I want to write a eulogy befitting the Josh McDaniels head coaching experiment, remembering the man who made Matt Millen not seem so bad.
The move raises questions. Who will temporarily replace him in Denver to finish out the season, and more importantly, who will the Broncos hire in the off season? Where will McDaniels coach next?
I think McDaniels has great potential in the NFL, if he has someone smart to help him. His problem is Denver was that he thought he was smarter than he really was. I wrote yesterday that he wasn’t content to win games by passing every down. He wanted to run more than he wanted to win. He worked tirelessly to fix an offense that wasn’t broken. He fired Mike Nolan, the defensive coordinator who coached the Broncos to the 7th best defensive performance in 2009. He spent valuable resources on offensive players of limited value, instead of investing in the defense, which despite a heroic job by new coordinator Wink Martindale, has been the worst defense in the league this year.
McDaniels has the ability to get Brandon Lloyd performing like Randy Moss and Kyle Orton like Tom Brady. But his brilliance has been marred by his stupidity. His childish fixation on the run can only be described as stupid. His history of draft and trade blunders is longer than the list of games the team has won. So which is the real McDaniels? Passing game mastermind, or 7-year old playing a Madden franchise?
When he took over the Broncos before 2009, the team had a bright future. He inherited a team with the 2nd best offense in the NFL. I assumed the Broncos would hire a defensive minded coach in the mold of Tony Dungy who could simply keep the offense together while rebuilding the 2nd worst defense. But the Broncos did the exact opposite.
McDaniels first move was to trade Jay Cutler to Chicago for Kyle Orton and two first-round draft picks. It was a brilliant move. Orton and Cutler have very different skill sets, but it’s difficult to say that either one is really a better player than the other. Because Orton is much better suited to run the McDaniels offense, and the team also acquired two first-round picks to shore up the defense, the team was a lock to be in the playoffs for the next half decade.
The Cutler trade is the move that most fans will remember in ten years, when they look back on the embarrassing McDaniels years. But his next big move is the one that really defines his legacy. In his first draft, holding the 12th overall pick, future All-Pro linebackers Brian Orakpo and Clay Matthews were available. McDaniels picked a running back. Not only did the team lose an opportunity to improve the defense, but with Moreno on the roster, McDaniels felt that Peyton Hillis was expendable. The Moreno pick was stupid even if viewed in a vacuum, but when you consider the other stupid moves that cascaded from it it looks even worse.
When Mike Shanahan drafted Jay Cutler, he pinned his entire career in Denver on the kid’s right arm. Passing on DeAngelo Williams in order to trade up to get Cutler directly ended Shanahan’s tenure, and indirectly opened the door to the McDaniels era. When Josh McDaniels drafted Knowshon Moreno, he doomed the team to who knows how many years of long and painful rebuilding. So all of you Broncos fans who hated Jake Plummer, I hope you’re happy now, because all the losing you’ve seen in the last five years has come either directly or indirectly from the decision to replace him.
Their mistreatment of Plummer has left a Curse on the team, and the Broncos have not reached the playoffs in the five years since Plummer left. But the Football Gods are merciful, and have given Denver’s fans another chance for redemption in the form of Kyle Orton. The team and the fans must new embrace Orton, who is destined to lead the team back to the playoffs. They must not worship false idols like Tim Tebow: he must be cut or traded at the first opportunity. But if they give Orton the boot the way they did Plummer, the Curse will not be lifted and the Broncos will see 70+ years without a playoff game.
The Broncos are dead; long live their unpopular quarterbacks. Now that his Savior is gone, the team must purge themselves of Tim Tebow. Building around Orton now is their only hope. But if they replace him like they replaced Plummer, then we’ll see what the next deepest level of NFL hell looks like, and even Lions fans will pity us.