Commentary

Slippery slope for a 'Hoodie' wannabe

Denver coach Josh McDaniels is following the Bill Belichick template, without the wins

Originally Published: April 14, 2010
By Johnette Howard | Special to ESPN.com

Well, that oughta show Brandon Marshall.

[+] EnlargeJosh McDaniel
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesJosh McDaniels was overjoyed at Brandon Marshall's game-winning catch against the Cowboys in October. The joy didn't last.

Here's the bottom line on the All-Diva wideout's denouement in Denver after he tested the authority of hard-line Broncos coach Josh McDaniels until their differences became untenable: Despite making an admirable 101 catches last season, Marshall was suspended, maligned, accused of exaggerating an injury and ultimately benched by McDaniels for Denver's regular-season finale against Kansas City, a game the Broncos had to win to salvage a playoff spot and didn't, thereby finishing off a horrible late-season swoon that Marshall now won't have to talk about when he reports to training camp this July.

Because he was just traded.

To the fast-improving Miami Dolphins. And handed a four-year, $47.5 million contract that makes him the highest-paid receiver in NFL history.

McDaniels had better be right about this. There's really nothing more complicated to handicapping this trade -- and probably McDaniels' future in Denver -- than that.

McDaniels will get away with trading quarterback Jay Cutler and Marshall, the All-Pro duo that was supposed to blossom into Denver's version of Brady-to-Moss that McDaniels worked with in New England … as long as it works.

McDaniels is even right to argue that the 2010 and 2011 second-round picks Denver got for Marshall are a pretty good deal in the current market, considering that Pittsburgh got only a fifth-round pick from the Jets for its star wideout, Santonio Holmes, and Baltimore coughed up only third- and fourth-round picks to Arizona for Anquan Boldin.

The snag is that all the talk in Denver now about "someday" is a hard sell. Marshall is better than Boldin, Holmes or anyone Denver is likely to get in the draft. And Cutler, erratic as he was for Chicago last season, is still better right now than Kyle Orton or Brady Quinn, the replacement quarterbacks McDaniels has traded for since he and Cutler had their falling-out in March 2009.

Cutler was sent to the Bears a month later for Orton and three draft picks (two of them first-rounders). McDaniels and Marshall began their jousting in training camp. Before long, McDaniels had a tense relationship with tight end Tony Scheffler, whom McDaniels also benched for that must-win regular-season finale against Kansas City.

Brandon Marshall
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesMarshall caught 25 TD passes in four years for the Broncos. Does the addition-by-subtraction thinking really apply in his case?

That's a lot of falling-outs for anyone, especially a 33-year-old rookie NFL head coach whose team started fast last season but faded to a miserable 2-6 down the stretch, a swoon Broncos followers still dwell on in places such as FireJoshMcDanielsNow.com, a Web site that bills itself as "A Denver Broncos blog to keep an eye on new coach Josh McDaniels, who presided over a terrible first season that ended in a monumental collapse."

To quote a few posts: "What the hell is going on out there? … Another Bill Belichick Clone Control Freak Strikes Again. … What does Belichick Wannabe Moronic Control Freak Josh McDaniels Do?

"Hoodie Wannabe."

The wannabe charge comes up a lot.

See, McDaniels' challenge in Denver isn't just that he's peddling a long-term plan to a rabid football town yearning for short-term results. And his problem isn't just failing to get along with elite players, or having to sell the Broncos' rabid fan base (and perhaps even significant segments of his own locker room by now) on the idea that the slew of draft picks the Broncos have amassed in next week's draft is going to pay off, or the premise that a passing attack of Quinn-to-A Player to Be Named Later will turn out better than 10 years of Cutler-to-Marshall would have.

McDaniels has that Hoodie Problem, too.

Until he wins games like his Patriots mentor, Bill Belichick, McDaniels will continue to fight the wannabe rap. And he's not the first guy.

If you haven't noticed, the jury is still out on whether the Belichick formula works for anyone not named Belichick. The first three Belichick assistants who left the Patriots after their Super Bowl runs all flopped in their first head-coaching jobs -- Romeo Crennel with the Browns, Charlie Weis at Notre Dame, and Eric Mangini (first with the Jets, then again in his brutal first season in Cleveland).

Of the three, Mangini was the one who most devoutly copied Belichick's Kremlin-like approach (even after their downright Oedipal clash that turned into Spygate). He also wound up the most despised by his own organization. Weis was a close second.

But maybe all four Belichick disciples -- McDaniels included -- would have been smart to recognize that Belichick's formula didn't even work for Belichick at his first head-coaching stop.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Marshall and Josh McDaniels
Larry French/Getty ImagesMore often than not, Marshall and McDaniels had trouble seeing eye to eye.

Now, you could argue that's because Belichick didn't have Brady then. Or you could say what Belichick says: Mistakes were made. The moral might be that it's hard to demand the sort of respect and fealty from players that Belichick does before you have won like he has.

McDaniels has styled himself as a hard-liner, too -- which is another hard sell considering he looks more like a baby-faced coxswain for Harvard Eight than the head of a half-billion-dollar operation. Still, it's hard to ignore that Belichick seems to treat McDaniels differently from the other head coaches he has spun off. Mangini might as well be dead to Belichick now. When Crennel and Weis were cut loose from their jobs within the past year, Belichick didn't take his former coordinators back into the Patriots' fold.

Yet when McDaniels and the Broncos knocked off New England in Denver early last season -- a nail-biting win that sent McDaniels galloping and fist-pumping around the stadium with that copycat hoodie of his flapping in the breeze -- Belichick wasn't hacked off at all.

He actually made a point of going to the Broncos locker room and finding McDaniels to personally congratulate him.

Belichick seems to see something different, maybe even great, in McDaniels. Someday -- there's that word again -- maybe the rest of us will see it, too.

Johnette Howard is a contributing columnist to ESPN.com and the author of "The Rivals: Chris Evert vs. Martina Navratilova, Their Epic Duels and Extraordinary Friendship." She can be reached at jphinbox@yahoo.com.

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