Broncos can learn from finger-pointing foe

Three weeks ago, after his team finished off a 49-29 drubbing of the Kansas City Chiefs, Denver Broncos coach Josh McDaniels jogged to the middle of Invesco Field and extended his hand to K.C. counterpart Todd Haley. Upset over some aggressive fourth-quarter calls by the Broncos on both sides of the ball, Haley left him hanging, blowing off the traditional postgame handshake for a finger wag that was part Dikembe Mutombo, part Richard Nixon.

The two teams meet again Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium, meaning the two coaches will meet again afterward at midfield, where there will either be an uneventful handshake, or the earth will quake once more.

What McDaniels really needs, though, is a helping hand – and unfortunately for the 34-year-old coach, the person best equipped to give it to him happens to be Haley's boss.

I bring up Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli not only because he shares some history with McDaniels in New England, but also because he's the type of smart, strongly positioned executive that the beleaguered coach has lacked during a tumultuous two-year stint with the Broncos. Intriguingly enough, Pioli had been interested in hiring McDaniels as his first coach in Kansas City before Broncos owner Pat Bowlen took the former Patriots offensive coordinator off the market.

Pioli, Bill Belichick's longtime right-hand man in New England, ended up choosing Haley, another hot-shot offensive coordinator, who was coming off a surprising Super Bowl run with the Arizona Cardinals. McDaniels, meanwhile, became the unquestioned powerbroker in Denver, with equally raw Brian Xanders earning a promotion to general manager after a front-office shakeup a few weeks into McDaniels' tenure, but basically yielding to the coach's authority.

It might be too late for McDaniels to salvage his situation in Denver, given a recent cheating violation that embarrassed the organization. Throw in the fact that McDaniels, who won his first six games as the Broncos' coach, has since lost 16 of his last 21, and it's highly possible that he won't be brought back. On Monday the team issued a statement in which Bowlen remained noncommittal, saying "we will continue to monitor the progress of the team and evaluate what's in the best interest of the franchise."

If McDaniels stays, he'll likely be told by Broncos chief operating officer Joe Ellis to accept a new power structure that includes a general manager with contractual control of the team's football operations. (Xanders, not necessarily through any fault of his own, would be cast aside as the convenient fall guy.) And if that's the way it goes down, McDaniels should say yes before Ellis has finished his sentence.

Here's why: Unless you are an amazingly adept anomaly – like Belichick, McDaniels' mentor, or the late, great Bill Walsh before him – your best chance to survive and thrive as an NFL head coach, and especially as an untested one, is to work in tandem with a strong GM.

There are many reasons for this: The first, and most simple, is that it reduces an otherwise massive workload that increases the pressure of an already pressure-packed existence. It also prevents emotional responses that can lead to the hasty discarding of underperforming and/or difficult but talented players. It provides a built-in system of checks and balances and perspective alerts while mitigating the God-complex tendencies to which coaches like McDaniels are so susceptible. And in the best-case scenario, it provides a coach with top-shelf talent evaluation while freeing him up to employ the teaching and game-planning skills that got him noticed in the first place.

This is the setup Haley has, and I believe it's a big reason that after a choppy rookie season, he has pushed the surprising Chiefs (7-4) into the thick of the AFC playoff race and has emerged as a coach of the year candidate. It's the type of situation that most of the teams battling for playoff berths currently enjoy. Of the 16 NFL teams with winning records, only the Patriots have a clear-cut power structure in which the coach (Belichick) is calling the shots. A case can be made that two other franchises are at least a bit vague in terms of coach/GM delineation: The Saints (where coach Sean Payton was hired by GM Mickey Loomis but seems to have serious clout) and Eagles (with newbie GM Howie Roseman becoming increasingly powerful relative to longtime coach Andy Reid).

The other 13 situations feature coaches who yield to some of the most highly respected talent evaluators in the business, including: Colts GM Bill Polian, Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome, Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert, Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff, Chargers GM A.J. Smith and Packers GM Ted Thompson.

This is not to say that coaches who are paired with well-positioned GMs are powerless. A good front-office chief understands that he and the coach he hired (or inherited) are often joined at the hip in terms of the team's success and should function as a partnership. As a result, smart GMs are very judicious in asserting their control over roster decisions or other areas that directly affect a head coach's ability to win.

McDaniels' Broncos have lost six of their last seven games.
(Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

It should also be noted that, for the most part, these coaches tend to make more money than their bosses. Former Ravens coach Brian Billick, who collaborated harmoniously with Newsome for nearly a decade, referred to this disparity in his 2009 book, "More Than a Game."

"The compensation for head coaches and general managers is disproportionate, with most established coaches making twice or even three times as much as general managers," Billick wrote. "But even that was not an issue for Ozzie. 'We'll call that combat pay, Coach,' he'd say. 'Because we both know that if it doesn't go well, you're the one who is going to get hit first.' "

The reality is that coaches who don't work side-by-side with an equal or superior front-office counterpart have a better chance of taking the most gruesome hits. Recent examples include freshly fired Vikings coach Brad Childress (who infamously decided to cut newly acquired wideout Randy Moss(notes) without bothering to inform owner Zygi Wilf), Browns coach Eric Mangini (who survived a horrific first season only after owner Randy Lerner fired GM George Kokinis, who'd essentially been neutered by Mangini from the start, and brought in a true football czar in Mike Holmgren) and ex-49ers coach Mike Nolan.

McDaniels could very well be the next coach to learn this harsh lesson. If his bosses decide to toss him a lifeline in the form of a front-office executive with real juice, that's a hired hand to which the coach should instinctively cling.


LeBron James will be happier than we want him to be as the Dolphins defeat the Browns. … Dez Bryant's(notes) rookie of the year candidacy will be in full force after he leads the Cowboys to an upset of the Colts in Indy. … Ed Reed(notes) will find the end zone and help the Ravens win a close one against the Steelers on Sunday night.


Nashville, where I can get a first-hand view of the ever-fascinating AFC South jumble as the Jags battle the Titans. It could also be the last time – I don't know – that I get to hang with Jeff Fisher in the Music City. If so, that would be a shame, and the football gods (or Bud Adams) had best text me an apology.


1. Giants safety Antrel Rolle(notes) has football in its proper perspective.

2. No one has this nation's best interests at heart like Republican Senators.

3. Jon Gruden "has made a commitment to [ESPN], and won't be having any conversations to entertain a college or pro offer through the 2011 season."


Cutler has thrown 9 TD passes and 3 INTs in his past four games.
(Mark J. Rebilas/US Presswire)

Thanks to a nice contribution from new acquisitions Tony Gonzalez(notes) and Hines Ward(notes), my buddy Malibu injected himself back into the playoff mix, as Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (6-6) rolled to a 22-point victory over Big Orange (8-4). On the strength of favorable points tiebreakers, Sabbath is now fifth in the standings of the 12-team Sex, Drugs and Fantasy Football league with two regular-season weeks remaining. Up next is a showdown with Gravity Rebels (3-9), featuring a Broncos-heavy lineup of Kyle Orton(notes), Brandon Lloyd(notes) and Eddie Royal(notes). Malibu had planned to go with Sam Bradford(notes) (at Cardinals) at quarterback, but I talked him into riding with Jay Cutler(notes) (at Lions), citing the Chi-town passer's recent revival and the dubious state of the Lions' secondary. (Sabbath also has Matt Forte(notes), for piling-on purposes.) I concurred with his decision to start an extra wideout rather than play the struggling Marshawn Lynch(notes) as a third running back – the question was, who should join Lance Moore(notes), Dez Bryant and Deion Branch(notes) in the lineup? The Seahawks' Mike Williams was my first choice, but his foot injury makes him an iffy proposition. Unless Williams makes a dramatic recovery, I suggested Ward (at Ravens) over Donald Driver(notes) (vs. 49ers) and Legedu Naanee(notes) (vs. Raiders). It's always tough to talk Malibu out of starting a member of his beloved Chargers, so we'll see.


Goodfellas Derek Anderson


Bob Schuster, a close family friend who died last Sunday after a long, spirited battle with leukemia. An avid runner and diehard fan of his alma mater, UCLA, Bob was at the Rosemont Horizon in 1993 to share one of my favorite sporting experiences, Cal's NCAA tournament upset of Duke. My memories of him and my father bringing their own form of March Madness to crowded Chicago bars that weekend are just as indelible as that of Jason Kidd making that magical flip shot off his own deflected pass. Bob leaves behind a loving family and a lot of devoted friends who were enriched by his intelligence and intensity, and I hope he's already talking ball with Coach Wooden in a peaceful place. And speaking of departed legends – and peace – Wednesday marks the 30th anniversary of the death of John Lennon, which many of us learned about in surreal fashion while watching the climax of Monday Night Football. I'll never forget the cold feeling that ran through me as I absorbed Howard Cosell's chilling words; I prefer to remember the gifts this genius, revolutionary and hero left behind.


It's a big weekend for three Golden Bear teams with national title aspirations, beginning Friday night at Haas Pavilion when Cal's Pac-10 champion women's volleyball team hosts Utah State in a first-round NCAA tournament game. The second-ranked Bears, led by senior All-American setter Carli Lloyd, got the seventh overall seed in the tourney, and hopefully they'll make the selection committee look even more nonsensical when all is said and done. On Saturday Cal's sixth-seeded men's soccer team has a road showdown with No. 2 Akron in the NCAA quarterfinals, and the Bears' second-seeded men's water polo squad battles Loyola Marymount in the national semifinals. Cal, which has won 13 NCAA titles, more than any other school, is hosting the Final Four at Spieker Pool, with the championship match set for Sunday at 3 p.m. PT. I'll be monitoring the fortunes of all three Cal teams via game-tracker, Twitter, live video and whatever other technology I can enlist for the cause – and, as always, working to Save Cal Rugby. But don't just take it from me; here's what Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers(notes) had to say about Jack Clark's unparalleled program when we reconnected in Atlanta last Sunday: "Cal rugby is the most decorated sport at the university, or any university. I've known guys who I played football with who went on to play rugby, and the experience was second to none. My roommate, Garrett Cross, was a part of the program, and it was really a special thing. I attended many games and saw what it was all about. Cal rugby is a point of personal pride for Cal athletes, and it's very disappointing to see it cut back."


Embroiled in a cheating scandal that triggered league-wide suspicions about his culpability, McDaniels had all the right answers for his bosses, the NFL and his assistants – though perhaps not for his mentor in New England. When he's truly in a confessional mode, McDaniels fires up some Cage the Elephant on his iPod and lets it rip (or so we imagine) – to the tune of "Ain't No Rest for the Wicked."

I was walking through Gillette
When out the corner of my eye
I saw a man in a hoodie approaching me
He said, 'You seem like a smart kid
Who looks so all alone
Could you use a little company?
If you could break down this tape
Sneak down the fire escape
It would help me decipher all their calls'
I said, 'You're so wise and so neat
Why you telling me to cheat?'
He turned and pushed me up against the wall

Oh there ain't no rest for the wicked
Gameplans don't grow on trees
I got plays to call
I got games to win
There ain't nothin' in this league for free
I know I can't let up
I can't come clean
Though you know I wish I could
Oh no there ain't no rest for the wicked
Until they fire my ass for good

Let's fast-forward to six years later
Now I'm coaching the Broncos
When I tried to deal for Matt Cassel(notes) in the night
And then my quarterback found out
Watched him stomp his feet and pout
I made it clear that I was looking for a fight
Shipped him off and got six wins
Hugged Brandon Marshall(notes), beat the Pats
I had some Rocky Mountain oysters made of brass
And even though we lost some games
I drafted Tebow and proclaimed
'I'm puttin' all my enemies on blast'

Because there ain't no rest for the wicked
Gameplans don't grow on trees
I got plays to call
I got games to win
There ain't nothin' in this league for free
I know I can't let up
I can't come clean
Though you know I wish I could
Oh no there ain't no rest for the wicked
Until they fire my ass for good

Now a few short weeks ago
As I was cruising through SoHo
I hit a café for some biscuits and some tea
And so I grabbed a DVD
And threw that sucker in my Mac
And saw a dude who looked just like Singletary
On his neck was a crucifix
Crabtree ran a shallow cross
I closed my eyes and righteously I powered down
At least that's what I told the fuzz
Threw Belichick under the bus
A double-decker that came straight from London Town

You know there ain't no rest for the wicked
Gameplans don't grow on trees
We got plays to call
We got games to win
Ain't nothin' in this league for free
Oh no we can't fess up
We can't come clean
Though you know we wish we could
Oh no there ain't no rest for the wicked
Until they fire our ass for good