Pedigree doesn’t guarantee McDaniels success

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – For those expecting the loud pomposity of Charlie Weis or the steely arrogance of Eric Mangini, Josh McDaniels is a huge disappointment.

The question is whether that bit of good news will make up for the flurry of unfortunate events that led up to this point. McDaniels, the Denver Broncos’ 32-year-old rookie head coach, is the latest apple to fall from the Bill Belichick tree.

While that should hearten many, the problem to date is that previous Belichick disciples have been rotten so far. In the four years since Weis declared that Notre Dame would have a “decided schematic advantage” over opponents, his most prominent accomplishment has been leading the Fighting Irish to the most losses in school history (nine in 2007).

Photo McDaniels says he doesn’t want his players to hate him.
(David Zalubowski/AP Photo)

Mangini managed to make the playoffs in his first year in New York but then regressed, alienating his Jets players along the way. Now on his second job in Cleveland, Mangini already is at odds with players there.

Throw in Romeo Crennel’s four inconsistent seasons, and all that Belichick’s well-schooled former assistants have managed in 11 combined seasons is zero postseason victories.

“To be honest, we don’t really even think about that stuff or how old he is or any of that that you guys bring up,” Denver cornerback Champ Bailey(notes) said. “To me, he’s a sharp guy, knows what he’s talking about and explains it pretty well.”

And pretty calmly, despite plenty of situations that could drive another young coach to distraction. Through the first week of training camp, the Broncos have yet to see much of Pro Bowl wide receiver Brandon Marshall(notes), who still is sore from offseason hip surgery (not to mention failing to get the trade or new contract he requested). First-round pick Knowshon Moreno(notes) is so far a no-show as his agent and the team continue to work out a contract.

Finally, and perhaps most significantly, the Broncos’ defensive line is, well, to put it delicately … limited. As in its members have only a limited number of starts in the NFL.

All this comes on the heels of Denver’s messy divorce with quarterback Jay Cutler(notes) that left fans hoping for the next John Elway feeling more than a bit miffed with McDaniels. Cutler was sent to Chicago after he couldn’t come to terms with McDaniels, a guy whom Cutler perceived to be but a mere knockoff of former coach Mike Shanahan.

Oh yeah, and throw in a brutal schedule that features eight games against playoff teams, each NFC East team and both Pittsburgh and Baltimore, and McDaniels could be aging pretty quickly this season.

But if any of that has shaken McDaniels, he doesn’t show it. His practice style is reserved, almost professorial. There’s no swagger or screaming. During the past two days, only one of his coaches even has yelled a clearly audible profanity.

As McDaniels strolled through a long post-practice interview session on Tuesday, his eyes stayed focused on everyone he talked to. He never fidgeted nor did he show the faintest sign of impatience.

“I’m not panicked about any of these situations,” McDaniels said. “With Knowshon, he’s missing some valuable time in practice and in meetings, but that will work itself out. Same goes with [linebacker and fellow first-round pick] Robert Ayers(notes).

“We have a plan for things we need to accomplish, and I think the players all understand that. What players want is to be told where they stand and what’s expected of them. If you do that, they’ll respond to you, and I see that happening. Our practices have been focused and strong. There has not been a lack of effort; there has not been a lack of physicality at all. We’re going to make our points and be instructing, but we’re not going to be yelling and screaming at people.”

McDaniels also doesn’t seem much interested in creating artificial toughness. Unlike Mangini, who has imposed offseason curfews on rookies and irritated those young players with a 10-hour bus ride to Connecticut for a youth football camp two months ago, McDaniels doesn’t seem terribly concerned with showing his players who’s boss away from the field.

“I don’t want players to hate me; that’s not the goal,” he said with a smile and a light chuckle.

At the same time, McDaniels didn’t take much to Cutler’s surly attitude. In the aftermath of the trade, sources both in and around the team talk about how difficult Cutler and his family were to deal with. Cutler even irritated national television reporters who covered Broncos games by barely helping with pregame interviews.

So while Cutler is a guy with plenty of physical gifts, it’s pretty obvious that his attitude wasn’t going to be much of a mix with McDaniels. Enter Kyle Orton(notes), a quiet and polite guy who appears about as even-tempered as a stick of butter. While Orton doesn’t have the gun that Cutler possesses, he’s joining a team that has a lot of solid offensive talent.

From Marshall and Moreno to wide receivers to tight ends Tony Scheffler(notes) and Daniel Graham(notes), Orton gets the big picture already.

“This is a phenomenal group of weapons we have,” Orton said. “My job is simple, just find the right guy.”

If Orton can do that, the Broncos should put up plenty of points this season. They may not put up a lot of wins, but they certainly could be entertaining as McDaniels works on fixing the rest of the problems.

And perhaps being the first Belichick disciple to actually do something of substance.

Jason Cole is a national NFL writer for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Jason a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Wednesday, Aug 5, 2009