Somehow, nearly two years ago, Josh McDaniels convinced the Denver Broncos' brain trust that — even at 32 — he was smart, mature and organized enough to become the National Football League's next wunderkind head coach.
He made it through numerous interviews, comparisons against better-qualified finalists and the franchise's natural skittishness to take over as successor to Mike Shanahan, who merely won two Super Bowls.
Just 28 games later, McDaniels is gone. And every fan in Bronco Nation seems to have a laundry list of reasons, many legitimate. Having observed and analyzed the Broncos for most of the past 34 seasons, I also have a few thoughts to share.
First, nobody in all that time on the Colorado sports scene — and for years before, from what others have said — has come close to being as hated as McDaniels. Legions of loyal fans turned on him after the collapse last year from 6-0 and 8-8, but especially this year, after that paralyzing 59-14 home defeat to Oakland on Oct. 24. Broncomaniacs despised their own coach after that game.
Oddly, it was the following week, in London, when the events transpired that finished McDaniels. The organization still insists McDaniels didn't know about the videotaping of San Francisco's pregame walk-through, and that he refused to look at the tape when he was told. But the rest of the league never has believed that, and most fans didn't, either. All benefit of the doubt was gone.
Instead of a boy wonder, Denver got a brash youngster who thought he knew everything about NFL head coaching and, in reality, knew nothing. His decisions, from drafting to free agency to trades and cuts, have decimated the Broncos worse than any single loss.
To whom will Denver turn next? Don't be surprised if the Broncos wait a while. Perhaps Houston's Gary Kubiak will be available. So might Tennessee's Jeff Fisher. Denver still might pursue Air Force's Troy Calhoun, who has NFL experience as an assistant.
My guess is, the Broncos won't look for any more 30-somethings. They'll want someone who already has learned from first-time mistakes.
And with that in mind, here are McDaniels' 10 worst flubs, in reverse order:
10. Dumping too many of Shanahan's players, many of whom are still playing elsewhere, from runner Ryan Torain (Washington) to receiver Brandon Stokley (Seattle) to center Casey Wiegmann (Kansas City).
9. Hiring mediocre assistants (including McDaniels' brother), and refusing to embrace former head coaches who might have been good mentors.
8. Signing defensive lineman Jarvis Green to a four-year, $20 million contract last offseason, then giving up on him in August, costing Denver $3 million-plus.
7. Giving away a No. 1 pick in 2010 to take undersized cornerback Alphonso Smith in the 2009 draft's second round, then later trading him to Detroit for a song.
6. Admitting that he didn't prepare well enough for the 2010 draft (his second one, so he should have learned), and making impulsive errors as a result.
5. Deciding that Peyton Hillis, a classic power back with a great attitude, couldn't fit in Denver's new system, though he has excelled in Cleveland's offense.
4. Giving up three draft picks (second-, third- and fourth-rounders) to take quarterback project Tim Tebow, when Denver had immediate needs for those picks.
3. Never having a Plan B on game day after opponents figured out his initial strategies, especially on offense.
2. Believing he could turn quarterback Kyle Orton into another Tom Brady, just to prove the coach was right in trading away Jay Cutler.
1. Videogate. No matter what the specifics, McDaniels was wrong to make it a secret. Just watch: Denver figured out it could fire McDaniels "for cause," meaning unethical actions, and won't have to settle or pay off the contract as a result.
None of those reasons involved losses, though the Oakland debacle was bad. But the kid kept screwing up, and never learning. That's why he's gone now. Next?
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