Happy Anniversary, Broncos fans.
It’s been exactly one year since the tumultuous Josh McDaniels era came to a merciful end. Now 365 days later, perhaps the biggest surprise is that the Broncos are 7-5 and the “if the playoffs started today” 4th seed in the AFC.
The Broncos are the talk of the NFL – for the right reason: winning. Not because of Spygate II. Not because of any handshake drama with Chiefs head coach Todd Haley. Not because of an utterly embarrassing home blowout to a divison rival.
There’s no doubt about it; the Broncos have been better than any of us would have imagined, but that doesn’t exonerate McDaniels from his otherwise terrible tenure as head coach.
The last 55 days or so (and counting) won’t erase that mess, but it’s a start.
It's been a year since the firing of Josh McDaniels. (courtesy Jeffrey Beall)
Yes, even Josh McDaniels did some good things in Denver. For starters, he did win his first six games back in 2009, the franchise’s best start since the 1998 Super Bowl season.
This ‘The Good’ list would have ended there if not for what we’ve seen in recent weeks.
McDaniels did draft Tim Tebow, who, debate all you want about his quarterbacking skills, has gone 6-1 as a starter this season. McDaniels also drafted wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. So far, Decker has been the standout receiver of the two, but Thomas showed Sunday why was he taken 22nd overall in 2010. While it remains to be seen, McDaniels’ validation could be that Class of 2010 trio.
Another plus? McDaniels did put Denver in the position to draft Von Miller. Though, had he been coach, I highly doubt McDaniels would have drafted the linebacker with the No. 2 pick. I now shudder to think about life without Miller. Moving on…
Remember that 6-0 start in 2009? Remember that halftime interview with Chris Berman during Monday Night Football? Remember how everything went downhill – and fast – immediately thereafter? Looking back on it now, McDaniels set that ball into motion months before; the 6-0 start was just a pleasant diversion from the inevitable.
Where to begin…let’s do this quick pull-off-the-band-aid-style with some highlights.
He's not exactly Mr. Personality, but Jay Cutler can throw the football. (courtesy Mike Shadle)
For one reason or another, each player’s relationship with McDaniels turned horribly wrong. So wrong each player is now playing elsewhere. Cutler was miffed about McDaniels open adulation of Matt Cassel, and was traded before the 2009 season. Hillis did something to fall out of McDaniels’ favor…do we even know what? Scheffler and Marshall were reportedly close to Cutler, and therefore, the “enemy” in McDaniels’ eyes.
The players Denver got in exchange for those deals have had little impact. Has Brady Quinn even played a down for the Broncos? By my count, Robert Ayers is the only other player still on the Broncos roster.
As a talk radio caller recently put it, McDaniels’ roster moves were akin to “putting the team into a minibus and driving it into a lake.”
If one Spygate wasn’t enough, thanks to Steve Scarnecchia’s videotaping misadventures in London in 2010, Spygate took on a Broncos-flair. Scarnecchia, Denver’s director of video operations, was fired and the Broncos and McDaniels were fined $50,000.
John Fox: Upgrade (personal photo)
That’s all the hard evidence. The softer, yet possibly most irritating evidence of the complete failure of the McDaniels’ era was his overall approach. Josh McDaniels’ stint with the nearly invincible Patriots of 2007 both got him the Denver job, and ultimately lost it for him. His roster moves showed his true belief that individual matchups don’t matter nearly as much as coach’s ability to scheme in a system. McDaniels used the Broncos franchise as a laboratory in his attempt to show the NFL just how gifted he was at outmaneuvering any opponent. What resulted was a team that couldn’t outmuscle physical opponents or out-finesse tactical ones. From the onset, McDaniels wanted his people succeeding with his plays and when they couldn’t the system crumbled.
(A quick side note…isn’t this the most obvious reason why John Fox is a successful head coach and McDaniels is a losing offensive coordinator? Fox didn’t get to pick his people. Heck, he inherited a quarterback in Tebow that basically didn’t fit into any system currently being run in the NFL. So instead of Fox running “his system” and making terrible player transactions just for the sake of having “his guys” he looked around at what was available and got to building. That’s coaching.)
Do we really need one? The Broncos are in the playoff hunt and McDaniels is now offensive coordinator for 2-10 St. Louis. If Denver does get the chance to play a 17th game, I think we know who gets the last laugh.
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