Scandal aside, Broncos can't be so wishy-washy with McDaniels

Another videotaping scandal hit the NFL last week, this time from the Denver Broncos but with some of the same folks associated with the New England Patriots controversy of 2007.

Broncos videographer Steve Scarnecchia, formerly of the Patriots and director of video operations for the Jets in 2007, taped a six-minute walk-through of the San Francisco 49ers when the teams played last month in London. Broncos coach Josh McDaniels, himself a member of New England's coaching staff in 2007, has been cleared after an investigation from the league office determined Scarnecchia acted alone. While McDaniels was cleared from the video-taping incident, he was fined for his failure to immediately report the taping once he found out it happened.

But let's be real. The perception lingers and memories of "Spygate" come storming back, in part, because McDaniels and Scarnecchia were associated with the scandal -- although on opposite ends.

For McDaniels, this has been a rough second year with the Broncos. It started with the loss for the season of his best player, outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil, before the campaign began, and Denver has not been able to recover. When it rains, it pours.

The last thing McDaniels needed during this horrific season was to be accused of spying on opponents. And now he must be sitting in his office wondering if his owner supports him or if his time in Denver is coming to an abrupt end.

With Broncos fans anxious about their team and concerned about the qualifications of their young head coach, owner Pat Bowlen talked exclusively with Thomas George of AOL Fanhouse, and he issued several strong statements of support of his coach, saying: "I'm not interested in making a change." When asked if McDaniels would be back for 2011, Bowlen responded: "Yes, he will."

Some two hours later, the Broncos released a written statement that seemed to change the tone of Bowlen's endorsement of McDaniels.

"This has been a very trying and disappointing season for all of us," Bowlen said in the statement. "We haven't had the success we had hoped to achieve. Josh McDaniels is the head coach of the Broncos, and you always strive for stability at that position. However, with five games left in the 2010 season, we will continue to monitor the progress of the team and evaluate what's in the best interest of this franchise."

This new statement was pointless, because everyone knows that a public display of support is meaningless, especially after recently fired Wade Phillips and Brad Childress were given votes of confidence from their owners days before their termination. So why did the Broncos feel the need to readjust their original position? These are strange times in Denver, for sure.

If McDaniels is to lose his job, it should not happen because the guy he chose to be his videographer made a huge mistake, or because McDaniels made another blunder by not promptly turning in his friend. With the Broncos 3-8, Bowlen has to decide if McDaniels is qualified to be his head coach -- today, tomorrow and next year.

When the Broncos hired McDaniels, they had to expect some turbulent times. They had to expect their bright, young coach would have to endure adversity as he learned how to be a head coach. Denver gave him the power to build the team in the style of his choosing, and if the Broncos were to change coaches now, it would set the franchise back and force adoption of an entirely new philosophy.

Years of bad drafts and poor free-agent signings hurt the Broncos before McDaniels became head coach. Running Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall out of town probably didn't help. And McDaniels is paying a price for all of these moves, much like Mike Shanahan, the former coach of the Broncos, is paying for all the Redskins' poor drafts and wasteful spending.

Clearly, McDaniels had a good, young quarterback in Cutler to build around -- maybe not in the style he wanted, but Cutler was talented. However, there was a communication problem between them, and nobody in the organization forced McDaniels to work with Cutler. Sometimes a coach needs to be told from above that he needs to work around problems, become more open in his thinking and not try to solve every problem by eliminating the player.

There is always going to be a learning curve when you hire young talent, in any profession, and if you don't have the stomach to handle the tough times, then going young is not a good idea.

Yet organizations must have support systems in place for a young coach, to ensure all the right questions are being asked before each move is made. It's hard for many in the NFL to understand that questioning a move or a decision is healthy -- it's not disloyal. Hearing a different point of view allows those making decisions to see things in a different light.

Remember, if everyone is thinking alike, then no one is thinking. Oftentimes coaches who want full control struggle with the difference between disloyalty and honesty, and that always hurts the organization.

Bowlen, in his interview with AOL Fanhouse, seemed to understand that these are trying times for McDaniels and seemed willing to set aside the latest controversy and evaluate his coach while allowing him time to grow. Yet the written statement seems to indicate that the McDaniels era is coming to an end in Denver.

I sincerely hope Bowlen evaluates McDaniels after the season to see whether his coach has grown and can continue to learn on the job -- and where he might be with some help and more seasoning.

My philosophy

This is not to condone the actions of Scarnecchia, or inaction of McDaniels, but let me break down how things work with videotaping and signals.

I've been on the sidelines when coaches were screaming the play that was about to come, not because we taped any practice but because of recognized tendencies based on formations and our video preparation.

Miami Dolphins offensive coordinator Dan Henning once told me that if a team doesn't have any tendencies, then they can't be a good team. I strongly believe that to be true, and all good teams rely more on execution than surprise. Therefore, knowing the plays is nice, but being able to stop them is a whole other issue.

In baseball, stealing signals is part of the game, and at times that also applies to football. If a team is willing to show their signals openly, making no effort to conceal their calls, then they deserve to be stolen. But I contend that it really offers little assistance. It does help to know if a blitz is coming, but most quarterbacks can tell from the alignment where the pressure is coming from and can make the right call.

Yet, in reality, in football calls that come in from the sideline are packaged (two or three plays together), and it would be impossible to know which play actually will be called.

For example, a coach might send in two plays, then based on the defensive front and the coverage, the quarterback will change the call. The actual game plan determines the play that will be called, based on formations and prior tendencies. Today most everything with regard to calls are based on the quarterback, or the defensive signal-caller will just yell his call and tag it with "check with me." The statement alerts either side of the ball to listen for instructions on what the actual call will be, predicated by the game plan.

Then there is a kill package, which means the quarterback will call two plays. The first play called will be executed unless the "kill" is called or signaled to everyone. At this point, the quarterback will either run the second play or call a completely new play based on the defense's alignment. All these security systems have been put into place because, as the science of football has increased, the technology of football has advanced, and each side of the ball wants to always call the perfect play all the time.

Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi.

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