Here's the moral of the story for the Denver Broncos in light of the recent Josh McDaniels debacle. Don't hire a boy to do a man's job. McDaniels, who wasn't even 40 when he was hired (shout out to Mike Gundy), proves once again that in the National Football League young isn't synonymous with prodigy.
The NFL, like many other entities, is in the midst of a youth movement. The success of coaches like the Pittsburgh Steelers' Mike Tomlin (hired at 34) has owners and general managers jonesing for non-gray haired talent. Charisma, energy, and "relatability" to players seem to be much more desirable qualities than actual experience these days.
Undoubtedly, Broncos owner Pat Bowlen had visions of Don Shula (hired by the Baltimore Colts at age 33) dancing in his head when he chose the Bill Belichick protégé to guide the Broncos in 2009. With McDaniels' perfect teeth and cute dimples, who can really blame him? Too bad Bowlen was choosing a coach, not a prom date.
Successful young coaches are the exception and not the rule in the NFL. For every Jon Gruden (hired by the Oakland Raiders at age 32) there are ten Lane Kiffins (hired at age 31, also by the Raiders). In fact, the aforementioned Tomlin and Gruden are the only two head coaches under the age of 40 to ever win Super Bowls. They were both on the backside of their 30s at ages 39 and 36 respectively when they captured the coveted Lombardi Trophy.
Unfortunately, McDaniels was a lot more like Kiffin than the more successful Gruden or Tomlin. Like Kiffin, McDaniels was a "brilliant" offensive mind that moved quickly up the assistant coaching ranks. Also like Kiffin, McDaniels came from a coaching family. Supposedly, they also both have near genius level football smarts. (Is that phrase an oxymoron?)
Unlike Lane Kiffin, McDaniels doesn't have his dad to lean on any more nor does he have notoriety obtained from his name being dropped in rap songs.
Giving Josh McDaniels the reins to the Denver Broncos proved to be like potty training a kid on the grown up's toilet. The environment was just way too big and intimidating. Metaphorically speaking, McDaniels soiled himself. He took a playoff-caliber team, stripped it of its talent, and reduced it to mediocrity.
I suspect the obsession with young coaches in the NFL stems from our culture's fascination with successful young people in general. Magazines love to compile catchy lists like the "Most Successful 40 Entrepreneurs Under 40." And for good reason, since they make for interesting reading and periodicals like those fly off the shelves.
The simple fact is you can't create such a list with NFL coaches because there have only been 22 head coaches under the age of 35 in the history of the NFL. I would wager that you have never heard of most of them. Successful young coaches are few and far between. Pardon the pun, but the NFL proves to be a whole different ball game compared to other professions.
NFL franchises aren't like other businesses. Take Microsoft and Facebook, for instance. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg both seemed to navigate the business world with relative ease in their early 20s. But tech companies are not quite football teams. Gates and Zuckerberg are leading armies of software engineers that subsist on Mountain Dew and Hot-N-Ready pizzas from Little Caesars. They aren't managing sculpted, egomaniacal athletes.
I don't have a lot of advice for Pat Bowlen other than this. Learn from your mistake. Shell out the money for a proven coach or reward a long time coordinator who has put in his time. Prodigies don't grow on trees, especially in the NFL.
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