here isn't the best thing for him, then we won't do it."
(I presume the answer is yes but QB Teddy Bridgewater would start if QB Tua Tagovailoa doesn't play?) – "Yeah, Teddy would start and guys have a lot of confidence in him and guys have confidence in our whole quarterback room, really. It's one of the strengths of our football team and I think guys rely on that. Tua, Teddy and Skylar (Thompson) have performed in a great working group and our guys believe in all three of them."
(How has QB Skylar Thompson come along the last month, just observing, scout team work, etc.?) – "Skylar has been what you guys know Skylar to be. He's just working constantly and when he's on the field, he'll make some plays. He's in a great spot, too. I feel very fortunate to have those two guys."
(What's CB Xavien Howard's status coming off that injury and do you know if you are going to activate CB Byron Jones next week?) – "These are things that we'll probably revisit at the beginning of the week to see how the weekend unfolds. 'X' (Xavien Howard) is a competitor and a fierce one at that. I know he's going to do everything to make sure that he's completely capable. I know Byron is working his tail off, so we'll probably re-evaluate that at the beginning of the week, which we'll always do. I don't really have anything for that today."
(I'd guess you probably didn't imagine yourself in this kind of situation – maybe a football issue but not a health issue like it is here – starting your career. How has this kind of been for you to handle?) – "Anybody can – I think it's stuff like this that people rely on head coaches for, so I don't really know what shape or fashion it's going to come in. But I don't expect to just win games and have you guys high-five me all the time. I think this is something that you never know what the job is going to entail. It's a very demanding job and all-encompassing, but it's also extremely rewarding for that reason. It does surprise me. But I would also say that I'm expecting to be surprised on a daily basis. It's part of the deal and it's unfortunate anytime that you have anything health-related on a football team. I don't really see – I don't know. It's not really about me regarding the health and safety of our players. It's more about the players and that's the unfortunate part."