One things for sure in today's NFL.....the head coach means a lot to a team's ability to win. The head coach has always meant a lot though right? Certainly, but a lot has been made of the parity in the NFL. When you have parity, then coaching becomes an even greater component to a winning team.
When I am analyzing coaches, I evaluate in a couple areas: emotional leadership, preparation, and in-game performance. Let me give a brief overview of what I include in each of these.
Emotional leadership: This is the ability of a coach to get his team to come together and play focused or ready in every game. There are highs and lows to every season. A great emotional leader helps his team avoid the highs and the lows. He gets his team to focus on getting better every week. He knows how to motivate and bring the team together for one common purpose.
Preparation: This is the strategy, game-planning, and Xs & Os that go into every game. It also includes draft and personnel decisions as these are critical to strategy and the rest of a coach's plan. This could almost be a test of a coach's competence, his organization skills, and his judgment with respect to planning.
In-Game performance: This is the ability of a coach to determine what is going on during a game and make adjustments to help his team win. This is where a coach's judgment and decision-making under fire come into play.
Which one is most important? Well, I think they all go together to make up the character of a coach and are all integral to his ability to lead his team to victory. The better question is how can a coach overcome a weakness in one of these areas. When it comes to preparation, the best a head coach can do is hire great coordinators and let them do their thing. In emotional leadership, he will have a big influence no matter what. He must, he's the official head of the team. However, sometimes a star player can overcome a poor emotional leader. The star player should be in a critical position and must provide a stronger foundation for the team than the coach. In-game performance again requires the kind of star player that can turn the worst call into the best call with his play or decision-making ability.
So let me analyze or really speculate about McDaniels with respect to these:
Emotional leadership: The Cutler stuff could have been a huge factor here. The fact that Cutler was traded gives him a clean slate. I am someone that thinks Cutler had all the issues and liked the way McDaniels handled things though. I think in many respects the Cutler saga allowed him to put his stamp on this team. No player is bigger than the team, everyone must compete, prepare, and is accountable. Certainly the FAs and character draft selections will help him here too. I'm really hoping that he took notes from Belicheck here though. With so many naysayers in the MSM on the Bronco's future, I think he really has a chance to parlay that into greater cohesion and focus (ala the NE videotaping scandal during 07). I love the way he addresses the media and avoids putting emotion or judgments into his feedback. The reaction of the team to the first OTAs and the Cutler saga bode well for his tone-setting. I think this will be one of his real strengths especially considering that Belicheck does this better than anyone in the league.
Preparation: He really talks up the importance of organization and preparation. I think he's highly organizaed and incredibly sharp. Belicheck's disciples have proven to be great Xs & Os guys. The big question is how well will these traits benefit a new Head Coach (HC). Sometimes great coordinators don't make great HCs and McDaniels could fall into this category.
His heavy focus on offense in the draft makes me think he could be missing the whole picture. Certainly the draft is a guessing game and taking the best player available is important. However, he clearly has a very detailed vision for this offense and the pass defense. But what worries me is that these areas are where he has expertise. I don't think the trenches are his forte (thankfully the Oline is set). If his strategy doesn't take everything into consideration, then it risks being a poor strategy. Now on his behalf, I think he may feel like he doesn't know what he has on defense with the line. I bet he thinks a better system (3-4) and a good coordinator (Nolan) will clean that group up to a middle of the pack defense. Then, he can actually determine what personnel changes are needed. If so, he's taking a big gamble and I hope some of these no-namers are studs.
I think week in and week out, he is gonna have the team prepared to do well. As mentioned above, I worry about his overplanning. I mean his potential overemphasis on the areas he fully gets and not the areas that maybe need the focus. Belicheck is famous for taking small tactical advantages over a team and exploiting them for victories. His teams are also coached and prepared in every facet of the game that will give them an advantage. Now if time was unlimited, I would just agree that more time and more details were all that is necessary. Time is limited and only some tactical details can be exploited for victories. McDaniels' heavy focus on special teams and 3rd down in the red zone are definitely top priorites for him. He drafted and signed several guys for these purposes alone. The question is will his emphasis here produce W's. The Broncos' will get better, but at what cost?
In-Game performance: Well we only have his offensive play-calling for NE to go by. Any issues? Well, McDaniels is definitely heavy on the system. One of the things I never liked was why NE didn't just throw it up to Randy Moss more often. Everybody remembers Randy in Minnesota. He could have been in the NBA also, so with that speed and his track record chuck it up several times a game. Even with Brady, why not? I think he is focused on beating the other team's system....their defensive strategy or game plan too much. He isn't a big believer in let 'em play and let the big players make the big play. He's a coach that likes to control the game. Well I don't know if that is always a great trait. Anyway, this is complete speculation, but I'm a little worried here. Orton will definitely make him feel comfortable so that is a big plus. He will definitely want the QB that is gonna make the read that he knows will be open prior to his play call. He doesn't want the gamblin', gun slinger that is gonna try and make the play.
In the end, I'm a big McDaniels fan. I think as long as Woody Paige keeps ripping him he has a great chance to be special. I think the Broncos will definitely be in the Division race and playoff hunt this year. However, they could still do those things and be 7-9. Its gonna be a tough year and McD is gonna make some mistakes. The important thing is how he and the team respond......so far so good.