The Opponent: McDaniels has brought energy to the Denver Broncos
Denver Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels yells instructions on the sidelines during the second quarter of the Oct. 19 game against the San Diego Chargers.
Denver Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels gestures in the fourth quarter of the Nov. 1 game against the Baltimore Ravens in Baltimore.
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ENGLEWOOD, Co. -- The flickering lights at Josh McDaniels' weekly press conference eventually were linked to construction outside the building.
But players wouldn't have been surprised were it McDaniels himself causing the power surge.
The personable young coach has brought passion and fire to a Denver Broncos team that already has won nearly as many games (six) as Las Vegas oddsmakers predicted for the entire season.
"He has a lot of energy," Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey said of the 33-year-old McDaniels, just two years his senior. "Whether it's good or bad energy, he's going to let you know how he feels. I'm getting used to it and I kind of like it because I know where it's coming from."
That McDaniels is even in this position may be a testament to coaches like Mike Tomlin, his counterpart in tomorrow night's AFC showdown in Denver.
Broncos owner Pat Bowlen never mentioned Tomlin by name in introducing McDaniels to replace long-tenured Mike Shanahan. But McDaniels' hiring certainly followed a trend in teams moving toward rookie coaches.
Like McDaniels, Tomlin found early success in Pittsburgh after replacing icon Bill Cowher, going 10-6 as a rookie and winning a Super Bowl in just his second season.
Then there were the big turnarounds last year in Atlanta and Miami under rookie head coaches. And this year Indianapolis head coach Jim Caldwell is the first rookie head coach since the 1970 merger to start the season 7-0.
While McDaniels said Tomlin's success didn't influence whether or not he thought he could do the job, he admitted Tomlin is a role model.
"He's certainly a guy that most of us would emulate, winning a Super Bowl in his second year and being as successful as he has been so far in his coaching career," McDaniels said.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was among the first to buy into Tomlin's system, admitting that he didn't always see eye to eye with Cowher.
That's not to say both coaches didn't have their detractors.
In Denver, the new coach was lambasted on a Fire Josh McDaniels website, while enduring conflicts with quarterback Jay Cutler (eventually traded) and wide receiver Brandon Marshall (he demanded a new contract and trade only to be seen exchanging hugs with McDaniels after upsetting Dallas).
But McDaniels' wild display of emotion after defeating mentor Bill Belichick and New England to go 5-0 won over a legion of fans.
McDaniels charged down the sideline through a sea of players, pointed emphatically toward his family in the stands and let loose five fist pumps that would have made Tiger Woods proud.
Then he turned and jumped into the arms of one of his players, Kenny Peterson, who not coincidentally played high school ball with his new coach.
"He definitely takes the cake because he is passionate about what he does," said Peterson, whose clearest memories of McDaniels at Canton McKinley High School are of how small the pint-sized QB looked in uniform.
"It meant a lot to us," added defensive lineman Andra Davis of the emotional display. "You know he's riding this wave with us. If it's good, he's there with us and if it's bad he's there with us. We're in this together."
The I-pod carrying McDaniels may be precise in what he demands but nonetheless is seen as a players' coach.
"He connected with a lot more players especially in this generation just because he is this generation," said running back Peyton Hillis. "And when you find someone that passionate and who has that will to win, you've got to buy into everything he says."
Like Tomlin, McDaniels comes from a fine coaching pedigree. Tomlin learned under Tony Dungy, Jon Gruden, Monte Kiffen and Herm Edwards.
McDaniels was groomed first by his father, Thom, a coaching legend in northeast Ohio, then by Belichick in New England.
Yet unlike other Belichich disciples, he has fared the best.
Charlie Weis has had his struggles at Notre Dame, Romeo Crennel was fired after losing 40 games in four seasons in Cleveland and Eric Mangini is doing all he can to avoid being the next biggest Mistake by the Lake.
"Thank God I'm not in Cleveland," said Davis, who has brought toughness to Denver's defensive line.
Backup quarterback Chris Simms no doubt is thankful he's no longer in Tampa, which is 0-7 under rookie head coach Raheem Morris.
And ditto for Peterson, who re-upped for three years with Denver in March.
"Guys can see from his demeanor he's a winner," Peterson said of McDaniels. "Knowing him as long as I have, I knew what he was going to bring to the table. And it's coming to fruition."
• Game: Steelers (5-2) at Denver Broncos (6-1).
• When: 8:30 p.m.
• Where: Invesco Field at Mile High Stadium.
• TV: WTAE & ESPN.
First Published November 8, 2009 12:00 am