Huge Decision of the past year-and-a-half: Denver Broncos

At this time each week we usually analyze a coaching decision from the previous game—from a statistical point of view.  After a blowout like this however, stats simply won’t do much good.  There were no critical 4th-down calls, no punt vs. field goal options to weigh over in one’s mind. 

So I won’t bore you with more probability equations.  You’re off the hook this week—let’s call it an early Halloween treat.

Instead, we’ll look at the alternatives to Josh McDaniels.  No, not going forward, but looking back.

You’ve heard—as we predicted immediately after last week’s game in our Gut Reactions—that thousands would jump on the fact that since opening 6-0, Josh McDaniels is 4-13.  That’s fine.  It’s an easy stat to jump on; it trends nicely; it makes a great sound bite.  It’s almost as good as saying, “he traded our Pro Bowl quarterback and receiver.” 

But that stat isn’t the whole story.  It’s a snapshot.  Why McDaniels suddenly deserves no credit for the 6 wins he got at the beginning of 2009 is beyond me.  It’s a bit like evaluating a stock, but only looking at the stock during the current recession.  Sure, it looks like crap right now, but if you’re buying for the long term, you ought to hold your nerve a little longer than every Joe Sixpack who panics at the first sign of a downturn.

Factually, the guy is 10-13, after inheriting a .500 team.  No more.  No less.

Frankly, I’m not enamored.  I bet you feel the same.  The Broncos probably could have finished with a similar (or slightly better) record with Mike Shanahan at the helm. 

Yet, I think all of us see this with the measured and reasonable perspective it deserves.  It’s too early to throw up our hands, even after the beating the Broncos took from the Raiders.  If only transforming an organization happened in 23 games.

Perhaps you think 23 games is plenty of time.  You’re the type to bring up Bill Parcells—and fast.  It’s a fair point.  The last time I checked, however, Bill Parcells wasn’t available at the time the Broncos hired McDaniels.

During my time writing at Mile High Report, I was in the camp that wanted to hire Bill Cowher.  But it’s debatable if Cowher even wanted to coach in 2009, and whether or not Pat Bowlen thought the price too high.  Either way, those talks didn’t even get close to happening.

So what were the alternatives at the time, and what have those guys done?  Since we are judging Josh McDaniels over a 23-game period, it’s fair to see how the other rookie coaches from 2009 have fared.  After all, there were other camps that wanted Raheem Morris or Steve Spagnuolo, or even Rex Ryan.

Well, since it’s stats you come for, it’s stats you’ll get.  Here is a handy-dandy table that lists all nine rookie head coaches from 2009, what they took over, what they’ve done since, and to further add to the debate, what they’ve faced with respect to strength of schedule.  Rather than look at individual rosters, which Doug Lee and Emmett Smith have done), I’m going with the old Parcells-ian cliche, “You are what your record says you are.”  In other words, I’m letting the records of these teams in 2008 represent the talent level of what these coaches inherited.


Coach Team 2008 Record 2008 Win % Since 2009 Win % Opponent’s Winning Percentage( 2009-2010)
Jim Caldwell Colts 12-4 75.00% 18-4 81.82% 52.03%
Jim Schwartz Lions 0-16 0.00% 3-19 13.64% 51.18%
Josh McDaniels Broncos 8-8 50.00% 10-13 43.48% 50.66%
Rex Ryan Jets 9-7 56.25% 14-8 63.64% 49.32%
Tom Cable Raiders 5-11 31.25% 8-15 34.78% 49.01%
Todd Haley Chiefs 2-14 12.50% 8-14 36.36% 47.80%
Raheem Morris Bucs 9-7 56.25% 7-15 31.82% 47.46%
Mike Singletary 49ers 7-9 43.75% 9-13 40.91% 47.02%
Steve Spagnuolo Rams 2-14 12.50% 4-19 17.39% 45.18%


Jim Caldwell tops this list in a lot of ways.  He took over a great team with a winning percentage of 75%.  Since that time, he’s pushed that winning percentage to 81%; he’s done it facing the stiffest competition as well during that same period.  Does Peyton Manning have a lot to do with this?  Sure, but give Caldwell credit - he’s made the product better.

What about Rex Ryan?  He hasn’t done bad either.  He’s taken a 9-7 team and improved the winning percentage of the Jets to almost 64%—all while facing the 2nd-toughest schedule of the bunch. 

Todd Haley has been somewhat impressive as well, taking over a team with a 13% winning percentage and driving that number up to 36%.  However, his opponents’ strength of schedule wasn’t as difficult as Caldwell or Ryan’s.

Raheem Morris?  Despite the current wave of praise, Morris has actually done poorly.  He inherited a 9-7 team and his current winning percentage is about 32%.  His opponents’ strength of schedule isn’t as high as most on this list.

Steve Spagnuolo, another favorite at the time of the McDaniels hire, has improved the Rams slightly, but has faced a rather easy schedule compared to the other coaches on this list.

You can also see for yourself what Mike Singletary and Tom Cable have done.  Both were interim coaches in 2008, so they themselves contributed to what they took over, but I thought I would throw them out for your review.

That leaves us with Josh McDaniels.  His 43% winning percentage since taking over the Broncos is less than what he inherited (50%).  Yet, he’s faced a tougher schedule than 6 of his coaching peers on this list.  Certainly not an indictment against what McDaniels is trying to do in Denver; hardly the sinking ship that one might get if one only pays attention to the trendy stat of 4-13.

This isn’t another excuse; it’s not a glass of Kool Aid.  In fact, there are plenty of legitimate criticisms that one can readily level at the McDaniels regime.  McDaniels has received a fair amount of on-the-job training.  I personally question why the Broncos have taken a junior-college recruiting approach to solving their interior defensive line issues.  And if the Broncos finish 3-13, even Josh McDaniels would say (privately, of course) he deserves criticism and calls for his job.

But who on this list would have been a better alternative at this point in the middle of the 2nd act?  Not one of these coaches has in 22 or 23 games taken these teams from failure to champion.  It looks like all of these coaches—outside of Caldwell—are in the midst of the same sort of transformation Josh McDaniels is implementing.  A few are doing it slightly better; a few are doing it worse.  McDaniels is doing it with a pretty tough schedule, if that matters. 

As much as I wish 23 games was enough time to know how McDaniels’ stock is going to fare, it’s not.  Like Raiders fans in a modeling competition, the sample size is just too small.  As we’ve seen from these numbers, it’s not enough time for any of these coaches (unless your strategy is nihilism, and if that’s the case, let’s fire them all!).

McDaniels needs more time.  Let’s hope it’s a huge decision Pat Bowlen got right.

If you like to see The Dude slack off 24/7, you can always find him on Facebook and Twitter. Or you can email him at:  He assumes you are following It’s All Over, Fat Man! on Facebook and Twitter, but if you are not, that’s nihilistic.

I’m glad we had this talk.  Now, vaya con Dios, Brah.

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Huge Decisions