AFC West: Steve Spagnuolo

Haley third in COY voting

February, 2, 2011
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Kansas City coach Todd Haley finished a distant third place in the Associated Press coach of the year voting.

New England coach Bill Belichick won the award for the third time. Tampa Bay’s Raheem Morris came in second place. This is how the 50-person vote went: Belichick earned 30 of a possible 50 votes, followed Morris (11.5), Haley (4.5), Atlanta's Mike Smith (1), Philadelphia's Andy Reid (1), Chicago’s Lovie Smith (1) and St. Louis' Steve Spagnuolo (1).

Belichick’s team went 14-2 despite being very young in key spots. Haley led Kansas City to a 10-6 record and its first AFC West title in seven years. The Chiefs won a total of 10 games in the previous three seasons. Prior to the end of the season, I wrote that Haley should win the award.

In the past few weeks, I didn’t think Haley would win because the way the Chiefs ended the season, but I thought he met the usual criteria to win the award. He oversaw a young team that exceeded expectations and made an unlikely playoff run. I thought the voting would be closer, but the bottom line is, I can’t argue with the masterful job Belichick did.

While Haley didn’t win the award, the Chiefs’ second-season coach showed he has a positive influence on his team and that he is one of the better young coaches in the NFL.

Todd Haley candidate for award

February, 2, 2011
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The Associated Press coach of the year will be presented Wednesday evening.

Kansas City Coach Todd Haley is a likely candidate for the award. There will likely be several candidates in what many consider to be a wide-open race. Haley’s competitors include Philadelphia’s Andy Reid, Tampa Bay’s Raheem Morris, St. Louis’ Steve Spagnuolo, Chicago’s Lovie Smith, Atlanta’s Mike Smith, New England’s Bill Belichick and Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin.

I wrote near the end of the regular season that Haley is the easy choice. I still think he should win. He led Kansas City to a 10-6 record in his second season as coach after the Chiefs won a total of only 10 games in the three previous seasons. It was also Kansas City's first AFC West title in seven years.

Haley completely changed the culture in Kansas City. Often coaches who direct a huge turnaround win the award. Thus, Haley has to be considered. We’ll see Wednesday night if the voters agree. What do you think? Fill the comment section of the post if you think Haley should win the award.

Evening AFC West news and notes

January, 19, 2011
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St. Louis coach Steve Spagnuolo said he did talk about the “SpyGate” incident involving the Broncos and Josh McDaniels before Spagnuolo hired McDaniels to be his offensive coordinator on Tuesday. McDaniels was fired nine days after it was announced the Broncos filmed a San Francisco walk–through practice the day before the two teams played in London on Oct. 31. McDaniels was fined by the NFL for not reporting it, but it was never proven McDaniels knew of the plan to tape the practice nor whether he viewed it. The team’s video director was fired.

Spagnuolo said he was satisfied with McDaniels’ response. McDaniels didn’t dwell much on his Denver days in his conference call with St. Louis media Wednesday. He said he was appreciative of his opportunity in Denver, but he made it clear he was ready to move forward with his new job.
  • New Baltimore defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano took a couple of shots at the Raiders. It had been reported that Pagano was a candidate to be defensive coordinator. It didn’t seem like the former Oakland assistant would have been interested.
  • Jackson’s attempt to make Baltimore assistant coach Al Saunders his offensive coordinator has taken the next step.
  • Oakland tight end Zach Miller was officially named to the AFC Pro Bowl roster. It was expected since San Diego tight Antonio Gates was not medically cleared to play. He has a foot injury.
Josh McDaniels’ could have ended up somewhere that made a bigger splash for the AFC West.

Had he went to Kansas City to be offensive coordinator, it would have been a gold mine of AFC West fodder. Had he gone to Minnesota, he would have faced the Denver Broncos -- who fired him in December after a disastrous 28-game run -- in 2011 and would square off against Denver nemesis Jay Cutler twice a season.

The fact that McDaniels landed in St. Louis as the Rams’ new offensive coordinator doesn’t offer any thrilling AFC West connections. Since the AFC West just played the NFC West, we won’t see McDaniels face Denver until 2014 unless he moves on.

And frankly, taking the St. Louis gig -- McDaniels also interviewed in Minnesota and talked to Seattle -- is McDaniels’ best path to career rehabilitation. I know its McDaniels’ goal to become as a head coach again within two seasons. Working with Rams’ young star quarterback Sam Bradford should help the cause of the 34-year-old McDaniels.

Yes, McDaniels’ tenure in Denver was bad, but it was mostly because of poor personnel decisions. He can coach offense. That much is clear.

So, if the Rams do well, McDaniels’ can resurrect his career.

It is interesting that he is getting his second chance from St. Louis coach Steve Spagnuolo, who was a top runner-up to McDaniels when Denver hired him. The Rams hired Spagnuolo shortly afterward.
Todd HaleyAl Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesTodd Haley has turned around the Chiefs much sooner than anyone, including himself, expected.
In August, Todd Haley had no idea his second season in Kansas City would be so delightfully better than his first season.

Still, he sensed he was on the right track -- even though it likely wouldn’t be the fast track to NFL riches.

“I knew last year wasn’t going to be easy or fun or smooth or comfortable,” Haley said on one of the final days of the Chiefs’ training camp in August. “And it lived up to expectations. ... But we were building a program and trying to change things. We’re doing it our way.”

Four months later, it is evident Haley did it his way better than any other NFL coach in 2010.

The Chiefs (10-5) are the surprise division winner in the AFC West and one of the biggest turnaround stories in the NFL. Kansas City was 4-12 in 2009 in Haley's first season after new Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli hired him away from Arizona, where he was the Cardinals' offensive coordinator. Haley’s final game with Arizona was a Super Bowl loss to Pittsburgh. After accepting the task in Kansas City, it seemed like that game would be Haley's last postseason experience for a while. The Chiefs, who last won the AFC West seven years ago, won only 10 games the three previous seasons.

Yet, Haley’s Chiefs -- who are 7-0 at home heading into Sunday’s regular-season finale against Oakland -- are preparing to face either New York, Baltimore or Pittsburgh on Jan. 8 or Jan. 9 in the wild-card round.

Haley’s work with this team has been stunning, and he's the easy choice for NFL Coach of the Year.

Who else could it be?

Sure, St. Louis coach Steve Spagnuolo could get consideration if his 7-8 Rams beat Seattle to win the NFC West. It would be a huge improvement for the Rams, who went 1-15 last season. But Haley’s work this season isn’t less impressive. Here’s a tiebreaker: Haley’s Chiefs beat Spagnuolo’s Rams in St. Louis easily in Week 15.

Other candidates include Philadelphia’s Andy Reid, Chicago’s Lovie Smith, Atlanta’s Mike Smith, New England’s Bill Belichick and Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin. No one has done the job Haley has done this season.

Not much was expected this season in Kansas City -- even in Kansas City. The Chiefs were just hoping to be more competitive in 2010 than they were in 2009 and continue to build the program on both sides of the ball. Instead, Haley has orchestrated the biggest one-season turnaround in Kansas City history.

“Through experience I have learned that you can get things going at least in the right direction,” Haley told reporters this week. “For us to get to this spot, this quick, is really great. I can’t say that it was necessarily expected.’’

Haley has overseen a major reconstruction on offense and defense. Offensively, the Chiefs are one of the more efficient and hard-nosed teams in the league. Quarterback Matt Cassel has made great strides this season. The running tandem of Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones leads the NFL’s No. 1-ranked run offense. Kansas City has committed only 12 turnovers, three behind New England, which leads the league with nine. The NFL record for fewest turnovers in a season is 12 by the Chiefs in the nine-game strike-shortened 1982 season. (The Dolphins and Giants each had 13 turnovers in the 2008 season.)

[+] EnlargeDerrick Johnson
AP Photo/Ed ZurgaAlthough he clashed with Todd Haley in 2009, Derrick Johnson had a Pro Bowl season in 2010 and was awarded a contract extension.
On defense, Kansas City is aggressive and timely. In 2008 and ’09, Kansas City combined for 32 sacks, including an NFL record-low 10 in ’08. Kansas City has 34 sacks this season.

There’s no doubt Kansas City has benefited from the additions of offensive coordinator Charlie Weis and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel. Haley said as early as the NFL combine in February that the hiring of the former key New England assistants would help free him to do more of what he wanted to as the CEO of the staff.

Haley, who is fourth in the league in going for it on fourth down (21 times), is not afraid of being different. Who can forget when assistant coach Maurice Carthon brought a portable toilet onto the field for players to catch passes out of to improve their concentration during training camp? During a minicamp, Haley had select veterans dress as coaches and instruct their teammates in an exercise to build team chemistry. Haley had the same thing in mind on a hot day in training camp when he suddenly blew the whistle on practice and sent his team to the movies.

Still, Haley has a reputation for having a hard edge. He argued with Terrell Owens in Dallas and Anquan Boldin in Arizona as an assistant coach. In his first year in Kansas City, Brian Waters, Dwayne Bowe and Derrick Johnson spent time in Haley’s doghouse.

To his credit, Haley doesn’t believe in burying players. This summer, Haley said he was thrilled that players persevered through the culture change from the Herm Edwards era to his program. Edwards was known as a player-friendly coach. Haley was not interested in adding to his Facebook friend collection when he came to Kansas City. Haley said in August he felt like his players were all “buying into” his program.

This year, Waters and Bowe made the Pro Bowl. Johnson had a career year and was awarded a contract extension.

It’s clear that Haley’s master plan is working in Kansas City and it is clear he was the right choice by Pioli. Haley has now won a division title with five different teams as an NFL coach, either as an assistant or head coach. No other active head coach can say that.

There’s no doubt Haley deserves to be the coach of the year. Still, he’s sticking to his preseason mantra. The job is not done.

“I know we have a lot of work to do, and I don’t think we’re there yet,” Haley said. “We still have our issues and things we have to continue to work on, and I don’t think anything has changed for us as a team. We just have to get a little better every day and that will give us our best chance.”
Matt CasselJeff Curry/US PresswireLess than two weeks after an appendectomy, Matt Cassel led the Chiefs to a critical win over the Rams.
ST. LOUIS –- Brian Waters wants Kansas City Chiefs fans to fully appreciate what they witnessed Sunday and what they have in their quarterback.

Eleven days after having an appendectomy that limited him in practice and kept his availability for Sunday’s crucial game against the St. Louis Rams in question until moments before kickoff, Matt Cassel lifted the Chiefs to a crucial 27-13 win. The victory was an important step toward securing Kansas City's first AFC West championship since 2003.

“After today, fans have to appreciate this guy,” said Waters, the Chiefs’ standout 11-year guard. “I know a lot of people doubted Matt, but they shouldn't doubt him anymore. There’s no question he’s our leader and he’s a very good football player. I told him before the game that he didn’t need to be Superman out here today ... but on a few plays, he actually looked like Superman.”

Added Kansas City running back Thomas Jones on Cassel’s performance: “For a guy to come back, after having an organ removed from his body ... it’s definitely extraordinary.”

If the Chiefs end up going to the playoffs, Cassel’s performance Sunday will go down in Kansas City annals as one of the more heroic performances in its professional sports history. Cassel never truly tested his strength all week and sat out a portion of pregame warm-ups just to save energy.

“This is not a common thing,” Kansas City coach Todd Haley said. “[It’s] not a thing we have had a lot of experience with, so you have to depend on the medical staff and be sure that you are not putting someone in a compromising situation.”

Well after backups Brodie Croyle and Tyler Palko were on the field throwing balls to receivers, Cassel gingerly entered the field and played short toss with a Kansas City support member. Yet, when the game started, it was clear Cassel was on the field for more than a cameo appearance or merely moral support. He was playing to energize Kansas City's playoff hopes.

Cassel moved without pain and led Kansas City to 20 unanswered points. In the end, Cassel was his usual efficient self, completing 15 of 29 passes for 184 yards. He threw for one touchdown and was intercepted once. Those aren’t exactly classic star numbers. But without Cassel leading this offense, the Chiefs have proved they can’t move the ball.

“I knew he was either going to be throwing up blood or making plays,” Waters said of Cassel.

Added St. Louis coach Steve Spagnuolo: “I think his statement was, 'Hey, I’m not afraid to run it, I’m not afraid to throw it. I’m here to play ball.’ "

On Sunday, Cassel led Kansas City to 27 points. Last week, with Cassel resting on his couch, the Chiefs had 67 yards offense as the Croyle-led squad was brutalized, 31-0, against San Diego.

After Cassel’s performance and its bounce back from last week's disaster-by-the-sea, Kansas City is now 9-5. If the Chiefs win their final two games -- at home next week against Tennessee and on Jan. 2 against Oakland -- they will win the division. If the Chiefs -- who are 6-0 at home this season -- lose once and San Diego (8-6) wins its final two games, the Chargers will win the division. San Diego plays at Cincinnati next week and at Denver to close out the season. (Check out ESPN's NFL Playoff Machine and playoff standings.)

“As the quarterback, I certainly want to be out there as much as possible,” Cassel said. “Any chance I had to play this week, I was going to do it.”

Cassel’s presence clearly lifted Kansas City.

“To see our quarterback rush back after an injury like that was impressive,” Kansas City receiver Chris Chambers said. “It made us all elevate our game. Matt showed he’s something special.”

Last season and earlier this season, many Kansas City fans were dissatisfied with Cassel, who was acquired from New England in 2009 and was given a $40 million deal. After a sluggish start in 2010, many thought the Chiefs should not exercise the option on Cassel after this season and perhaps pursue Philadelphia’s Kevin Kolb in the offseason. Over the past two months, though, Cassel has been one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL. He has thrown 24 touchdown passes with just five interceptions this season.

Kansas City has the NFL’s best running game (it added 210 yards on the ground Sunday) and a surprisingly stout defense -- the basis of a solid team. On Sunday, Cassel showed he’s the nucleus of the team. It is clear he is going to be the Chiefs’ quarterback for the long term. If Kansas City is still playing in January, Cassel will give them a fighting chance.

“He was [a hero],” Waters said. “What he did out there and how he lifted us today was a big deal.”

Final Word: AFC West

December, 17, 2010
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 15:

Chiefs are keeping their hands on the ball: One of the reasons Kansas City has exceeded expectations this season -- at 8-5 it leads the AFC West with three games to go -- is its superior ball security. Kansas City has given up only nine turnovers. It is tied with New England for the fewest in the NFL heading into the Chiefs’ critical game in St. Louis. The Chiefs have 18 takeaways.

[+] EnlargeJosh McDaniels
AP Photo/ Jack DempseyA 45-point loss to the Raiders earlier this season was the beginning of the end for Josh McDaniels.
Revisiting the beginning of the end of the McDaniels era: The cries for Josh McDaniels’ firing began in October when the Oakland Raiders ripped apart the Broncos at home in a 59-14 laugher. McDaniels was booed off the field and he apologized for the loss after the game. But the damage was done. All of McDaniels’ previous misdeeds were magnified by the loss to the Raiders. You just can’t get beat by 45 points at home by your rivals and survive. So, it’s no surprise the rematch in Oakland will be played without McDaniels. He was fired last week and replaced by interim coach Eric Studesville.

Will the road team win again? The road team in the Oakland-Denver series has won the past five games dating back to the season opener in 2008. Other than Oakland’s one-point win at Denver last season, the games have not been close. They’ve all been at least 20-point wins for the road team. Will the road mastery continue in this series Sunday in Oakland? You never know, but the Raiders have something to play for and Denver is in disarray. It would be a shocker.

Coach of the year battle: When the Chiefs visit the Rams on Sunday, both teams will be playing for something. The Chiefs have a half-game lead in the AFC West and the 6-7 Rams are tied for first place in the NFC West. A lot of credit to goes to the two coaches, Todd Haley of the Chiefs and Steve Spagnuolo of the Rams. The two second-year coaches have made great progress and both probably will receive coach of the year votes.

Chiefs bring heat from way back: The Chiefs lead the NFL in corner and safety blitzes. Opposing quarterbacks have a passer rating of only 51.9 when the Chiefs blitz, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The Chiefs have pressured the quarterback with defensive backs on 38 pass attempts this season. Opposing quarterbacks have completed only 14 passes in those situations and Kansas City has six sacks. The Chiefs haven’t overused blitzes from the defensive backfield and perhaps that’s why they have been effective. Opponents don’t always expect it. Against a rookie quarterback like Rams’ Sam Bradford, the Chiefs may want to unleash the pressure from secondary to take advantage of Bradford’s inexperience.

What could have been in Denver

December, 7, 2010
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There is no doubting that Josh McDaniels was a hot prospect when Denver chose the then 32-year-old to replace Mike Shanahan in January 2009. He was sought after and if Denver didn't hire him, another NFL team would have snagged New England’s offensive coordinator.

But some questioned the hire, because the Broncos really needed help on defense. Shanahan left Denver in fine shape on offense. Originally, the plan was to keep offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates, who had a good relationship with 25-year-old Pro Bowl quarterback Jay Cutler, and pursue a defensive coach.

Three of the seven people interviewed for the opportunity to replace Shanahan were defensive coordinators who are now NFL head coaches. Among the runners up were Steve Spagnuolo (now St. Louis’ coach), Raheem Morris (Tampa Bay’s head coach) and Leslie Frazier (Minnesota’s interim coach). All three have done well in their head-coaching roles.

The other coaches who interviewed for the job were Dallas interim coach Jason Garrett, former Denver assistant and current Houston offensive coordinator Rick Dennison and Miami assistant head coach Todd Bowles.

In the end, Denver went with McDaniels and will have to live with the idea that it let successful coaches like Spagnuolo, Morris and Frazier get away. If Minnesota doesn’t promote Frazier to the permanent job, it would not be a surprise if Denver takes a serious look at Frazier if he’d be interested in the job.

Wrap-up: Rams 36, Broncos 33

November, 28, 2010
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A look at a Denver Broncos team in disarray:

What it means: The Broncos are playing out the string. They are 3-8 and are going nowhere fast. This looks like a team without an identity and without an easy solution.

Tomorrow’s talker: Josh McDaniels’ life just got more difficult. His team is 5-16 since it started last season, 6-0. His latest loss came a day after it was revealed that the Broncos and McDaniels were fined a combined $100,000 after the NFL determined that video director Steve Scarnecchia filmed a San Francisco walk-through in London a day before the 49ers beat Denver. The league determined that Scarnecchia acted alone and that McDaniels didn’t watch the film, but he wasn’t initially forthright about it. The issues are piling up for McDaniels. Losing at home to a team coached by a runner-up for the job he got -- Steve Spagnuolo -- won’t take the heat off of McDaniels, whose program appears to be a complete mess. The Broncos were never in this type of shape as a program in the 14 years of the Mike Shanahan era that preceded this regime.

Trending: Denver quarterback Kyle Orton continued his ridiculous season. He threw for 347 yards and three touchdown passes. Orton has thrown for 3,370 yards this season. Orton is a true bright spot.

What’s next: The Broncos go to Kansas City. The Chiefs will be looking for redemption and looking by 20 points at Denver two weeks ago. McDaniels upset Kansas City coach Todd Haley who did not shake McDaniels’ hand after the game. Haley apologized for his actions the next day.

Final Word: AFC West

November, 26, 2010
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 12:

[+] EnlargeDarren McFadden
Jason Bridge/US PresswireThe Pittsburgh Steelers limited Darren McFadden to just 14 yards on 10 carries.
Raiders need to get running again: It is clear the Raiders’ best chance of winning is on the ground. Oakland, which is ranked second in the NFL in rushing yards per game behind Kansas City, was stuffed on the ground in a 32-point loss at Pittsburgh. Darren McFadden, who was leading the NFL in per game yardage average, had just 14 yards on 10 carries. Oakland and McFadden have to find a way to get the ground attack going against visiting Miami. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Oakland is second in the NFL with 14 runs of 20-plus yards. McFadden has eight runs of 20-plus yards himself. A key for the Raiders is re-establishing the inside running game. It led the NFL with a 5.5 per carry average on inside runs. However, in Pittsburgh, the Raiders averaged just 2.0 yards per carry on inside runs. It seemed to stifle the entire offense.

What could have been: Steve Spagnuolo will see a very changed Denver Broncos team Sunday when he visits for the first time since he interviewed for the head-coaching job in January 2009 after Mike Shanahan was fired. Spagnuolo was a runner-up for the Denver job, along with Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris and Minnesota interim coach Leslie Frazier. The job went to then-New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. Spagnuolo, who was the Giants’ defensive coordinator and was credited with stopping McDaniels' offense in the Giants' stunning Super Bowl win in 2008, soon became the head man in St. Louis. The attraction of a defensive coach like Spagnuolo in Denver was that he might improve the Broncos’ weak spot and keep the same offense that was atop of the NFL under Shanahan. Instead, Denver went with a young offensive mind in McDaniels. In his second season, McDaniels has altered the team both offensively and defensively. McDaniels is 5-15 after starting 6-0 last season. There’s no guarantee that Spagnuolo would have fared better in Denver than McDaniels has, but I’m sure the roster would be extremely different than it is now starting with quarterback Jay Cutler, who was shipped to Chicago after feuding with McDaniels.

The Brothers Turner: I don’t like our chances of seeing San Diego coach Nov Turner dressing up like his brother, Ron, and making fun of him in anticipation of the Turner family reunion Sunday in Indianapolis, as the Jets’ Rex Ryan did before playing Cleveland and his brother, Rob, earlier this month. But I’m sure the game means as much to the Turner brothers as it did to the more high-profile Ryans. Ron Turner is in his first season as Indianapolis’ receivers coach. He was previously the Bears’ offensive coordinator.

Todd Haley is Mr. Challenge: When Todd Haley throws the red flag, he must know something. Heading into Sunday’s road game at Seattle, Haley is a perfect 3-for-3 on official challenges this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He is the only coach in the NFL who is perfect this season. So, if you see Haley yank out the challenge flag out Sunday, Chiefs fans, you’ll have to like his chances.

AFC West reunion in Oakland: When they host Miami on Sunday, the Raiders will see two familiar faces -- quarterback Tyler Thigpen and receiver Brandon Marshall. Thigpen will start if Chad Henne can’t play. Marshall is dealing with a hamstring injury and it now looks like Marshall may not play. Still, Oakland will be ready for both players. Thigpen started two games against Oakland for the Chiefs in 2008., going 1-1. His win over Oakland was Thigpen's only win as an NFL starter. Thigpen was 29-for-55 for 313 yards against Oakland in the two games. He threw one touchdown, and he was intercepted twice. Marshall, who started playing extensively in his second season, played five games against Oakland from 2007-09 while he was with Denver. He had 27 catches for 373 yards and two touchdowns in the five games.

McDaniels revisits bad memory

November, 25, 2010
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The last time Josh McDaniels coached against Steve Spagnuolo, it didn’t end well for McDaniels’ team.

The New York Giants stunned the New England Patriots, 17-14, in the Super Bowl in 2008. The loss dropped New England to 18-1. McDaniels was the coordinator of the Patriots’ record-breaking offense. Spagnuolo was the Giants’ defensive coordinator.

Spagnuolo‘s defense stifled McDaniels’ offense with constant pressure. It was considered one of the greatest upsets in NFL history and McDaniels remembers the loss vividly. He told me in the summer of 2009, months after leaving New England for the head job in Denver, that he’d never forget that game.

He remembers it even more this week because Spagnuolo and the St. Louis Rams visit Denver on Sunday. McDaniels has reviewed the painful loss in preparing for Sunday’s game.

“I think this is a situation where it makes sense to go back there, because there are some things that certainly they found to take advantage of, and I think the schemes are still the same,” McDaniels told reporters in Denver on Thursday. “The players are obviously different on both sides of the ball, but the scheme itself is very much the same for them and for us. Just trying to make sure you cover your basics and don’t let something happen two or three times this week that may have hurt us then.”
The Donovan McNabb trade hysteria took another turn Thursday when St. Louis coach Steve Spagnuolo poured water on reports the Rams had an offer on the table for the Eagles’ 33-year-old quarterback.

There was a report Wednesday that Oakland and Buffalo inquired about McNabb. Eagles coach Andy Reid did say Wednesday the Eagles were talking to teams.

If the Rams are not interested, Oakland’s chances of landing McNabb could increase. It was reported that McNabb wants to go to a contender and likely wouldn’t be interested staying long-term with the Raiders or the Bills if he was traded there. He is a free agent after this season.

There are plenty of obstacles for Oakland if it wants McNabb, but if the Rams are out of the mix, then the competition has lessened some.

AFC West news and notes

January, 17, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

It's clear that Josh McDaniels, Denver's new coach, wants to put his own stamp on the Broncos' passing offense.  At the same time however, expect him to be open to finding ways to maintain Denver's successful running game.

McDaniels will call the plays and he has brought in Carolina assistant Mike McCoy to be the passing coordinator. Former San Francisco assistant Adam Gase will coach the receivers. They replace Jeremy Bates and Jedd Fisch, respectively.

Some in Denver's building wanted to keep Bates and Fisch but McDaniels was given the final call. Still, he kept Denver's running attack in place by keeping run-game coordinator/offensive line coach Rick Dennison and running backs coach Bobby Turner. Bates is being considered in Detroit and could emerge as a candidate in Tampa Bay.

Elsewhere in the conference:

The Oakland Tribune reports the Raiders are warning against fans expecting freshly fired Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden and and general manager Bruce Allen to return to Oakland. The return of the two men, especially Gruden, is a long shot for many reasons. Give Oakland credit for trying to keep the speculation of a Gruden return from growing.

The Kansas City Star is reporting defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham is interviewing in Detroit. Two other Kansas City assistants have taken jobs elsewhere. The fact that Cunningham is talking to another team could be a sign inside the building that the expectation is that new general manager Scott Pioli will end up firing coach Herm Edwards.

The idea earlier in the week that Steve Spagnuolo would be high on Pioli's wish list. That, of course, is out of the question as Spagnuolo became the coach in St. Louis Saturday. Chris Mortensen's report that the Giants are targeting Dom Capers as Spagnuolo's replacement could affect Denver's pursuit of him as an assistant.

Former Chicago secondary coach Steve Wilks is a candidate for the same job in San Diego.

Denver coaching search update

January, 9, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

It doesn't look like Bill Romanowski's plea to be the Denver Broncos' next head coach will be considered.

According to sources, the current plan is for the team to hash through the seven candidates it has interviewed in a five-day span and pare down the list to two or three candidates who will be brought back for a second interview. Sources close to the situation also believe Mike Shanahan's replacement could be named within the next week. Of course, the team could change course and interview more candidates but that is not the current plan.

Candidates for the job include New York Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Raheem Morris, New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and Dallas offensive coordinator Jason Garrett. The Broncos, sources say, were very impressed with most of the candidates and feel like they will find a good fit when the search ends.

Meanwhile, sources close to the situation said that Cleveland has yet to contact former Denver general manager Ted Sundquist about their open GM posittion, but that Sundquist is on the team's radar. He was fired by Shanahan last year.

Denver coaching candidate update

January, 7, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

Since firing Mike Shanahan eight days ago, the Broncos have been busy interviewing potential replacements. Wednesday, they are interviewing their sixth candidate. A seventh candidate will be interviewed Thursday.

Here is an update with information on the newest candidates on top:

Leslie Frazier, Minnesota Vikings, defensive coordinator

Interview schedule: Wednesday.

The skinny: Frazier has been a hot candidate for the past couple of years. He is credited for turning around Minnesota's defense. Denver's defense is in a major need of an overhaul.

Todd Bowles, Miami Dolphins, secondary coach

Interview schedule: Thursday

The skinny: Bowles is young but many NFL insiders speak highly of him. He is considered a head coach in waiting. Detroit is also interested in him.

Steve Spagnuolo, New York Giants, defensive coordinator

When interviewed: Saturday.

The skinny: He is one of the most sought after current coordinators in the league. His unit has consistently been one of the best in the NFL. Denver is said to be very intrigued by Spagnuolo. Some consider him a favorite for the job. The Jets are also in hot pursuit.

Josh McDaniels, New England Patriots, offensive coordinator

When interviewed: Sunday.

The skinny: McDaniels, 32, is considered one of the better young offensive minds in the league. He did a brilliant job preparing Matt Cassel after Tom Brady was lost for the season in Week 1. The Broncos may be leaning toward a defensive coach, but considering Denver's strong offensive pieces, getting someone like McDaniels to take over for Shanahan could be tempting.McDaniels has interviewed with Cleveland, although former Jets coach Eric Mangini was announced as the Browns head coach Wednesday.

Raheem Morris, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, defensive coordinator

When interviewed: Monday.

The skinny: Morris is basically the defensive version of McDaniels. Morris, too, is 32. He was just promoted to defensive coordinator in Tampa Bay. He is inexperienced but considered a potential coaching star. He has a chance to win the job with a dynamite interview.

Jason Garrett, Dallas Cowboys, offensive coordinator

When interviewed: Tuesday.

The skinny: He was the hot coaching prospect last year and is the supposed coach-in-waiting in Dallas. His shine may have lost some luster after the drama on the offensive side of the ball in Dallas this season. Still, Denver has long been intrigued by Garrett. He'll get a long look.

Rick Dennison, Denver Broncos, run game coordinator

When interviewed: Tuesday

The skinny: A former Denver player and a longtime Denver assistant, Dennison knows the Broncos' way very well. Still, he has to be considered a major long shot.

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