The League

Leonard Shapiro
Columnist

Leonard Shapiro

Washington Post sports reporter, editor and columnist who has served on the NFL HOF Selection Committee.

Winning matters

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Things must be going swimmingly for Pat Bowlen's non-football businesses these days. How else to explain the Denver Broncos' owner firing head coach Josh McDaniels on Monday with another two years and $7 million left in his contract, on top of the millions he also owes Mike Shanahan, the man McDaniels replaced two years ago.

Next year, Bowlen will be paying the salaries of three head coaches, not exactly the sort of fiscal policy associated with most league franchises. Still, the NFL, more than ever, has become a classic "what have you done for me lately" pressure cooker for head coaches, evidenced by the third in-season head coaching change in the last month.

McDaniels' 28-game tenure began with a 6-0 run at the start, followed by 5-17 and all manner of other disasters. His personnel decisions were horrendous, particularly greasing the skids for the departures of running back Peyton Hillis and offensive lineman Casey Wiegmann, now both fueling the high-octane running attacks of the Browns and Chiefs, respectively.

Using a first-round pick on Florida quarterback Tim Tebow raised countless eyebrows around the league as well, but that reaction was nothing compared to an embarrassing Spygate scandal that surely must have played a major role in Bowlen's decision to cut him loose.

Though McDaniels insisted he had no knowledge that a team video man had taped the final walk-though practice of the San Francisco 49ers the day before the two teams played in London in October, his repeated denials begged credulity. The photographer had once been fired by the New England Patriots for a similar transgression in the infamous Spygate scandal, the very same team on which McDaniels served as an assistant under the unmasked cheater, Bill Belichick.

McDaniels was fined $50,000 by the league office for not reporting the incident right away, and the scandal still could cost him that additional $7 million he's also due. ESPN reported that the team is looking into the possibility that McDaniels violated the morals clause in his contract, and if it can make that case, Bowlen might get off the hook.

What the owner cannot avoid, however, is the knowledge that he hired a 33-year-old head coach who managed to get his team mired in its worst stretch of losing since the 1971-72 season, and thoroughly alienated one of the league's most passionate fan bases.

In the last home game against St. Louis, there were thousands of empty seats in Invesco Field, and many more thousands exited the facility even as the Broncos rallied in the final minutes before eventually losing the game. That more than anything, followed by a tough loss to division rival Kansas City Sunday, surely pushed Bowlen to make the change, several weeks after he insisted McDaniels would be reevaluated after the season.

Clearly though, there are no guarantees for head coaches in pro football these days, save for one. Win football games and you keep your job. For now, anyway.

By Leonard Shapiro  |  December 7, 2010; 11:03 AM ET  | Category:  Coaching , Denver Broncos , Leonard Shapiro , NFL Rules Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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