If the Broncos lose to the 49ers, Josh McDaniels will be facing more than just an angry fan base.
I think the media—even those who are well respected—will turn on him.
I realized this on Thursday (10/28) of this week when I tuned into the 2nd hour of the MIke and Scott Show on The Fan here in Denver.
As the conversation drifted from the Colorado Rapids to the Denver Broncos, the discussion centered not on the game itself, but on McDaniels’ preparation for the game and the jet lag the Broncos could be facing. Specifically, there was this criticism from Drew Goodman, respected play-by-play TV announcer for the Colorado Rockies:
“He’s going over there on 48 hours of…time to acclimate, based on, you know, the fact that last year New England went on…basically 48 hours out. They’re [New England] going from two time zones, that’s closer, but that still doesn’t make it right…but now you’re [McDaniels] seven times zones away…and I think it’s absolutely the wrong thing to do, and I think he’s basing every decision he makes, or it seems that way, at least…based on how…and he’s going to be heavily influenced by Belichick, I understand that, but the people around him that he will listen to….you’ve got to make a stand for yourself.”
Goodman is well-respected and has been covering professional sports for decades. He’s done Broncos’ play-by-play in the preseason, and is well-steeped in football, so don’t let his last 10 years of Rockies coverage fool you. This guy knows his stuff.
Which is why I took notice. Goodman is not the type of guy who just goes off half cocked on subjects. I remember him hosting post-game call-in shows in the 90s when the Broncos would lose. He would calmly take caller after caller, all of whom insisted the Broncos would never win another game again.
You may not agree with Goodman, but the specific point he makes about the jet lag is an interesting one; it presents Josh McDaniels with an almost no-win situation. If the Broncos lose, not only will he get criticized for the game plan and the players’ play on the field, he’s going to take some serious punches for bringing his team to London (and that many times zones) on such short notice. If the Broncos win, no one will praise him for the decision. Instead, they’ll talk about how the Broncos should have won because they faced a 3rd-string quarterback in Troy Smith. So McDaniels needs to win, and he needs to win big.
The general point that Goodman makes, and he elaborates on this some in the broadcast, is that McDaniels needs to stop copying every aspect of the Patriots organization—from the curmudgeon-like dealings with the media to the wearing of a hoodie—and be his own man. The 48-hour decision on London was just another in a long list. Otherwise, as Goodman says, “When things start to go wrong, the vultures begin to circle.” In other words, fans, media, and others are less likely to cut you slack during down periods.
Brian Billick agrees:
“From sitting down with Eric [Mangini] and observing Josh and the others, you get the feeling that they all want to act like Bill. In the Belichick model, you have to be in complete control over everything that happens and that’s a difficult task.
You really have to be yourself, particularly in this profession. You can’t try to be someone else. The players see right through it. Plus, you build an expectation when you act like someone else. That’s a higher expectation than is already there for any coach. Maybe they’re comfortable that way, but at some point, you have to win.”
We know that McDaniels has broken from the Belichick model in a few ways, but has it been enough? Or is it even possible to break from the Belichick model until you’ve had enough experience as a head coach to do so?
I personally think the answer is no to both questions. But I’m patient enough to allow him for even more on-the-job training and mistakes. I think it beats the alternative—tearing up the current staff and system and starting anew. And it saves the Broncos another 2 years of transition and mediocrity.
Call me a sucker for personal-growth stories. I want to see McDaniels emerge from all of this stronger, smarter, and better. Guys like Chuck Noll and Belichick are examples of coaches who made mistakes early on, learned, and then eventually became excellent coaches.
Can McDaniels do the same? Possibly, but drafting some interior linemen would hasten the process. Until then, expect a lot of people to jump ship—possibly even some in the Broncos organization itself.