McDaniels to Replace Mike Shanahan

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The Denver Broncos apparently have turned from “The Mastermind” to “The Wunderkid.”

Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has agreed to become the Broncos’ next coach, ESPN reported Sunday night, citing team sources. The network said Denver was expected to announce the deal with the 32-year-old McDaniels on Monday.

The Broncos did not respond to phone messages and e-mails from The Associated Press seeking comment.

McDaniels would replace Mike Shanahan, who was fired Dec. 30 after 14 seasons with three years and $21 million left on his contract. He’s the only one of six NFL head coaches to ever get fired by the team for which he won back-to-back Super Bowls.

The Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News also reported the hiring on their Web sites, citing league sources.

The Broncos won it all in 1997 and ‘98 but have slipped into mediocrity, winning just one playoff game in the decade since John Elway retired.

McDaniels is a rising star who has spent his entire eight-year NFL coaching career in New England, where he worked his way up from personnel assistant in the scouting department to offensive coordinator for Bill Belichick.

Under his tutelage, Tom Brady threw for a record 50 touchdowns last season and the Patriots came within a whisker of the first 19-0 season in NFL history.

McDaniels’ reputation grew ever larger this year when Brady was lost with a knee injury in the opener and Matt Cassel, who hadn’t started a game since high school, led the Patriots to an 11-5 record.

McDaniels would be the third member of Belichick’s coaching staff to become a head coach in the NFL, following Romeo Crennel with Cleveland in 2005 and Eric Mangini, who joined the Jets a year later. Both were fired this offseason with Mangini replacing Crennel in Cleveland.

McDaniels was the second of seven candidates the Broncos’ brain trust interviewed. Owner Pat Bowlen, chief operating officer Joe Ellis and personnel chief Jim Goodman met with him in Rhode Island on Jan. 4, and Goodman conducted a second, lengthy interview with him in the Boston area.

McDaniels will inherit an explosive offense that appears to be one healthy running back away from greatness and a dismal defense that needs another overhaul. That led many observers to believe defensive minds such as the Giants’ Steve Spagnuolo or the Vikings’ Leslie Frazier had the inside track for the job in Denver.

Frazier was unaware he was out of the running for the Broncos’ job when contacted by the AP on Sunday night. He’s in the running for coaching vacancies in St. Louis and Detroit.

“It would mean a lot to have that opportunity,” Frazier said. “I’m not going to lose any sleep. It would be a great opportunity, but we’re close to doing something special here. We’ll see what happens.”

The other candidates were Raheem Morris of Tampa Bay, Rick Dennison of Denver, Jason Garrett of Dallas and Todd Bowles of Miami.

The new coach won’t have as much power as Shanahan, who had final say on just about everything as vice president of football operations. Bowlen said he’ll begin searching for a general manager after he hires his coach.

Jay Cutler, who broke several passing records this year and was selected for his first Pro Bowl, publicly criticized Bowlen’s firing of Shanahan and the owner quickly reached out to his franchise quarterback, telling him he’d keep him in the loop on the search.

“Hopefully we can continue to improve. I’m hoping we can keep some of our offensive coaches, keep some of those guys around,” wide receiver Brandon Stokley told the AP on Sunday night. “I think we did a good job. Hopefully we can keep getting better and bring new ideas. We have a lot of young talent.”

Even Shanahan suggested on his way out the door that his successor should keep the offensive staff intact. Cutler is particularly fond of his position coach, Jeremy Bates, who called the plays last season.

And Bowlen is high on running backs coach Bobby Turner, who helped turn Terrell Davis into an NFL great but whose masterpiece came in 2008, when he helped keep Denver in the playoff hunt despite losing an astonishing seven tailbacks to injured reserve.

McDaniels, who began his coaching career in 1999 as a graduate assistant under Nick Saban at Michigan State, does has some defensive experience. He helped the defensive staff in New England for three seasons before serving as quarterbacks coach in 2004. He was promoted to offensive coordinator in 2006.

The Broncos went 8-8 this season and became the first team in NFL history to blow a three-game divisional lead with three weeks left, and Shanahan was fired 48 hours later.