Can you blame the Denver Broncos for firing Josh McDaniels?
Perhaps no NFL coach in recent memory has torn down a team as quickly as McDaniels, who was hired as a 32-year-old hotshot in January 2009 and fired less than 23 months later. He will forever be known as someone who clearly got too much too soon and was unwilling to do it any way but his own.
When McDaniels took over, the Broncos were on the doorstep of the playoffs and were a team that just needed some tinkering and refreshing after the 14-year Mike Shanahan era grew stale. McDaniels leaves Denver after 28 games with the franchise in terrible shape and without a true identity.
Broncos owner Pat Bowlen waffled on the coaching decision last week, but emphatically changed his mind 24 hours after his team was officially eliminated from playoff contention with a 3-9 record and a quarter of the season remaining. His decision answered the pleas from legions of Denver fans who have been calling for McDaniels’ head since Oct. 17 -- when the Broncos lost by 45 points at home to Oakland.
The Broncos fired McDaniels before even deciding who would be the interim coach. This is not a similar situation to the recent head-coaching changes in Minnesota and Dallas. There is no legitimate spark to be made, no season to salvage. The Broncos are in the look-ahead mode and they are doing so without McDaniels.
There are, of course, two smoking guns in this situation: the recent videotape scandal and McDaniels’ 5-17 record after starting his NFL head-coaching tenure with a 6-0 record.
The word around the franchise is that Bowlen and CEO Joe Ellis were very upset about the scandal. By not waiting until after the season to fire McDaniels, perhaps the Broncos can get out of paying McDaniels his salary for the final two years of his contract. That would certainly give Denver, which also has to pay Shanahan next year, a boost in hiring a replacement in January.
The NFL concluded that video director Steve Scarnecchia acted alone when he videotaped a San Francisco walk-through the day before the 49ers beat the Broncos in London on Oct. 31. The league had no proof McDaniels knew that Scarnecchia -- whom McDaniels knew when the two were in New England -- was planning to tape the practice. But McDaniels was still fined by the league for not disclosing the incident once he found out. That may be good enough reason for the team to prove it had cause to fire McDaniels.
The videotape incident was far from McDaniels’ only issue. He made several questionable calls in his short Denver tenure that all played a role in the Broncos’ demise.
McDaniels showed his feisty side less than two months into the job when he tried to get his backup quarterback in New England, Matt Cassel, in a trade that would have involved 25-year-old Pro Bowl quarterback Jay Cutler. McDaniels couldn’t score Cassel, who ended up in Kansas City, and then feuded with Cutler before shipping the quarterback to Chicago. Cutler is probably heading to the playoffs with the Bears this season while McDaniels is heading to the unemployment line.
Other famous McDaniels gaffes include trading running back Peyton Hillis to Cleveland for No. 3 quarterback Brady Quinn and trading Denver’s No. 1 pick in 2010 to take cornerback Alphonso Smith in the second round in 2009 -- only to give up on Smith this year.
McDaniels also parted ways with successful defensive coordinator Mike Nolan after one season and changed Shanahan’s patented zone-blocking running scheme to a more traditional power scheme. Denver’s run game has been at the bottom of the NFL nearly all season.
The Broncos went from one of the more attractive organizations in the NFL to one in total disarray. McDaniels will go down as one of the most reviled figures in Denver sports history.
The timing of his firing may have been a surprise, but in the end it was deserved.