In a move that will come as a surprise to some and a fait accompli to others, the Denver Broncos have relieved head coach Josh McDaniels of his duties. The news was first announced on the team's Twitter account, and confirmed by Adam Schefter of ESPN and Jason La Canfora of the NFL Network.
It was a move that was a long time coming for team owner Patrick Bowlen, but he's going to pay for the impetuous decision to hire McDaniels before the 2009 season. Whenever the Broncos hire their next head coach, they'll be paying three guys -- former head coach Mike Shanahan, McDaniels and whoever replaces McDaniels -- to coach the team in 2011 ... and they'll owe money to McDaniels and replacement in 2012 as well. When Bowlen fired Shanahan after the 2008 season, he still owed him $21 million on the three years remaining in Shanahan's contract, and McDaniels is owed nearly $7 million on his remaining two years.
You can probably put Bowlen squarely in the "I can't afford a lockout in 2011!" group of owners.
"My decision to relieve Josh McDaniels as head coach was not taken lightly," Bowlen said in a team statement. "I will always be appreciative of his passion, enthusiasm and hard work, and I thank him for his efforts. In the end, I was not satisfied with the results and the direction this team was headed. The decision to make a change was extremely difficult but one that needed to be made for this organization and our fans.
"Everyone, myself included, is accountable for our disappointing season and is now responsible for restoring the culture of winning that has been established by this franchise. Our entire organization is completely focused on returning to the level of prosperity that our fans expect and deserve from the Denver Broncos."
McDaniels, who had led the Broncos to a 5-17 record since the 6-0 start began his campaign in 2009, may have burned more bridges in a shorter time than any coach or executive in recent NFL history. Never mind the mind-boggling personnel decisions (we'll get to those in a bit); the recent news that Broncos video operations director Steve Scarnecchia had taped a San Francisco 49ers walkthrough practice when the Broncos and 49ers faced off in London this season was a huge embarrassment to the franchise and to Bowlen. Bowlen recently gave McDaniels the dreaded vote of confidence, but a 10-6 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in which McDaniels' precious offense gained a total of 117 yards through the air may have been the nail in the coffin.
[Rewind: Another troubled NFL team fires coach]
But the real "legacy" McDaniels will leave in Denver is one of historically bad personnel management. McDaniels jettisoned Jay Cutler(notes) and Brandon Marshall(notes), let key cogs like Tony Scheffler(notes) and Peyton Hillis(notes) go for little to nothing in trade value, traded second-round cornerback Alphonso Smith(notes) to the Detroit Lions for tight end Dan Gronkowski(notes) (the worst of the three football-playing Gronkowskis) after trading a first-round pick to move up and get Smith in the first place, and perhaps the dumbest move of all -- letting defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, the architect of Denver's miraculous 2009 defensive turnaround, out the door because the two coaches didn't see eye-to-eye.
Schefter reports that running backs coach Eric Studesville will take over as interim coach.