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Make like a tree...

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff January 12, 2009 10:09 AM

So, one more leaves the nest in Foxborough, carrying with him a challenge far greater than resurrecting the so-so Denver Broncos.

For Josh McDaniels, the decision to take the vacant head coaching position is a no-brainer. With the Broncos, the former Patriots offensive coordinator has one of the plum jobs in the NFL. Great owner. Great town. Great roster already in place, including one of the game’s top young quarterbacks in Jay Cutler, and one of the league’s premier 1-2 wide receiving punches of Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal. Defensively…not so much.

At 32, McDaniels becomes one of the youngest coaches in NFL history, a matter not be taken lightly in Denver, where the town's newest inhabitant is being greeted with a fair amount of skepticism. But then again, perhaps McDaniels can do in Denver what few other Bill Belichick disciples have been able to do thus far. Namely, win. For, despite the league’s salivation in anything having to do with the Belichick coaching tree, the early results haven’t exactly been pretty. They certainly haven't lived up to the levels set by the Bill Parcells tree.

Consider, Romeo Crennel, just fired by the Cleveland Browns, went 24-40 in his four seasons at the helm, including just one winning season (2007's 10-6 mark).

Eric Mangini, who took Crennel’s place in Cleveland, went 23-25 with the Jets, including this past season’s late collapse down the stretch.

Charlie Weis owns a winning record at Notre Dame (29-21), but the 10 wins combined over the last two seasons suggest issues with recruiting skills.

Mangini and Crennel combined for just five more wins over the past four years than Bill Belichick has losses in his entire career at New England. Will McDaniels be the exception, or the rule?

Color them dubious in Denver, where the Broncos are dissected and analyzed like the Red Sox in Boston. The Denver Post’s Mark Kiszla wrote, “Although McDaniels' pedigree shows an impressive family tree with deep roots in coaching success, if a strong bloodline could guarantee victory, then David Shula would be winning championships rather than working in the steakhouses labeled with his famous father's name.”

Dave Krieger writes in the Rocky Mountain News: “Apparently, the latest acorn from the Belichick tree wowed Broncos owner Pat Bowlen in his interview, which is the same explanation we heard for Gov. Bill Ritter's decision to name widely unknown Michael Bennet to Ken Salazar's not-quite- vacant U.S. Senate seat. Mama, don't let your babies grow up to be cowboys, but definitely teach them how to interview.”

McDaniels faces the challenge of living up to the legacy installed by former coach Mike Shanahan, who hadn’t been to the Super Bowl in a decade, and was thought to be on his way out after recent seasons of playoff failure. Still, his firing came as a surprise, if only because of owner Pat Bowlen’s dedication to his prized employee. However, this season’s collapse was enough, opening the door for McDaniels to impress and land the job.

Of course, the immediate question in New England is how does the team replace a man who helped resurrect an offense this season despite an injury bug that did everything to deplete it? In many ways, what McDaniels drew up this past season was even more impressive than the records instituted by Tom Brady and company during the 16-0 campaign. McDaniels helped mold Matt Cassel into one of the game’s most prized commodities this offseason, a development that no doubt gave Bowlen hope for what he can do with Cutler.

Cassel won’t be joining his coach in Denver, that’s for sure. Mike Nolan and his sideline suits just might be, as defensive coordinator.

Crennel’s name has yet to be mentioned for any jobs this offseason, and Mangini’s second go-round with a team will be fascinating to watch, not only considering the success Belichick was able to amass in his second try in the NFL, but because he won't have the headache of Brett Favre weighing him down.

McDaniels looks to succeed where those two saw only flashes, despite the "genius" label hurled upon the Jets head coach by David Chase and Co. For Denver, it’s a high-risk hire, one the game’s most attractive jobs, landing in the lap of a 32-year-old with no prior head coaching experience.

There will be growing pains. Denver has to expect that. But Broncos fans also have to hope that this member of the Belichick tree brings something different to the table. Otherwise, they might not come knocking on the Route One door nearly as often as they do now.

That’s great news for the Patriots, bad news for anyone else on Belichick’s staff from here on out.

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by eric wilbur

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