Josh McDaniels, the man behind the New England Patriots‘ scoring machine, inherits an offense in Denver that needs only an oil change.
The defense? That needs an overhaul.
The 32-year-old McDaniels signed a four-year deal with the Broncos to replace Mike Shanahan, the only NFL head coach to get fired by a team he led to consecutive Super Bowl wins.
Of course, that was in the 1990s. Shanahan won just a single playoff game in the decade since John Elway retired and team owner Pat Bowlen fired him Dec. 30 after the Broncos missed out on the playoffs for a third straight season. He had three years and $21 million left on his contract.
McDaniels guided an offense that had led New England to 18 straight victories before a stunning loss to the New York Giants in last season’s Super Bowl. That team scored an NFL-record 75 touchdowns and 589 points.
Bowlen thought enough of McDaniels to bypass defensive sages Steve Spagnuolo of the Giants, Raheem Morris of the Buccaneers and Leslie Frazier of the Vikings even though Denver’s defense allowed more points and had fewer takeaways than any other team in the NFL last season.
“What I was trying to do was pick the best guy,” Bowlen said. “It didn’t matter really that much whether it was an offensive or defensive guy, he’s going to be the head coach. I think Josh has the ability to go out and find a very good defensive coordinator.”
McDaniels helped the defensive staff in New England for three seasons before serving as quarterbacks coach in 2004. Bill Belichick promoted him to offensive coordinator in 2006, and his career took off.
“I’d like to personally thank Bill Belichick for providing me my foundation in this league and for mentoring me for eight years,” McDaniels said at his introductory news conference Monday night.
Under his guidance, Tom Brady threw for a record 50 touchdowns in ’07 and came within a whisker of the first 19-0 season in NFL history. McDaniels’ star grew even brighter in ’08 when Brady was lost with a knee injury in the opener and Matt Cassel, who hadn’t started a game since high school, led the Patriots to an 11-5 record.
“Josh McDaniels is one of the finest people and brightest, most talented coaches I have ever worked with,” Belichick said in a statement. “Since joining us eight years ago, Josh performed a variety of roles and excelled in every one of them.”
McDaniels agreed to a four-year deal believed to be worth about $8 million to replace Shanahan, who was fired 48 hours after the Broncos became the first team in league history to blow a three-game divisional lead with three weeks left.
Shanahan was 146-91 in 14 years in Denver, leading the Broncos to Super Bowl titles following the 1997 and ’98 seasons. The Broncos have gone 24-24 since losing to Pittsburgh in the 2005 AFC title game.
That was unacceptable to Bowlen, who reached out to a man half his age to resurrect a once-proud franchise.
McDaniels is a baby-faced 32-year-old whiz kid who is younger than some of his players.
McDaniels, who’s been around football fields since he was a toddler hanging out at the high school in Canton, Ohio, where his father coached, said his young age shouldn’t matter to anybody.
“My age has never been a factor. It’s never going to be a factor,” he said. “It’s about performance. It’s about what you’re capable of getting the players to do.”
McDaniels goes from one potent offense to another. With talented players like Jay Cutler, Eddie Royal, Brandon Marshall, Tony Scheffler, Ryan Harris and Ryan Clady, it’s seemingly just a healthy running back away from greatness.
The Broncos finished second in the NFL in yards last season but middle of the pack in scoring, done in by Cutler’s 18 interceptions, Marshall’s 18 drops and an astonishing seven tailbacks on injured reserve.
The Broncos would like to see most of Shanahan’s offensive assistants stick around, although McDaniels’ hiring put a wrench in Cutler’s hopes that position coach Jeremy Bates, another 32-year-old wunderkind who calls the plays, will stay.
Denver’s dreadful defense now belongs to the engineer of the Patriots’ powerful offense.
The Broncos, who yielded more points (448) and pried away fewer takeaways (13) than any team in the league last season, will be adjusting to their fourth defensive coordinator in four years. Nine times they allowed 30 points or more and Cutler and the offense just couldn’t keep up.
“As much as I’ve coached offense the past four or five years here, I’m a football coach that’s built to understand defense,” McDaniels said. “That’s where I learned my foundation. … and I think that my goal as the head coach is not just to improve the defense. It’s to improve the team.”
One intriguing possibility to serve as McDaniels’ defensive coordinator is Dom Capers, a veteran of two NFL head coaching jobs who assisted the Patriots’ secondary last season. Another is former San Francisco head coach Mike Nolan.
McDaniels is the fourth member of Belichick’s coaching staff to leave either for a head coaching job in the NFL or a prestigious college job. None of them has been very successful out on his own. Romeo Crennel left for Cleveland in 2005 and Eric Mangini joined the Jets a year later. Both were fired last month, with Mangini replacing Crennel in Cleveland. And Charlie Weis is on the hot seat at Notre Dame.
McDaniels said he’s been shaped by Belichick, Weis and Nick Saban, who gave him his first job as a graduate assistant at Michigan State in 1999.
“I hope I’ve taken all the good things from them,” McDaniels said.
The standoffish personalities of his three notable mentors didn’t necessarily rub off on him, though.
“I think you’ll certainly see me bring a little bit of a different vibe,” McDaniels said. “I’m going to have a lot of energy. I can smile.”
Bowlen said he changed his mind about hiring a general manager and indicated his top adviser, personnel chief Jim Goodman, would have an increased role instead.
“I have no plays to hire anybody else,” Bowlen said.