After several seconds of trying to convince a listener that Sunday's game against the Patriots is significant only because it's next on the schedule, Josh McDaniels leaned against his black BMW sedan, flashed a wide smile and, for one of the few times since becoming the Broncos' head coach in January, veered off message.
"It is going to be special for me in that I'm going to relish the opportunity to try to get ready to play and beat a team that I was a part of for eight years, a team that I respect so much," he said last Sunday, after the Broncos improved to 4-0 for the first time since 2003 with a thrilling 17-10 victory over the Cowboys. "I'm forever indebted to the Patriots for what they did for me and for what they've allowed my family to accomplish in terms of my professional career."
It is a career that was aided greatly by New England coach Bill Belichick, who gave McDaniels his first NFL job in 2001. While climbing from personnel assistant to coaching assistant to quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator, McDaniels, now 33, absorbed many of the Belichick's teachings and adopted many of his football principles. You can see it in how the Broncos run practice, evaluate personnel, write scouting reports, and attack opponents on offense and defense with situational football. They're all so ... so ... New England-like.
Still, perhaps the most important lessons McDaniels learned came in February 2008, two weeks after the Patriots' quest for an undefeated season ended with a 17-14 loss to the Giants in Super Bowl XLIII. When the coaches returned from a two-week break, Belichick called McDaniels into his office and handed him a five-page, typed report on what it takes to be an effective coach and have a winning organization.
"I had been talking to Bill for a few years about being a head coach, and after I didn't do any interviews during the bye week in the '07 playoffs he said, 'I will help you in any way I can to get you ready for all the other things that go into the job,'" McDaniels said. "Just being around him every day was going to help me from a football standpoint because I could see what he did and how he did it. But he was saying he would help me with some of the things that you won't really get a chance to witness or understand or become knowledgeable about until you're in that position.
"I remember when we first came back after our break, that very first day, that very first morning, he brought me into his office and he gave me five pages, typed, of all the topics and things that he felt like I needed to be educated about to become an effective head coach. I'm thinking to myself, here he's got 10 or 12 days where he can do whatever in the hell he wants to do -- we've just come off a season where we were 16-0 and lost in the Super Bowl -- and the very first day back he gives me this? That was kind of like my bible."
During the 2008 season, the men met for an hour here, 30 minutes there, until they had addressed every point in the report. From there McDaniels developed 60 to 65 questions of his own that he carried into job interviews with Cleveland and Denver earlier this year.
"When you say where did the questions come from, it was Bill's background," McDaniels said. "He had been a head coach in Cleveland and New England, he was a coordinator in a number of different places, and he understands the salary cap, free agency, the draft, contracts, all that stuff. He gave me as much of that information as I could possibly ask for -- and then he gave me a whole bunch of information that I never would have asked for. I wouldn't trade that experience for anything."
That's why Sunday's showdown against the 3-1 Patriots is more than the next game on the schedule. McDaniels knows that one of the best ways to show Belichick how much he respects and appreciates him is by having his team as prepared as possible.
"They're going to know some of the things we're doing, and we're going to know some of the things they're doing," McDaniels says. " It's ultimately going to come down to whose players execute and make the most plays. It'll be a lot of fun. The games that are really special are the ones where you're playing the best teams, and they're certainly one of them."
With that, McDaniels was back on message -- which is exactly where Belichick would want him to be.