Coaching on a Tightrope: Josh McDaniels Has Many Questions To Answer for Broncos

Josh VitaleCorrespondent IJanuary 14, 2009

Less than two weeks after long-time head coach Mike Shanahan was fired, owner Pat Bowlen found his guy.

On Sunday night, Jan. 11, the Denver Broncos reached an agreement with Josh McDaniels to succeed Shanahan as head coach.

McDaniels has spent the greater part of his coaching career with the New England Patriots. Most of his success, however, has come since 2006, when he was named the Patriots' offensive coordinator.

In this time, he has made New England one of the best offensive teams in the NFL. In 2007, led by MVP quarterback Tom Brady, McDaniels’ offense led the NFL in total yards as well as points scored. 

The season that ensured him consideration for a head coaching position, however, may be 2008. Not eight minutes into their first game, Brady was lost for the year, due to a horrific knee injury.

The Patriots then entrusted their high-powered offense to backup QB Matt Cassel, who had not started a game since high school. Even with this challenge, McDaniels did not falter as his offense remained in the top 10 in both total yards and points scored, something unheard of for a team starting a second-string QB.

But, with all the success he had in New England, no one is ready to call him a savior just yet. He must answer many questions before he is praised by Bronco Country.

Question One: Will McDaniels improve an offense that finished second in total yards last year?


While it does not seem feasible, the answer to this question is yes.

The Broncos ranked second in total offense this season; third in passing, and 12th in rushing. They were assumed to be one healthy running back away from greatness.  However, that does not change the fact that they finished 16th in scoring. 

The Patriots, meanwhile, were fifth in total offense; 12th in passing, and sixth in rushing, even with trouble of their own at running back. On top of that, they finished eighth in scoring, eight spots ahead of the Broncos. 

Put this into perspective; if the Broncos keep their passing offense at the same level as this season, and improve their rushing and scoring totals to the level that the 2008 Patriots reached, being the No. 1 offense in the NFL is very well within their reach.


Question Two: Will McDaniels improve the defense?


Seeing as McDaniels is primarily an offensive coach, the jury is clearly still out on this one. After finishing 2008 with the 29th ranked defense, many believed that the Broncos would go with a defensive coordinator as Shanahan’s successor.

But Bowlen, perhaps looking for a “young” Mike Shanahan, sided with offense, ergo McDaniels.

Today it was reported that Mike Nolan will be brought in as defensive coordinator.  Nolan, who runs a 3-4 defensive system, will have his work cut out for him in 2009.

From a personnel perspective, the Broncos were already a mess defensively, suffering from a slew of draft busts and poor free agent signings. And that was for a 4-3 system. For the 3-4, the Broncos look to be in even more trouble.

There is, however, light at the end of the tunnel. The Broncos will pick 12th in this year’s draft, and have eight picks following their first rounder. Also, the defensive free-agent market is very deep this offseason, giving the Broncos ample opportunity to pick up any player they need.

If the Broncos can draft, sign, or develop the players to have success in a 3-4 system, McDaniels and Nolan may achieve their goal of improving this defense.

For now though, it remains unclear how much defensive improvement, if any, the Broncos will make in 2009.

Question Three: What will happen to Jeremy Bates and the rest of the offensive



This is an intriguing situation. At his press conference yesterday, McDaniels told reporters that he would be the one calling plays on offense.

This brings into question the fate of quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates and the rest of the offensive staff. Bowlen has advocated for the return of running backs coach Bobby Turner and receivers coach Jedd Fisch, but other than that, there has been little word from McDaniels.

Rick Dennison, the long-time offensive coordinator, is likely to leave the team, and has already begun interviewing with other teams about their offensive coordinator positions.

Bates, who called the plays last year, will be relieved of those duties, but his role on the team, if any, has yet to be determined. This worries some people, because Jay Cutler did not support the Shanahan firing and has strongly advocated the return of Bates, with whom he has a very close relationship.

Our situation? To promote Bates to offensive coordinator and have him work with McDaniels in coaching the offense. Two young, talented offensive minds working together could make this offense one of the best we have ever seen.

There has been no word as to what will happen yet, however, so we will have to wait and see.


Question Four: Will McDaniels handle the pressure and attention he will receive as the youngest active NFL head coach?


Without having spent even one full day on the job yet, McDaniels has faced endless questions on whether his age will be a factor. McDaniels, at 32, is the youngest active head coach in the NFL.

Quick to dismiss these questions, he believes that his age will have nothing to do with coaching success.

However, as the head coach of the Broncos, a franchise accustomed to winning, McDaniels will face a lot of scrutiny in his first year, and every tiny mistake will be magnified. 

No one quite knows how or if he will handle the pressure, but if he does, the Broncos may have found something special.

In Conclusion


McDaniels will begin his first head coaching stint in Denver with questions swirling around the entire organization. 

What is the fate of the offense and its staff? Will the defense improve under Nolan? Will McDaniels handle everything the Denver fans and media will throw at him? 

No one knows quite yet.

But, one thing that remains clear: Josh McDaniels is coaching on a tightrope.

If the offense falters, or if the defense does not improve, he will be criticized. His job will not be at stake, but Bronco fans are reluctant to accept anything but success, and will not be patient for long. 

Stay tuned Bronco fans; 2009 will be an interesting year.


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