January 19, 2010
Denver Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels probably hasn't meant to base the first year of running his team on a kinder, gentler version of "The Killing Fields", but it's starting to look like it. He alienated Jay Cutler(notes) out of town, benched Brandon Marshall(notes) toward the end of the season (making it virtually impossible for the Broncos to retain their most talented receiver), and now ... well, he's really blown it. Word came out today that McDaniels and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan have "mutually agreed" to part ways. After what Nolan did for the Broncos, team ownership should be completely outraged at this turn of events.
Under defensive coordinator Bob Slowik, the 2008 Broncos put up the second-worst Defensive DVOA of the last 15 years; only the 2008 Detroit Lions (you know, the 0-16 Detroit Lions) were worse. Nolan came in, switched to 3-4 personnel from the old 4-3, installed his scheme, and the 2009 Broncos enjoyed a historic defensive renaissance. They put up the second-largest single-season turnaround in the history of Football Outsiders' numbers (only the 1998 Miami Dolphins were better), and the 6-0 record that McDaniels received so much credit for had a lot more to do with Nolan -- the Broncos gave up just 66 points in those games, while new quarterback Kyle Orton(notes) never threw for over two touchdowns in a game, and the running game was decidedly average. Nolan's defense did fall apart in the season finale against the Chiefs, but by then, the Broncos were pole vaulting with a rope -- their personnel deficits caught up to them, as did the results of McDaniels' temper tantrums.
The Broncos will eventually overcome the loss of Cutler and the probable departure of Marshall, but it's very difficult to find coaches who can bring their players to the heights of their potential. Nolan is unquestionably just such a coach. He's reportedly already on his way to talk to the Miami Dolphins about their recently vacated defensive coordinator position, which should tell you a thing or two about how much respect Nolan ha earned as a defensive leader. Few people in the NFL know more about building and coaching the 3-4 defense than Dolphins head man Bill Parcells, and there isn't anyone in the league with a better eye for coaching talent. Meanwhile, reports indicate that McDaniels is looking at former New England compatriot Dean Pees, the defensive coordinator that just parted ways with Bill Belichick.
It's tough to explain why McDaniels seems bound and determined to rid himself of the most talented members of his team, on and off the field. But something tells me he's going to regret this move more than the others he's made.
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