Rams hire McDaniels to direct offense

BY JIM THOMAS
Wednesday, January 19, 2011 12:35 am

He was in, he was out, he was somewhere in between. But by early Tuesday evening, Josh McDaniels was the new offensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams.

It was a bold move by the Rams organization and a clear sign that they're serious about continuing the growth of their offense and the development of quarterback Sam Bradford.

"We are happy to announce that Josh will be a part of our staff," coach Steve Spagnuolo said. "I've always recognized that he is one of the top offensive minds in the NFL. We think he is a great addition to our organization."

Tuesday began with national reports that McDaniels was the clear favorite to succeed Pat Shurmur as Rams offensive coordinator. Later came reports that negotiations had hit a snag, that McDaniels was out, and that the Rams were looking elsewhere. And then, at about 5:15 p.m., the deal was done.

McDaniels' take on all this?

"I wanted to be a St. Louis Ram. That's all I know," he said. "My wife and I are extremely happy about the opportunity we've been given. And we're very excited to be part of this organization. I've learned, I guess, that it doesn't really matter how things get to the final point as long as they get there. And I'm excited to go forward."

Reached by the Post-Dispatch about an hour after his hiring became official, McDaniels wasn't even sure when he would show up for his first day of work in St. Louis.

"I'll talk to Steve here in a little bit, and he'll work that out with me, whatever he's looking for in that regard," McDaniels said. "But I'm looking forward to getting to work. I can't wait to get started. I've had a vacation that's been way too long for a guy who likes to coach. So I'm kind of antsy and I'll be there as quickly as I can."

For McDaniels, 34, it wasn't a planned vacation. His head-coaching tenure in Denver came to a crash-and-burn conclusion Dec. 6 when he was fired 12 games into the 2010 season.

After McDaniels' 6-0 start as a rookie head coach in 2009, the Broncos lost 17 of their next 22 games. Just nine days before his firing, the Denver Post reported that McDaniels had illegally taped a San Francisco walk-through practice before the Broncos-***** game Oct. 31 in London. There also were rumblings out of Denver that he was difficult to get along with and that nobody at Broncos headquarters was sorry to see him go after his firing.

But there can be no disputing McDaniels' offensive credentials. The former Bill Belichick protégé in New England was offensive coordinator for the Patriots' record-smashing 2007 squad — the team that took an 18-0 record into the Super Bowl only to be upset by the New York Giants and their up-and-coming defensive coordinator, Steve Spagnuolo.

Now Spagnuolo and McDaniels are working together in St. Louis.

"My family and I are extremely happy to be joining the St. Louis Rams," McDaniels said. "Our visit the other day was exceptional. To be able to meet the people, starting with Steve who I've known for a while, and Billy (Devaney) and Kevin (Demoff) and some of the coaches and the people in the building that I had a chance to meet. Everything was first class, and I can't wait to get started there."

McDaniels interviewed with the Rams on Saturday and, according to league sources, was the only candidate to interview for the job that opened up when Shurmur was named head coach of the Cleveland Browns last Thursday.

But following reports that negotiations between the Rams and McDaniels had hit a snag came reports that the Rams would be interviewing other candidates — including Minnesota offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and Atlanta assistant head coach-quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave. The Rams apparently contacted the Vikings about interviewing Bevell; it's unclear if that was the case with Musgrave.

One source told the Post-Dispatch that the negotiations hit a snag because the sides were $200,000 apart. The word in Minnesota, where McDaniels had interviewed earlier this month for the coordinator's job, was that he was seeking $2 million a year from the Vikings. There were also rumors that the hangup might be because McDaniels wanted to bring his brother Ben along. (Ben McDaniels was Denver's quarterbacks coach this season.) To which a team source replied that he didn't even know McDaniels had a brother in the coaching business.

But even with the reports that a McDaniels hire wasn't happening in St. Louis and that Seattle was wooing him after firing its offensive coordinator (Jeremy Bates), a Rams source insisted late in the afternoon that McDaniels remained a candidate for the job.

A couple hours later, McDaniels had the job. McDaniels said his Saturday interview with Spagnuolo broadened his appreciation for him.

"He's got a great vision for what he wants his football team to look like," McDaniels said. "He's got a great plan, and I think that that's always very important. When you're talking about competing in the NFL, you want to be somewhere where you know what the direction is, you know what's expected of you. He laid that out very clearly to me and I'm looking forward to working for him and being a Steve Spagnuolo guy."

This season, Spagnuolo and McDaniels went head-to-head Nov. 28, when the Rams earned their first road victory of the season with a 36-33 victory over Denver. With journeyman Kyle Orton at quarterback, the Broncos had the league's top-rated passing offense entering that game.

Two years earlier, McDaniels had added to his résumé in New England when quarterback Tom Brady went down with a season-ending knee injury on opening day of 2008. The Patriots won 10 of 15 games with Matt Cassel as their starting quarterback. Before that, Cassel hadn't started a game since high school.

Now, McDaniels will work closely with Bradford, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft.

"Sam's an extremely talented player," McDaniels said. "We had the opportunity to play against him this year and I think he had one of his finer games that afternoon. He's a very accurate guy. Does a lot of things in the pocket well. Does things out of the pocket well. We'll hope to take the things that he did well this year and try to build on 'em as he goes into his second year."

Denver ran the ball only 39 percent of the time this season under McDaniels, but he realizes in St. Louis that he has another prime talent besides Bradford in Pro Bowl running back Steven Jackson.

"Steven is a guy that I've admired for a long time," McDaniels said. "He's a versatile guy. He runs downhill and gets the hard yards. Takes care of the football very well, which is obviously important in our game. And he's got the opportunity and the ability to take it the distance when he touches the football.

"Those things are all critical aspects of being a running back, and being a successful guy in this league. He's certainly done it. We'll hope to build around those two guys (Bradford and Jackson) and do the best we can going forward with our offensive system."