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McDaniels takes reins of Broncos

By Christopher L. Gasper
Globe Staff / January 13, 2009
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Josh McDaniels understands that timing is essential to the execution of any route in pro football.

Last year, McDaniels decided that being in the midst of the pursuit of a perfect season was an imperfect time to pursue his own quest of becoming an NFL head coach, so he withdrew his name from consideration for vacancies in Atlanta and Baltimore.

His patience proved prudent, as yesterday the precocious Patriots offensive coordinator was introduced as the new head coach of the Denver Broncos.

McDaniels, 32, who has been the Patriots' offensive coordinator for three seasons, signed a four-year contract worth $8 million to replace Mike Shanahan.

"I've spent a lot of time and preparation over the last year getting myself more ready to go in case this opportunity did present itself again," said McDaniels at the news conference. "I just feel like the timing is right.

"I've had an opportunity to experience a lot of things. This year was certainly a different experience for me the way our season went, and I think that better prepared me to go into this next step of my career. This year the timing is right, and I'm thrilled to be here in Denver."

Since Bill Belichick became Patriots coach in 2000, McDaniels is the third member of his staff to be tapped for an NFL head coaching job, following defensive coordinators Romeo Crennel, who was hired by the Cleveland Browns in 2005, and Eric Mangini, who left for the New York Jets in 2006 and was hired again by the Browns last week to replace Crennel.

Former Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, who left in 2005 to become Notre Dame's head coach, was replaced by McDaniels, who called the plays during the 2005 season as the team's quarterbacks coach, a title he held from 2004 until his departure. McDaniels was not given the added title of offensive coordinator until the 2006 season.

McDaniels thanked Belichick, who brought him aboard in 2001 as a personnel assistant, for "providing me my foundation in this league and mentoring me for eight years."

Belichick gave his public imprimatur to his protege's elevation with an AFC opponent - the Patriots will play at Denver next season - congratulating McDaniels "for this most deserving opportunity for advancement."

"Josh McDaniels is one of the finest people and brightest, most talented coaches I have ever worked with," said Belichick in a statement.

"Since joining us eight years ago, Josh performed a variety of roles and excelled in every one of them.

"Between his work on defense, in scouting, player evaluation and coordinating the offense, Josh is a very well-rounded coach whose outstanding body of work speaks for itself."

In 2007, McDaniels directed a Patriots offense that set NFL records for points (589) and touchdowns (75) in a season. Quarterback Tom Brady also set an NFL record with 50 touchdown passes, and wide receiver Randy Moss hauled in a league-record 23 touchdown receptions.

What McDaniels did this year, without Brady - who was lost in the season opener with a left knee injury - was even more impressive.

With backup Matt Cassel at the helm, the Patriots ranked fifth in the NFL in total offense and eighth in scoring (25.6 points per game), while recording the sixth-highest season rushing total in team history (2,278 yards).

An indicator of Cassel's evolution under McDaniels was that in the final eight games of the season Cassel threw 14 of his 21 touchdown passes, while tossing only four of his 11 interceptions.

McDaniels can use that as a selling point with Broncos Pro Bowl quarterback Jay Cutler.

"I think Jay is going to enjoy playing in this system," said McDaniels. "This offense is very quarterback-friendly once you get to the point where you can use all the tools that it gives the quarterback."

Replacing McDaniels is going to be a difficult task for Belichick.

The most likely internal candidate would appear to be wide receivers coach Bill O'Brien, who has been with the team for only two seasons.

O'Brien, an Andover native, joined the Patriots in 2007, serving as a coaching assistant after a long career in the college ranks. The 39-year-old has been an offensive coordinator - at Duke (2005-06) and Georgia Tech (2001) - but hadn't coached in the NFL until he joined the Patriots.

Another possible replacement is tight ends coach Pete Mangurian, who held the offensive coordinator title with the Atlanta Falcons under Dan Reeves in 2003. Current Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson, who was replaced by Mangurian as tight ends coach, would be an intriguing name from outside the current staff.

It also remains to be seen who, if anyone, McDaniels is allowed to take from the coaching staff with him.

There had been reports that McDaniels planned to tap Patriots special assistant/secondary coach Dom Capers to serve as his defensive coordinator.

However the Denver Post reported last night that Mike Nolan, the former Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator and San Francisco 49ers head coach, has agreed to take that post. Nolan was a member of head coach Dan Reeves's defensive staff in Denver from 1987-1992.

Fixing the Denver defense will be one of McDaniels's chief priorities.

Undone in part by a defense that allowed 448 points, third most in the NFL, and ranked 29th, allowing 374.6 yards per game, Denver collapsed down the stretch, losing its final three games to finish 8-8 and hand the AFC West title to the San Diego Chargers.

But the biggest question dogging McDaniels now that he's out of Belichick's nest is whether he's ready to stand on his own as an NFL head coach at the age of 32.

"My age has never been a factor; it's never going to a be factor," said McDaniels.

"It's about performance. It's about the players and what you're capable of getting the players to do."

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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