Posted Tue Jan 24th by Kris Burke
Over a year ago, Broncos fans celebrated like they were liberated from a maniacal dictator when Pat Bowlen relieved Josh McDaniels of his coaching duties with the Denver Broncos. The dark ages had finally ended, and though everyone knew the sun would rise again albeit at a very slow pace.
Then came the 2011 season.
In a year where the Broncos were expected to win no more than five or six games, the team finished 8-8 in the regular season, won the AFC West and advanced to the divisional round before being blown out by the New England Patriots 45-10 in Foxboro.
Take a look at the wild card win over the Steelers. The two players who made the play of the game? Quarterback Tim Tebow and wide receiver Demaryius Thomas—Josh McDaniels’ final two first round draft picks.
Yes, THAT Josh McDaniels.
Throw in the potential Eric Decker has also shown, and the Broncos offense is suddenly set at receiver.
In a season where the Broncos shocked the world, credit now needs to be given where credit is due as much as it hurts to say:
Josh McDaniels seemingly has laid a solid foundation for the Broncos, one he for better or worse won’t get to see grow unless he’s on the opposing sideline. Despite multiple other boneheaded personnel moves, McDaniels made the picks in 2010 that may have started righting the ship despite a change in its skipper.
It all starts with Tebow. When McDaniels traded back into the first round in 2010 to claim Tebow, many people including some Tebow supporters thought he was crazy. Most experts thought Tebow needed a lot of work and was not going to be the immediate contributor first round picks usually are and that it was going to be a tough go for Tebow to succeed as an NFL quarterback.
While they were partially right as Tebow didn’t see action until after McDaniels was fired, the rest of it turned out to be wrong. Though he is by no means the most mechanically sound passer in the NFL, Tebow’s raw athletic ability as well as his fire and leadership pushed the Broncos to an unexpected AFC West crown this year along with a reborn defense under Miller.
The drafting of Thomas is a little sketchier. The Broncos had just sent Marshall to the Miami Dolphins and Brandon Lloyd was about to have a breakout season. Throw in the injuries that plagued Thomas through most of 2010 and this pick was beginning to look like a bust only one year in.
2011 started out as more of the same for Thomas. Injuries continued to slow his progress down. As the Broncos got hot, so did Thomas. He finished 2011 with 551 yards and four touchdowns in 11 games. The most memorable play of the season for Thomas of course came in the wild card game against the Pittsburgh Steelers as Tebow hit Thomas in the middle of the field and after one textbook stiff arm, Thomas was off to the races and the Broncos were off to Foxboro where their season eventually ended.
A McDaniels pick threw to another McDaniels pick. After leaving town as one of the most reviled coaches in NFL history, this was unbelievable.
Please note that this is not a McDaniels apologist writing this article. Far from it. While he may have had the offense on track, the defense was atrocious. With drafting of Von Miller this year by John Elway and Brian Xanders combined with the steady hand of head coach John Fox, some pride was finally restored to a Broncos defense that had been getting eaten alive practically since the early 2000s.
Instead, the legacy of McDaniels’ time in Denver may evolve over time. Right now, he’s remembered as the guy who ran Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall and Peyton Hillis amongst others out of town. He’s also the guy
who allegedly condoned videotaping of the 49ers who didn’t report his employee’s illegal videotaping of the 49ers leading up to a game in London. He took a proud franchise and dragged it through the mud before the franchise reclaimed itself and kicked McDaniels out the door.
He deserved to be fired. Had he not, who knows where the Broncos would be? Many think a Tebow/McDaniels team would have made beautiful music, but would McDaniels have gotten the team to play as hard as it did for Fox this year? Highly unlikely.
However, if Tebow and Thomas continue to get better and can make the Broncos perennial contenders then maybe the McDaniels legacy can be polished a little bit. Not enough to remove the mud acquired from his time in Denver, but at least the dirt won’t be as thick.
Regardless of where you stand, it’s fun debate to have. Broncos country can be very thankful for the team it has in place right now and for the magical season that recently came to an end. Still, fans may soon be wondering if McDaniels really was as bad as they thought.
He still stunk up the joint but maybe the odor wasn’t as pungent upon further review.