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Despite critics, McDaniels has no regrets
By Tom E. Curran
updated 6:30 p.m. ET, Wed., Aug 19, 2009
The fist is drawn back, brass knuckles firmly in place.
All the fist needs is an excuse. A flat, lazy, confused performance by the Denver Broncos defense. An August evening where confusion reigns for the Denver offense.
Then — with the force of a few million “Told ya sos” behind it — the fist will come crashing.
Josh McDaniels knows all that. And he’s way past worrying about it. At 33, seven months into his first head coaching job, he’s already battle-scarred. He sees the fist and he’s ready to duck it.
And — finally — he gets to counter-punch.
“I think that people have underestimated plenty of things through the past seven months,” McDaniels said by phone last week. “Everything that people say, everything that critics may want to write, it all rings hollow until the season. When you play the games, that’s when the truth is told.”
McDaniels’ rebuttal began last Friday night in Denver’s 17-16 exhibition loss at San Francisco. For the league’s 31 other head coaches, the first preseason game is relatively meaningless. For McDaniels, it was his chance to begin answering those who believe he’s in over his head.
“With all the distractions we’ve had this offseason, it will be good for everybody to get moving into Josh’s first year — for us to play, for him to coach and for our team to start to shut some people up,” said Broncos wide receiver Jabar Gaffney.
McDaniels never got a honeymoon period in Denver. Hired in January to take over after franchise icon Mike Shanahan was stunningly fired after a 14-year run, the early debate was whether A) Shanahan needed to go and B) whether McDaniels, a longtime Patriots assistant coach and offensive coordinator, was ready to take over a team.
Before that debate was put to rest, the Jay Cutler Affair blew up in late February. To Cutler, the Broncos talented young quarterback, the fact McDaniels would entertained the possibility of trading him and replacing him with former Pats quarterback Matt Cassel was a betrayal. Through March, McDaniels worked to allay Cutler’s concerns while making sure it was clear the head coach wasn’t answerable to the quarterback. But Cutler wouldn’t forgive and move on. He dug in his heels, demanded a trade and was shipped to the Bears.
When the deal was made in early April, few people cared about the bounty of picks Denver got in exchange for Cutler or whether ex-Bears quarterback Kyle Orton could cut it with the Broncos. Nobody was talking about the fact that McDaniels coordinated the most devastating offense in league history, the 2007 Patriots with their 75 touchdowns and 18-1 record. It was forgotten that, in 2008, McDaniels had helped Cassel — a career backup and an ineffective one at that — lead the Pats to an 11-5 record.
The conversation was, basically, whether Josh McDaniels had ruined his career in Denver in his first 70 days on the job.
Ignore the football debate for a moment and consider how harsh the mental challenge must have been for McDaniels. He’d worked the levels of football to get to this point. From being a kid playing football in Canton, Ohio learning from his father, Thom, an Ohio coaching legend. To being a quarterback/wide receiver for a Division III program, John Carroll University. To a succession of gofer jobs, assistant’s jobs and then the coordinator’s job in New England.
Then, having been rewarded for his diligence with his own team, McDaniels had turned into a punching bag for reasons that had nothing to do with Xs and Os.
Yet asked if he had regrets, McDaniels doesn’t pause.
“I have not second-guessed myself or anything that this organization has done (this offseason),” McDaniels said “You have to be able to decide what’s best for the football team not only ‘now’ but going forward. Sometimes those decisions are hard to make but you make them. And when you make them you don’t look back on them, you just do everything in your power to make it the right decision.”
McDaniels’ response is a learned one.
During eight seasons in New England, McDaniels watched as Patriots head coach Bill Belichick parried second-guessing and controversy. From quarterback changes to the so-called “Spygate” dustup, Belichick’s ability to chart a course then not waver from it was maddening to outsiders but ideal for an NFL coach.
“Bill had a great ability to focus on what was in front of him,” said McDaniels. “Draft, free agency, mini-camps, training camp, games. If you paid attention and listened and watched intensely, you learned that, in order to handle his role you have to be able to switch gears. You can’t help but learn being around him.”
Belichick says he’s talked to McDaniels “more than a couple of times” since he’s gone to Denver but not to give advice. “I don’t think that’s our relationship,” Belichick said this week. “He’s coaching his team, I’m coaching my team and everybody else is coaching their team. It’s more (coaching and team-related discussions) than fatherly advice.”
Asked whether “decisiveness” is a valuable asset, Belichick corrects and says, “The most important thing for a head coach is to make good decisions. Whatever that means in relation to your team. We’ve all made bad decisions, but once you’ve made a decision that you find out is not the right one you try to change it.”
There is no proof yet that any of McDaniels’ decisions have been bad. But the evidence is about to start pouring in.
“Everyone wants to know how he’ll coach, how the team will respond,” said Gaffney, one of several ex-Patriots McDaniels brought with him to Denver. “A lot of questions will be answered after this first game. (McDaniels) has shown leadership since day one. He’s put his foot down, put in his system and he expects people to perform at a high level. I haven’t had to defend him. Everybody trusts him and believes in him. Nobody is questioning his leadership. We’re coming together and everyone can finally see that if we go out there and do things right and trust in him and trust in the system he’ll put us in a position to win.”
Heading into this first season, McDaniels is buoyant.
“I see a change in our team and an understanding from our players and staff of the philosophy I’m trying to implement on how we will prepare to win,” he said. “Not just to play, but to win. They are grasping what we’re asking of them.”
The offseason from hell is almost over. McDaniels’ Broncos are currently tied for the best record in the NFL (with 31 other teams) at 0-0.
“This job is everything I thought it would be and I’m excited to get to the part of the year where you’re truly judged,” he said. “I can’t wait to get started.”
Sounds like all this "controversy" that the media puts out there has done nothing but bring the players closer together.
Last edited by Von Dumbass; 08-21-2009 at 05:59 AM..