Would Josh McDaniels be a fit for the Rams? (Part I)

Josh McDaniels; photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images North America Tomorrow’s most pressing question: do they make hoodies in blue and gold?

As our pals at RamsGab wrote this morning, the Cleveland Browns are expected to name their next head coach as early as tomorrow; every indication is that it will be Rams offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. While fans in Cleveland may look askance at yet another first-time head coach who still has room for growth as a coordinator, Rams fans wonder what’s next for Sam Bradford. As ESPN’s Mike Sando writes, the Rams need a succession plan. And quick.

Former Minnesota coach Brad Childress has been the early front-runner of imagined candidates. After all, he is a close friend of Steve Spagnuolo and a high branch in the Mike Holmgren WCO coaching tree. But NFL.com’s Jason LaCanfora throws a wrench in the works:

Coordinator musical chairs – still hear Mike McCoy to KC to replace Weis, Josh McDaniels to Rams if Pat Shurmur new HC in CLE as many expect

Bomb. Shell. And it blows the notion of offensive continuity out of the water.

  • Hiring former Denver Broncos coach Josh McDaniels as coordinator could send the Rams down a path of coordinator instability similar to the one San Francisco followed (against its will) after drafting Alex Smith first overall in 2005;

  • Bradford is better than Smith, so let’s not get carried away with comparisons if the Rams do change systems early in Bradford’s career;

— Mike Sando, ESPN.com

With that in mind, I reached out to Bryan Douglass, a fellow Fanball alum and owner of deep knowledge on the Denver Broncos, for a perspective on McDaniels that I bet few Rams fans have heard. His response was so thorough that I am breaking it up into two posts. Here is part one of our interview:

RamsHerd: Josh McDaniels is obviously from a different coaching tree than Shurmur’s west coast offense; what are the key characteristics of a McDaniels scheme?

    Douglass: To be frank, I’d have a problem with anyone taking the Denver point of view answering this question… we had less than two seasons to see it in place for the Broncos (much of that tainted by an egomaniac quarterback who didn’t want to take part), and it was never really “in place.” It was a work in progress, that progress was hampered by a multitude of injuries and changes on the offensive line (see Ryan Clady, Ryan Harris, and a long list of personnel changes on that OL made during his time here) and the attempt to fix a long list of offensive needs that weren’t necessarily addressed as they weren’t overriding priorities at the time, and that progress was never completed because Pat Bowlen has apparently lost his stomach for the process of patience (he lets Mike Shanahan struggle for a decade, then he refuses to give McDaniels two years to clean it up… another rant for another time).

    Based on what I’ve witnessed, I’d hesitate to classify the McDaniels offense as a “west-coast scheme” despite what appears to be a heavy lean on the pass… I’d suggest its a hybrid mixing the traditional beliefs of the Bill Parcells operation – a product built from the early work of the Bill Walsh operation – with the lessons learned during the Bill Belichick era in New England. I often liken this “evolution” to the world of professional baseball… there is a growing emphasis on specialization. Everyone has a role and you tailor your roster to fill those roles, and those roles are as specific and focused as ever.

Editor’s note: For further reading on this philosophy and how the Patriots are using it better than anyone else in the game, I highly recommend this article by Chase Stuart at the Fifth Down blog. Quote: “Belichick knows exactly what he wants out of every roster spot and only looks for players who possess those traits. And that’s a big secret of his success.” Unquote.

    Josh is a firm believer (as most are these days) in rushing, and he wants to push that agenda with the committee approach. Using his first draft pick ever as a professional coach on Knowshon Moreno spoke volumes, as did decisions to incorporate Correll Buckhalter, Laurence Maroney, and others.

    He seems to prefer versatile backs with receiving skills in tandem with a “primary” playmaker that concentrates on 12 to 15 carries per game. If he were to come to St. Louis, I would expect the days of physical abuse for Steven Jackson might finally come to an end… that might not be good news for fantasy owners but it would be wonderful news for the typical football fan in the Gateway City.

    However, Josh’s work with the quarterback stands as the focal point of his system and I would guess it is the source of attraction for any head coach considering Josh as an offensive coordinator. Clearly he enjoys heavy influence over his passers… take a look at the work he did in New England with those boys and then Kyle Orton here in Denver and its impossible to deny.

    McDaniels comes from a system specializing in the efficient utilization of receivers the typical coach or football head may not trust, he works a system that puts every single target option out in space as a receiver, and builds scheme based on the ability to pass. It is the most obvious resemblence to the offensive system in New England… you flood the defense with targets, you challenge them to cover (doing so with a long list of viable options touting skills you have to respect all over the field), and you trust the QB to make the right choices (or, sometimes, you make the choice for him). He wants to spread the opposing defense out, he wants to trust his quarterback to maximize the opportunity that comes as a result, and he wants EVERYONE guessing about what is coming next (thus the committee approach at running back, the desire to incorporate Tim Tebow in the system, the decision to draft J.D. Walton and Zane Beadles with top picks last season, and more).

    In my humble opinion, I would guess Josh looks at the scenario in St. Louis and salivates…

    In my humble opinion, I would guess Josh looks at the scenario in St. Louis and salivates… you clearly have a capable quarterback with an advanced mental grasp of the job, you have some outstanding young tackles in place to build that foundation, and you have an underrated group of receivers that bring a wide variety of talents to the field. Address the situation at running back (and maybe at offensive guard) and you have what may be an ideal roster for the McDaniels system of offense.

I want to thank Bryan for delivering more than just a “take” — this is a compendium of knowledge, and this post is only the start. You can read Part 2 of our conversation here: A look at Josh McDaniels, Part 2: Creative Disruption