With former head coach Rob Chudzinski receiving his walking papers after the Cleveland Browns 20-7 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, speculation is forming over who Cleveland will choose as their seventh head coach since their return to the NFL in 1999. A popular name being currently thrown around is that of New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. As I've stated earlier, I believe Josh McDaniels has been in the sights of CEO Joe Banner and GM Michael Lombardi since they whiffed on landing current Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly.
But why McDaniels? After all, he's hardly compiled an impressive record as a head coach in the NFL, going 11-17 in his one-and-two-thirds seasons in Denver. McDaniels was unceremoniously fired with four games to go in his second season after managing only three wins that year. His tenure in Denver was marred with controversy; he tried trading away Pro Bowl quarterback Jay Cutler within weeks of taking the job as well as divided the locker room by brandishing a cocky, antagonistic attitude towards players and front office personnel alike.
So, again, why McDaniels?
For starters, McDaniels is an offensive genius, or so we're led to believe. After all, during his tenure as New England Patriots offensive coordinator, the franchise has never been ranked lower than 11th in the NFL in total offense. Twice in his five seasons as an offensive coordinator have the Patriots finished with the top offense in the league, in both seasons accruing 400+ yards and 34+ points per game. A Josh McDaniels Patriots offense has never averaged less than 24 points per game. A Josh McDaniels Patriots offense has been held to under 14 points nine total times in five seasons, including postseason runs. The Cleveland Browns were held to under 14 points six times this season alone.
Of course, McDaniels has benefitted heavily from a little-known quarterback who goes by the name of Thomas Edward Patrick Brady, Jr. Brady, a nine-time Pro Bowler, will be a first ballot Hall of Famer. Brady, a two-time NFL MVP and two-time NFL Offensive Player of the Year, is a commodity that no other offensive coordinator possesses. Brady, a three-time Super Bowl champion and two-time Super Bowl MVP, is a pretty good football player. It would take five full additional sentences of the same structure to list the entirety of Brady's NFL awards. Suffice it to say, Tom Brady is one variable who skews the data in McDaniels' favor.
Now is the time that we mention Matt Cassel.
In 2008, after a torn ACL and MCL in the season opener sidelined Tom Brady for the rest of the season, the reigns were handed over to Matt Cassel. Cassel, a 7th round draft pick, had attempted only 39 total passes in the three years he had been employed by the New England Patriots prior to the 2008 season. Cassel, under the direction of McDaniels, went on to win 11 games that season, passing for nearly 3,700 yards and 21 touchdowns. The very same Matt Cassel has gone on to become a starter for both the Kansas City Chiefs as well as the Minnesota Vikings, yet has only ever had a season with similar production one other time over the last five seasons.
Based on the aforementioned statistics, it would seem that McDaniels is deserving of his moniker as "McGenius". After all, he's led a top-twelve offense every season he's been in New England, even without Tom Brady at the helm. He's put up ridiculous amounts of points and has been shut out only once in his career in New England. He's been to more Super Bowls in his 37 years of life than the Cleveland Browns have in their 67 years of existence. He possesses the experience that the front office wants, the local ties that the fanbase would love, the fire that the players need and the resume that beats any coordinator available this offseason.
There's just one problem.
His resume is as padded as a middle-schooler's bra.
Of course he benefitted from being in New England. It wouldn't matter if Tom Brady or Tom Tupa was the quarterback, the Patriots offensive system is a well-oiled machine. In the three years McDaniels took off to find his coaching identity in Denver (and then St. Louis), the New England Patriots offense finished 3rd, 8th, and 2nd in the league, respectively. In the five seasons he's been an offensive coordinator in New England, the Patriots have averaged 29.8 points per game whereas in the three seasons he was gone, the Patriots averaged 30.4 points per game. The first back-to-back-to-back Pro Bowl seasons of Tom Brady's career began the season McDaniels left New England.
McDaniels wasn't and still isn't necessarily needed in New England for that team to be successful. He is simply riding the coattails of an elite coach, an elite quarterback and an elite front office. Take a look at what McDaniels did when he was away from The Hoodie.
In McDaniels' two years in Denver, the Broncos offense never finished above 13th in the league. The Broncos offense was held to under 14 points on four separate occasions in McDaniels' first year as head coach. McDaniels' team scored, on average, 21 points per game over two seasons, a far cry from the 34.8 and 36.8 PPG seasons he was experiencing in New England. He was unable to coexist with arguably the only two weapons the Denver Broncos had at the time, Pro Bowl quarterback Jay Cutler and Pro Bowl wide receiver Brandon Marshall. In his one year stint in St. Louis, where McDaniels was an offensive coordinator after being dismissed from the Broncos, his offense finished 31st in the league. His offense proved to be completely inept at finding the endzone, being shut out twice and posting an NFL-high twelve games in which they were unable to score more than 14 points. That season, the St. Louis offense finished as the worst scoring offense in the NFL, only averaging 12.1 points per game.
Then McDaniels goes back to New England and, in the matter of one season, goes from coordinating the NFL's worst scoring offense to the the NFL's best scoring offense.
Of course, Browns GM Michael Lombardi will overlook these statistics. Michael Lombardi will overlook any damning statistic that involves a player or coach somehow related to the Patriots organization. If given the opportunity, Lombardi would leave his post as GM of the Browns tomorrow to take a position as Bill Belichick's personal towel boy. To Lombardi, the Patriots are the measuring stick in which NFL greatness is measured. And he's not wrong. The Patriots have been one of the most consistently successful organizations over the past decade. They are what every franchise should aspire to be, a constant playoff contender that can win 10+ games no matter who is on the field.
Unfortunately for Cleveland, that reasoning is going to be the cause behind acquiring a head coach who isn't necessarily qualified. That reasoning very well may be what leads to yet another coaching and front office shakeup in the matter of a couple seasons. That reasoning may lead to another 5-10 years of fans cursing the Cleveland Browns.
We can only hope that isn't the case. After all, none of us are making the decisions.