A look at Josh McDaniels, Part 2: Creative Disruption

Chiefs coach Todd Haley refuses to parley with McDaniels after a Broncos blowout win. Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images North America
The left coast of Missouri has no love for McD… surely that’s reason enough to accept him, right?

McDaniels’ name first surfaced as a speculative candidate among us fans, thinking out loud, with no idea that the thoughts might be echoed by Twitter luminaries such as Jason La Canfora, Adam Schefter and Peter King. When that happened, it forced us Rams bloggers to take a serious look at McDaniels’ impressive offensive pedigree as a playcaller.

McDaniels offense made stars out of Matt Cassell and Kyle Orton at quarterback and Brandon Lloyd and Brandon Marshall at wide receiver. What would he be able to do for the Rams offense?

Jeff Roman, RamsGab.com

But if there’s a fear factor for Rams’ fans, it goes beyond his offensive prowess, beyond the questions of schematic continuity or learning a new playbook. McDaniels is the league’s latest incarnation of Icarus, the boy who flew too close to the sun; we don’t know whether the experience of the last year humbled him, tempered him like steel, or merely burned him.

If McDaniels is brought in at full fire and brilliance, it would certainly make for an interesting chamistry experiment with the conservative, “team-first” nature of Steve Spagnuolo. And you can bet that Stan Kroenke would be watching carefully. Management theory is keen on introducing “creative destruction” and “disruptive innovation” to help teams and individuals take big leaps forward. 

McD represents both qualities in spades, and the potential volatility of this chamistry experiment formed the topic of the second half of our conversation with Bryan Douglass.

RamsHerd: It seemed like McDaniels blew up the Broncos and started over from scratch when he arrived. Was all this change necessary anyway, or does he have a very specific type of player that he needs to work with?

    Douglass: I’d suggest it was necessary… though I think Josh is more than capable of making his recipe work despite the ingredients.

    The Mike Shanahan offensive line was the primary issue, reliant on stout pass protection for quarterbacks coached to work the ball down the field. Meanwhile the guards were undersized and quick to provide misdirection and a small-but-potent opportunity for rushers through the middle. McDaniels will run up the middle but it will not be the focus of his rushing corps. His offense thrives on versatility. He wants athletic, offensive linemen who can keep up with those changes. It all starts there, and in Denver that effort was just getting started when Josh was shown the door.

    Only time will tell but in viewing the Rams, I’d think the challenge of getting the McDaniels system moving in the right direction wouldn’t be as daunting in St. Louis. Here in Denver you started with a season lost to a petulant quarterback of ego and a receiver riding his coattails. You battled with two outstanding tackles who were never healthy. And when you launched the problem at QB you answered with an arm lacking accuracy (even in the short range… look at Eddie Royal’s targets versus receptions), a head lacking the ability to spread it around (first Orton fixated on Marshall, then Lloyd), and failing durability that pushed those downfalls to center stage as the pass attempts grew.

    However, McDaniels made it work, much more than it should have… they brought in Orton, he began the arduous process of reconstructing the offensive line, and he turned lemons into lemonade (didn’t taste great, but still..). The eventual downfall came with the lack of progress from there… Orton is a fine quarterback and he deserves credit for two career seasons here in Denver, but he was a detriment.

    We can argue if McDaniels deserves blame, but I don’t see how anyone can suggest he didn’t get what he could from a less-than-positive scenario. I’d also be quick to discount anyone suggesting Sam Bradford isn’t a MAJOR upgrade, and that – along with those tackles – could be of tremendous benefit for the McDaniels system.

RamsHerd: From afar, McDaniels has a reputation of being a brash, power-hungry guy, and possibly a little immature. Is this fair, and how would he fit alongside Spagnuolo’s apparent “one-team, one voice” organizational philosophy?

    Douglass: And we start with the censorship… that view of Josh as some hardass control freak? Total bullshit.

    Seriously… that perception is built on subjective, ignorant speculation pushed by fans that can’t grasp reality and supported by the Denver Post because, ya’ know, you have to sell papers. Tom Coughlin was a “reformed player’s coach” after the Super Bowl… now he’s back to being a crotchety ol’ man who can’t relate to his team. EVERY coach is a control freak. You have to be to do it right.

    EVERY coach is a control freak. You have to be to do it right.

    In this business, the assholes win nine times out of ten. It doesn’t become an issue until players, players told they have rights and power they don’t or shouldn’t, make it an issue… if they aren’t given the opportunity to be entitled, then its an individual. (That’s what happened here… Bowlen failed to establish that boundary after Shanny got it going, he let that attitude linger, and put some substantial obstacles in the career path for Josh… both in Denver and moving forward.) McDaniels had no problems in Boston – funny how upset Belichick and Brady were when he left… funnier how no one remembers that – and “team” is pushed there as much as anywhere. Please.

    In truth, it is the organization in Denver – an organization that created a sense of entitlement in the players (there’s a reason Mike Mularkey and Gregg Williams won’t interview here) – deserving criticism. And St. Lou deserves credit for cutting that off, for putting Spags in and supporting a proven environment of success. Its a necessity, and I sincerely doubt McDaniels wouldn’t appreciate it.

    And folks thought the Rams’ front office was in disarray…

Editor’s Note: The revelations of Rams equipment manager Todd Hewitt, unceremoniously fired by Spagnuolo after 32 years with the team, paint a not-so-pretty picture of Spags as a “control freak.” $20 says there’s a story like this on every guy who ever coached in the league and had to cut someone. 

RamsHerd: One of McDaniels’ strengths is obviously the passing game, and he got great contributions from Brandon Lloyd and Eddie Royal, after both started down disappointing career paths. Do you think he could resurrect a player like Donne Avery?

    Douglass: No doubt… if McDaniels has ONE proven skill in his football holster, it is the ability to identify a player’s value and to bring that value to the surface. Go through his entire resume and you’ll find a unique trend… there are offensive players throughout that reached career benchmarks under his supervision. I would bet the same could happen in the Lou.

    (BTW, I miss St. Louis… grew up an hour and a half east, eating burgers on McDonald’s riverboat and watching the Wiz do backflips… and I’m very excited for your football team.)

Once again, my thanks to Bryan for this wealth of knowledge and perspective. You can read more of his work at Gunaxin Sports, and in case you missed it, Part 1 of our conversation is here: Would Josh McDaniels be a fit for the Rams? (Part 1)