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Broncos believe they have a special coach

Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson

OAKLAND -- Vonnie Holliday had heard the stories about the Denver Broncos under young head coach Josh McDaniels when he was deciding whether to join the team a week before the start of the season.

McDaniels had almost attained villain status in Denver. He ran a Pro Bowl quarterback out of town. He fought with a Pro Bowl receiver. He traded a first-round pick in next year’s draft. He relied on his New England Patriots roots more than anything else as he built his roster. He didn’t add any recognizable names to his defensive front.

The Broncos, after 14 years of mostly good times in the Mike Shanahan era, were being questioned nationally. There were whispers about whether the kid from Canton, Ohio, would go one and done in Denver. There was arguably no coach in the history of the NFL who faced more scrutiny before walking the sideline for the first time than McDaniels.

“I heard all of that,” Holliday said Sunday. “But when I was talking to some coaches on this staff, guys who were much older and much more experienced than Coach McDaniels, they said, ‘Don’t listen.’ They said some good things were happening here. They said Coach McDaniels was special ... it didn’t take me long to realize they were right. There’s something about Josh McDaniels.”

Three games into McDaniels' NFL head-coaching career, and it’s difficult to argue with Holliday. There is something about McDaniels.

His Broncos dismantled the Oakland Raiders on the road in a 23-3 victory Sunday. They dominated every phase of the game as they raised their record to 3-0 against the shell-shocked Raiders.

If there's an early favorite for the surprise team of 2009, it has to be Denver, and McDaniels has to be considered an early candidate NFL coach of the year.

Of course, it has been only three games and Denver is now entering a brutal 10-game stretch: Dallas, New England, at San Diego, at Baltimore, Pittsburgh, at Washington, San Diego, the New York Giants, at Kansas City and at Indianapolis. Sure, the Redskins and the Chiefs don’t look like killers, but this a meaty schedule.

“Nothing gets better than 3-0. But we also know that we are very humble and we have got to understand that it’s a long way to go and a lot of things to improve on,” McDaniels said. “But we are happy to be 3-0.”

We’ll find out much more about Denver in the coming weeks. But what we know now is the Broncos are undefeated and look much better than they were expected to be. Quarterback Kyle Orton, acquired in the controversial Jay Cutler trade, is not terrific, but he is efficient and Denver is running the ball well.

Defensively, Denver is much improved from the past couple of seasons. The Broncos have allowed an NFL-low 16 points and one touchdown this season. They have created eight turnovers, five less than all of last season.

In addition to McDaniels’ impact on his new team, many around the league have wondered if New England’s unsteady offensive start has anything to do with playing without McDaniels, whose offense set records.

McDaniels said he does not feel vindicated after being questioned about his decisions during his first offseason.

“The people that we care about and their opinions are the ones in our building," he said. "We know what we are doing. We feel comfortable and confident in our players, with who we drafted and what we’ve done. I’ve never wavered from it for one minute and we aren’t now.”

So far, the Broncos couldn’t be happier with the decision to fire Shanahan and replace him with McDaniels, who turned 33 in April. Shanahan was fired because his message got stale. The Broncos hired McDaniels because they thought he’d bring energy and much-needed youthful zeal.

McDaniels is a guy who does television shows in jeans and Birkenstocks. He laughs with team employees in the building and he twirls his whistle in practice. When Holliday first visited the Broncos, he saw a young man sitting at a desk, wearing a sweatshirt and a hat pulled low to his eyes with his feet kicked up. He said he had no idea it was the coach.

“From our first meeting I knew [Denver owner Pat] Bowlen made the right decision,” Denver receiver Brandon Stokley said. “We’re lucky we have him. We’ve all bought into his plan.”

Several Denver veterans said what sticks out most about McDaniels is his belief that the Broncos are going to win every game. He oozes confidence. When I met with McDaniels in August, he made a point of saying he has never been part of a team that was even .500, dating back to his CYA basketball team when he was 9. He said he has always been a winner and has no plans of ever being a loser.

“He’s all about the details,” Holliday said. “He breaks down every potential game situation. He knows our upcoming opponent so well ... Take age out of this thing. He’s got football knowledge that goes way beyond his years. I really think something special is happening here.”

It’s early, but after three games it’s difficult to quarrel with what McDaniels has done in Denver.