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Monday, January 12, 2009

Denver Broncos to make Patriots' Josh McDaniels new coach

The Denver Broncos reached agreement with New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels on Sunday night to make him their new head coach.

ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen first reported the hiring, which was confirmed by team spokesman Patrick Smyth. The team has called a 7 p.m. ET news conference.

McDaniels, 32, replaces Mike Shanahan, who was fired Dec. 30 after 14 years on the job. The team is expected to announce the deal on Monday.

Cornerback Dre' Bly was one of many Broncos players excited about the team's new head coach. "That's enthusiasm, man," Bly said, according to the Rocky Mountain News. "Coach Shanahan had a lot of respect. Guys looked up to him and had a good relationship. But with a guy like him, it's like with [Broncos assistant] Jeremy Bates -- exciting, enthusiasm. It's like what Mike Tomlin brings to Pittsburgh. He brings excitement to that team. It's good for our team. And I hope we respond to him." McDaniels reportedly already has started filling his staff with the Broncos. reported that former 49ers head coach Mike Nolan is expected to join Denver as the team's defensive coordinator. Broncos owner Pat Bowlen sent COO Joe Ellis to Boston Thursday for a lengthy second interview with McDaniels, who, according to sources, was one of two finalists along with Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier.

McDaniels becomes the third member of Belichick's coaching staff to be named an NFL head coach in recent years, following Romeo Crennel, who took over Cleveland in 2005 and was fired after this past season, and Eric Mangini, who went to the Jets in 2006. Mangini was also fired after this season and has since been named to replace Crennel in Cleveland.

McDaniels has worked in the NFL for eight seasons, all with New England. He joined the Patriots on March 1, 2001 as a personnel assistant in the scouting department and assisted the defensive coaching staff for three seasons. He began serving as the Patriots' quarterbacks coach in 2004 and was named offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach on Jan. 20, 2006. McDaniels began his coaching career in 1999 as a graduate assistant at Michigan State, working under head coach Nick Saban.

The Broncos won it all in 1997 and '98 but have slipped into mediocrity, winning just one playoff game in the decade since John Elway retired.

Under McDaniel's tutelage, Tom Brady threw for a record 50 touchdowns last season and the Patriots came within a whisker of the first 19-0 season in NFL history.

McDaniels' reputation grew ever larger this year when Brady was lost with a knee injury in the opener and Matt Cassel, who hadn't started a game since high school, led the Patriots to an 11-5 record.

McDaniels will inherit an explosive offense that appears to be one healthy running back away from greatness and a dismal defense that needs another overhaul. That led many observers to believe defensive minds such as the Giants' Steve Spagnuolo or Frazier had the inside track for the job in Denver.

Frazier was unaware he was out of the running for the Broncos' job when contacted by the Associated Press on Sunday night. He's in the running for coaching vacancies in St. Louis and Detroit.

"It would mean a lot to have that opportunity," Frazier said. "I'm not going to lose any sleep. It would be a great opportunity, but we're close to doing something special here. We'll see what happens."

The other candidates were Raheem Morris of Tampa Bay, Rick Dennison of Denver, Jason Garrett of Dallas and Todd Bowles of Miami.

Jay Cutler, who broke several passing records this year and was selected for his first Pro Bowl, publicly criticized Bowlen's firing of Shanahan and the owner quickly reached out to his franchise quarterback, telling him he'd keep him in the loop on the search.

"Hopefully we can continue to improve. I'm hoping we can keep some of our offensive coaches, keep some of those guys around," wide receiver Brandon Stokley told AP on Sunday night. "I think we did a good job. Hopefully we can keep getting better and bring new ideas. We have a lot of young talent."

Even Shanahan suggested on his way out the door that his successor should keep the offensive staff intact. Cutler is particularly fond of his position coach, Jeremy Bates, who called the plays last season.

And Bowlen is high on running backs coach Bobby Turner, who helped turn Terrell Davis into an NFL great but whose masterpiece came in 2008, when he helped keep Denver in the playoff hunt despite losing an astonishing seven tailbacks to injured reserve.

McDaniels does have some defensive experience. He helped the defensive staff in New England for three seasons before moving to offense.

While the Broncos' offense is stocked with rising stars such as Cutler, Tony Scheffler, Brandon Marshall, Ryan Clady, Ryan Harris and Eddie Royal, the defense has been left bare by a series of personnel mistakes and dismal drafts under Shanahan.

Despite an injury epidemic in their backfield, the Broncos' offense ranked second in the NFL in yardage as Cutler set several franchise passing records in his third pro season.

The defense, on the other hand, ranked 29th, allowed an NFL-high 448 points and managed a measly 13 takeaways under Bob Slowik, Denver's third defensive boss in three years.

The result was an 8-8 record and a colossal collapse. They became the first team in NFL history to blow a three-game divisional lead with three weeks left, and Shanahan was fired 48 hours later.

The Broncos are 24-24 in three seasons since losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2005 AFC Championship Game and their three-year playoff drought is their longest since 1980-82.

Chris Mortensen is a senior NFL analyst for ESPN.