- Jackie MacMullan, ESPNBoston.com columnist
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Josh McDaniels, the newest Patriot hire, may or may not be on the field Saturday against the Denver Broncos. He may or may not have assumed the job as New England's defacto offensive coordinator this past week while Bill O'Brien packed his things for his exodus to (Un)Happy Valley. McDaniels may have had tremendous input into the Patriots game plan to thwart the Broncos and their messiah, Tim Tebow -- or he may have played a very minor role in the preparation for a football game that New England must win to preserve its credibility as one of the elite teams in the NFL.
We truthfully have very little idea what Josh McDaniels has done or will do, but that hasn't stopped his presence from dominating the news for the past week. McDaniels has remained mum since he was released from his job as offensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams and re-joined the Patriots staff, yet he's emerged as a polarizing figure.
Denver fans (and one of their esteemed columnists) cried foul upon learning McDaniels was a late add to the Patriots brain trust. As the recent former head coach of the Broncos, they reasoned, he has intimate knowledge of his former players' tendancies. Although present Denver coach John Fox correctly pointed out that his predecessor "doesn't know our offense," McDaniels drafted and worked with Tim Tebow, Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Zane Beadles, to name a few.
Here's the major flaw with conspiracy theories regarding McDaniels' "inside information." Josh McDaniels was returning to New England whether the Patriots opponent this week was the Broncos, the Cincinnati Bengals or the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Patriots didn't orchestrate the hiring of Bill O'Brien as Penn State's new head football coach, nor did they have a hand in the decision of the St. Louis Rams to fire coach Steve Spagnuolo, thereby making his staff, which included McDaniels, lame ducks.
Had the injury-depleted Pittsburgh Steelers hung on to beat Denver, McDaniels would have been in the shadows this week, helping to prepare for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, James Harrison and Co, a footnote instead of a headline.
Lets get real: Josh McDaniels is news because of his ties to Tebow.
McDaniels was Lord Voldemort during his year-and-a-half stay in Denver. He was reportedly acerbic with the players and the staff. The Broncos were caught embroiled in a senseless videotaping scandal on his watch. And... he drafted Tebow with the 25th pick in the first round of the 2010 NFL draft.
For that, he was roundly ridiculed and, some eight months later, eventually fired. Losing 9 of 12 games to start the 2010 season certainly didn't help his cause.
But now you see why McDaniels is so intriguing. He was ahead of the Tebow curve.
Broncos lore has it that McDaniels and Denver general manager Brian Xanders flew to Gainesville three days before the draft to run Tebow through some drills and ask him a few questions to gauge his football acumen. They came away smitten, much in the way coach Bill Belichick did after a pre-draft meal with Tebow in the North End.
The difference was the Patriots had a Hall of Fame quarterback in the fold; the Broncos clearly didn't.
Everyone expected McDaniels would trade incumbent Kyle Orton and move his prized young draftee into the spotlight. The reason it didn't happen in Tebow's first season, according to Josh's younger brother Ben McDaniels, who served as the quartebacks coach in Denver, was simple: Tebow wasn't ready.
"The offense was so complex,'' Ben explained. "Just even starting out at the line of scrimmage was so much for a young quarterback to handle. Just getting into the huddle, getting the play started involved so much.
"It took time for Tim to get his feet wet, to get himself comfortable with the offense, for his ability to play intelligently within the system to develop. It was a natural progression, really.''
Ben McDaniels worked closely with Tebow in 2010 and grew to admire him.
"His love for the game is really infectious," Ben McDaniels said. "He loves football and he loves to compete. He had all these intangibles that were really attractive and infectious to his teammates and his coaches.
"I respected his approach to the game. He was willing to do whatever it took."
After both McDaniels were canned, Josh remained in the pros while Ben moved on to Columbia University, where he is the offensive coordinator.
So, how much credit does Josh McDaniels deserve for Tebow's emergence in the Mile High City?
He correctly identified the kid's leadership skills and the intangibles that have defined him as a winner throughout his career.
Yet even McDaniels, should he ever be allowed to speak, would undoubtedly credit current Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy for tailoring an offense to Tebow's strengths and Fox for switching to a quarterback that did not suit his original blueprint.
The Tebow "haters" object to his unorthodox style. He's not fundamentally sound, he holds the ball too long, he is not accurate in his throws or his reads. He's not a real quarterback, whatever that means ("He throws off his back foot!" I can hear Boomer Esiason screeching from here, and, of course, he's right). There is also a segment that believes Tebow is a showboat, his praying pose a grandstanding move to exploit his religious beliefs for personal glory.
The Tebow "worshippers" bristle at such rubbish. His Christian values are refreshing. His work ethic, positive attitude and emphasis on "team" is what athletics should be about. His willingness to kneel before God and credit Him for his physical gifts is the ultimate compliment to his Lord, his savior.
Most of us are neither "haters" nor "worshippers." We're merely spectactors bedazzled by the incredible story of a young man who has captured our imagination with his unfailing optimism, his electric personality, his wholesome attributes and his undeniable success, even if it is, at times, inexplicable.
You remember Brady, don't you? He's that former sixth-round pick who no one paid any attention to until Drew Bledsoe went down and Brady stepped in to permanently re-write the Patriots history books.
Brady has said all the right things this week (he almost always does, unless he's coercing his fans into getting "lubed up" for a big game), but he's competitive, and you can be sure all the fawning over Tebow has irritated him.
New England's franchise quarterback has a resume that speaks for itself. He already has three Super Bowls rings -- all three of them, incidentally, under Josh McDaniels.
Ah yes, back to McDaniels. The debate rages on how much input or influence he will have on Saturday's matchup.
Either way, the guy can't go wrong. If Tebow shines, McDaniels owns a piece of that. And if Brady wins again, they will march on together in search of ring number four.
Longtime Boston journalist Jackie MacMullan is a columnist for ESPNBoston.com.