The odds are pretty high that the San Francisco 49ers will be starting a coaching search sometime in the next week, and plenty of notable names will show up on the list. One name that showed up last weekend was current New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.
A lot of people were quick to get angry about this notion, suggesting it would be an awful choice. This belief seems to come almost exclusively from his fairly disastrous two seasons as head coach of the Denver Broncos. There were plenty of critics about his performance, and people do not forget that kind of thing easily.
However, in making such criticisms, people seem to assume he did not learn from that, or if he did learn anything, it won't matter. Bill Belichick's coaching tree has not had any kind of sustained success, particularly at the NFL level, so that is always in the back of our minds. I also think that given the departure of Jim Harbaugh, any future coach is going to face considerable pressure because of the way this has all gone down.
And yet, maybe McDaniels has learned enough to become a successful head coach. There is no guarantee of that, but I thought I would speak with our Patriots and Broncos blogs to get some thoughts on McDaniels. They provided a look at his strengths and weaknesses, and while it is easy to discount him, I think in the right situation, he could potentially find success as a head coach.
Strengths: Great, innovative play caller. Great at putting quarterbacks in the best situation to succeed. Former head coach. Great at identifying offensive talent.
Weaknesses: Lacks a well rounded understanding of the defensive side of the ball. Will only leave for an ideal situation, likely not in the AFC East. Was hot headed, but has cooled off with his first stint as a head coach.
Verdict: Pair him with a solid DC and he'll make the team a playoff contender. But needs to have a GM who can help find the right pieces of the puzzle.
Strengths: Josh McDaniels has a strong offensive mind and if he has the talent and the buy-in from players he can really improve a teams offensive capability. This was evident with his 6-0 start in 2009. I personally question his ability, as with Adam Gase, because neither has been successful without their respective Hall of Fame quarterbacks under center. That should make fans of any team wary if either of these guys are hired. One more so than the other, but more on that later.
Another strength of McDaniels is his ability to evaluate talent. He's no John Elway in that department, but he was certainly a breath of fresh air after 14 seasons of Mike Shanahan's drafting failures. I discount the 2009 draft, because McDaniels and the front office had a late start and that draft has turned out to be one of the worst in a decade for the Broncos, but the 2010 draft more than made up for it. Tim Tebow is much maligned now, but that first round pick led to a division title in 2011 and a playoff win after a half decade of zero playoff appearances.
However, the real reason this draft was a win is because of Demaryius Thomas. Thomas is on the cusp of doing something only Jerry Rice has done, which is have three consecutive seasons with at least 90 catches, 1400 yards and 10 touchdowns. The Broncos also landed other starters (albeit for other teams now) from that draft class in Zane Beadles, Eric Decker, Parrish Cox, abd J.D. Walton.
Weaknesses: Despite that strong offensive mind, McDaniels did something to lose the locker room during the Bye week in 2009, because after averaging 22 PPG with Kyle Orton under center during those first six weeks, the Broncos would average just 9 PPG over their next four games. I recall thinking that the team seemed to lack any desire to play hard. It was insanely frustrating. They would go on to lose eight of their final ten games that season.
The rumors were that McDaniels was a tyrant behind the scenes and the team just quit on him. After that 6-0 start, the Denver Broncos would go just 5-17 up until McDaniels was fired. Pat Bowlen remained amazingly stoic in his decision to stick with McDaniels even after a disastrous 59-14 home loss to the hated Oakland Raiders. The bloodletting continued until, finally, McDaniels was sent packing in Week 13 of 2010. Even to this day, Josh McDaniels is the most reviled sports figure in all of Colorado.