Josh McDaniels grew up a coach’s kid. He learned about the game of football — the good, the bad and the ugly — from watching his father, Thom. Now as the head coach of the Denver Broncos,
Josh McDaniels has a whole new appreciation of where he came from.
Someone, it seems, always has looked out for Josh McDaniels.
When all the dots connected, eventually it led to Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen hiring the 33-year-old to be his head coach.
Not every stop of McDaniels’ journey to the Broncos made sense, though. Until now.
At John Carroll University, McDaniels played football. More importantly, he was a math major.
Since when did the Pythagorean Theorem lead to a touchdown? What football coach ever uses his major anyway?
“That whole process helped me learn how to think,” McDaniels said Thursday during a one-on-one interview with The Repository. “It trained me how to solve problems, and problem-solving comes into play in a lot of areas of life.”
Controversy right away
The first thing McDaniels had to deal with in Denver was a disgruntled franchise quarterback.
Jay Cutler wasn’t happy when his named surfaced in trade talks. Cutler eventually was traded to Chicago, and Broncos fans wondered about the wunderkid calling the shots. Yeah, problem-solving is a good trait to have.
“Every day is a challenge,” McDaniels said.
When McDaniels was growing up, his father, Thom, held one of the most high-profile high school football coaching jobs in the country at Ohio's McKinley High School.
It was Thom who helped Josh get his foot in the door on Nick Saban’s staff at Michigan State. That led Josh to the Patriots, where he started out as a low-level assistant breaking down film for Bill Belichick.
Is Josh McDaniels a product of his father or of Belichick?
The answer is both.
Thom McDaniels made his son a good person. Belichick made Josh a good NFL coach.
“I’m a combination of the best of both of them,” Josh McDaniels said. “Bill taught me how to win in the National Football League and how to handle an organization. He was a great mentor and taught me so much about offense, defense and the kicking game.
“My relationships with my players and my mannerisms come from my father. How I handle a staff and my day-to-day personality is a lot like my father. He’s a fantastic communicator.”
When Josh McDaniels laughs at a press conference, you can see his father. When he’s yelling at a player who isn’t precise in practice, he looks like an angry Thom McDaniels.
The worst side of sports
When McDaniels played at McKinley, winning football games wasn’t enough. Then, it was about the margin of victory, looking good while winning. It was about state championships.
Thom McDaniels was criticized harshly so many times by Bulldog fans, he was numb to the verbal pain.
Once, there was a death threat, and the person knew the number of the school bus Josh and his brother Jason rode. The bus was followed for a time by a sheriff’s deputy.
“I loved — and still do — everything about coaching,” Thom McDaniels said. “I think he saw at a very early age that someone could like it despite the negative stuff.
“Our kids heard things that were yelled at us. People said things to their mother. There was a period of time we couldn’t go a Sunday without a nasty letter to the editor. ”
Growing up in that environment can jade a young man. It made Josh McDaniels tough and loyal.
Canton is blue collar. Get past the boyish face, and so, too, is Josh McDaniels.
“I don’t think any one thing will prepare you for the different challenges you face with this job,” he said. “It’s so all encompassing. As a young kid seeing all the things I saw, and hearing all the things I heard and then watching (Thom) handle it with that kind of class and dignity, that taught me how I wanted to be.”
Sharing a victory
Last week in Cincinnati, during the final seconds of McDaniels’ first game as an NFL head coach, he didn’t stop thinking of a way to beat the Bengals. The football bounced off a Cincinnati defender and into the hands of Broncos receiver Brandon Stokely for an improbable touchdown and a 12-7 victory.
When the players all had showered and left, McDaniels had a few minutes alone in the locker room. That’s when he realized he was an NFL head coach and could invite his family in.
Thom and Chris McDaniels came in. Jason McDaniels was there. Josh’s wife, Laura, was there.
Moments earlier, Denver players gave Josh the game ball to commemorate his first NFL win. Josh gave it to his father as they hugged.
“That was overwhelming to me,” Thom said. “It was a special father-son moment.”
“It was an experience I don’t think I’ll ever forget,” Josh said. “My wife has only cried at a few things related to football. She was caught by the moment. ... My mom and dad, everybody there, we’ve been through a lot of wins and losses. Sometimes, you get the lucky bounce and you play hard enough to get one go your way.”
There have been moments when it was perceived that McDaniels was still getting to know his players.
Then the ball bounced his way in Cincinnati.
McDaniels had a tough time getting to the middle of the field when the game ended to shake Marvin Lewis’ hand. That’s because practically every Denver player stopped McDaniels to hug him.
Along the way, McDaniels has seen subtle signs the players believe in him.
“I’ve never doubted that,” he said. “But when you share something like that, it makes it more tangible. You can measure it. We’re doing things the right way, and I know the players believe that in their hearts and minds.”