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Has Josh McDaniels really learned from his Denver days?

It sure doesn’t seem like it

San Francisco 49ers v Las Vegas Raiders
Josh McDaniels
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The biggest knock, and concerns about, Josh McDaniels before he was hired as the head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders was his rocky tenure as the leader of the Denver Broncos more than a decade earlier.

Hired to replace two-time Super Bowl-winning champion coach Mike Shanahan at the age of 32 after a stint as Tom Brady’s hot-shot offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots, McDaniels turned out to be nothing short of a disaster in the Rocky Mountains. He was fired after 28 games with a 11-17 overall record.

McDaniels’ Denver tenure was wrecked by him clashing with players, a cheating scandal and poor on-field management.

After he was hired by Las Vegas owner Mark Davis, McDaniels, who was 45 when hired by the Raiders, openly discussed his Denver days. He spoke at length about his issues in his first AFC West spot. He essentially chalked it up to mistakes by an overzealous, young head coach. McDaniels went onto explain he waited so long to become a head coach again because he thought he learned so much from the first experience.

This is part of what he had to say on the matter last year:

“The last 10 to 12 years I’ve really had an opportunity to grow as a person, as a coach, as a man, and try to figure out after my experiences in Denver and St. Louis who I am, how I wanted to be defined in my career, what I wanted to represent, and how I would lead the next time if I got another opportunity to be a head coach,” McDaniels said. “It’s crystallized for me. I’m clear in the vision that I have for this role, for this job, for this team, and I’m going to be myself.”

Yet, nearly 14 months into his time in Las Vegas, it seems like McDaniels is taking much of the same approach with the Raiders that he did in Denver with the same questionable results.

When McDaniels went to Denver, he brought in several players from his days in New England in free agency (sound familiar?). The biggest bombshell, though, came when he didn’t get a player he wanted from the Patriots.

He tried to trade for quarterback Matt Cassel because they were together in New England. That was despite the fact the Broncos had 25-year-old Jay Cutler, who was a Pro Bowl player on his second season as a starter. Cutler found out about the Broncos’ attempt to get Cassel and it ruined their relationship. Cutler didn’t like that McDaniels was untruthful to him. Weeks later, Cutler was traded.

NFL: Denver Broncos at Baltimore Ravens
Josh McDaniels in 2009
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

McDaniels also caused waves inside the Denver locker room when he went away from popular, and successful, veteran long snapper Mike Leach to make room for Lonnie Paxson, who was, of course, a former Patriot. A prominent Denver player told he then that players didn’t understand why a positive presence like Leach at a less-than-vital position had to be sent packing in favor of one of McDaniels’ favorites. It was an instant sign that the coach would come to town with his own wants being much more important that the player’s.

Ironically, just Friday, McDaniels pulled a similar move by signing long snapper Jacob Bobenmoyer even through they had the solid, well respected Trent Sieg under contract at a lesser price. Yet, Bobenmoyer played for Las Vegas special teams coach Tom McMahon in Denver. Sieg was released Sunday.

Former Denver offensive lineman turned local radio host Tyler Polumbus made waves when shared a series of tweets last September about how McDaniels would treat players.

Last week, former NFL receiver Brandon Marshall, who had problems with McDaniels in Denver, went deep into McDaniels on his “I Am Athlete’ Podcast and accused him of repeating his Denver failures in Las Vegas,

There hasn’t been many major issues between McDaniels and his Raiders’ players, but there have been some signs of discord.

As part of an NFLPA poll last year, McDaniels didn’t get good reviews. The Raiders’ coaching staff was given the lowest grade in the league. Players stated that Daniels is less likely to listen to players and keeps them at work for longer hours than other coaches in the NFL.

Last week, after he was traded to the New York Giants, it was reported that Pro Bowl tight end Darren Waller was upset with McDaniels for publicly announcing his upcoming wedding. Waller said at his first press conference in New York he was not expecting the trade.

Also, Derek Carr’s brother David Carr, has said his brother and McDaniels “butted heads” last season. Carr, of course, was released after being benched late in the season.

Last year, McDaniels said working on improving relationships was part of his growth as a coach.

“When I went to Denver, I knew a little bit of football. I didn’t really know people and how important that aspect of this process and maintaining the culture and building the team was. I failed, and I didn’t succeed at it,” McDaniels candidly said. “Looking at that experience has been one of the best things in my life in terms of my overall growth as a person, as a coach. What do I need to do different, how do I need to handle my role, if I have another opportunity, and do better at it. I feel like that’s really an area that I’ve tried to grow in with our staff in New England.”

McDaniels, of course, has continued the Denver trend of leaning on former Patriots players in free agency. He did it several times last year and has done the same this year by bringing in the likes of former Patriots’ Jimmy Garoppolo, Jakobi Myers and Phillip Dorsett.

McDaniels is a big believer in his own system as were other Bill Belichick assistants who got head-coaching jobs. Going back to the New England well didn’t work for several Belichick assistants. Thus far, it hasn’t worked for McDaniels, either. Yet, he keeps trying.

Of course, the end result in Las Vegas has been similar to the Denver days. The Raiders failed on the field under McDaniels in 2022. They were a bitterly disappointing 6-11. He inherited a 10-7 playoff team. McDaniels is 17-28 as an NFL head coach.

Yes, there is time for McDaniels to become an effective head coach in all areas. But the truth is, it hasn’t happen yet, in two different cities.

The tough thing for Davis is, if he loses patience with McDaniels if the losing continues is he will likely be facing another rebuild because the new staff will likely jettison many of the players McDaniels has brought in because they are so specific to his system.

There were warning signs about hiring McDaniels and so far, it seems the worry was warranted.