Here's an oddity to chew on. After a full season and 11 games, the Denver Broncos are 11-16 under new coach Josh McDaniels. That's the exact record Jim Zorn had at the same point in his head coach career with the Washington Redskins.
Credit where it's due. McDaniels coaches an exciting passing game. It has made a star of Brandon Lloyd. But the Broncos are looking up at the Chargers, Chiefs and the Raiders in the AFC West division race. They have to run the table just to finish 8-8 again.
Broncos owner Pat Bowlen fired Mike Shanahan when the team finished 8-8 in '08. Shanahan had a high octane offense too, but his defense couldn't stop your grandmother from scoring. Bowlen fixed that problem by hiring McDaniels, the offensive coordinator from Bill Belichick's staff.
You know the story from there. Shanahan's budding superstar quarterback, Jay Cutler, has one meeting with McDaniels, then refuses to work with him. He demands a trade even after Bowlen entreats him to work with the new coach. (Yeah, that always works!) Bowlen relents when Cutler refuses to answer his text messages and trades Cutler to Chicago for Kyle Orton and Lloyd.
Shanahan's prima donna wide receiver, Brandon Marshall is traded to Miami at the discounted price of a second round draft pick.
Some of those moves worked out. Orton is currently the league's eighth-ranked quarterback by QB rating. Who knew Brandon Lloyd had that kind of performance left in him? Certainly no one in DC.
McDaniels' story is shaping up as a decision gone wrong, as documented in a post last April on Jocksports.com. That can happen when your coach hire is a fashion statement. Bowlen's choice of McDaniels was in keeping with the trend of picking young, unknown coordinators as Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Atlanta and Washington had done.
There is a sense that McDaniels, like Zorn, was not quite ready for the assignment. And owners should figure out that hiring a Belichick assistant, as Cleveland and Notre Dame did, is not the same as hiring Belichick. Before Cleveland lost LeBron, they lost Belichick. The Browns fired him in 1995. Then Cleveland lost the team to Baltimore in 1996. But, I digress.
Last week, Bowlen said McDaniels would return for the 2011 season. But on Monday Bowlen clarified that he really hasn't made up his mind. Uh-oh--the dreaded statement "we will continue to monitor the progress of the team and evaluate what's in the best interest of this franchise."
If there's a downside to management stability, it may that owners lose the hiring skill to pick coaches.
Mike Shanahan is the best hire of Dan Snyder's reign. He is as tough as Marty Schottenheimer and his football concepts are more current than Joe Gibbs' where when Gibbs returned.
Shanahan is the most secure coach in football...this year. Snyder is so toxic that he can't afford the hits to his reputation if Shanahan bails, even as the Redskins work their way to a 8-8 finish. That finish is twice as good as 4-12.
Snyder does his biggest damage in the year or two after he hires a new coach. No coach other than Joe Gibbs lasted more than two seasons with Snyder. The jury is still out on whether we are seeing a "new" Snyder and whether Shanahan stays with Washington for three-plus years.
I have my fingers crossed on both counts. Coaching transitions take a full season to take effect. We cannot afford that anymore. Bill Belichick is running out of coaches. He doesn't have coordinators anymore, perhaps to keep other franchises from stealing them. Unless Belichick himself comes available, there is no coach prospect more gold-plated than Shanahan.
If things don't work out for McDaniels in Denver, he can always go to Kansas City to rejoin his Patriots associates Charlie Weiss and Romeo Crennel and Matt Cassel, his quarterback of choice. As long as he doesn't show up here.