Skip to main content

Teaching Tebow how to be NFL QB is family business for Broncos


The Tebow tutor. Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels has the future of Tim Tebow in his hands, as you all know, after choosing him late in the first round of the 2010 draft. And McDaniels has an interesting assistant: his younger brother Ben, who turned 30 on Sunday, is the quarterbacks coach this season.

I was in Denver recently to write a Broncos story for SI, and saw the brothers in action tutoring their quarterback group -- which lost one of its members Friday with the waiving of last year's rookie prospect Tom Brandstater. (Josh McDaniels wanted all the minicamp reps to go to Kyle Orton, Brady Quinn and Tebow, and the Broncos thought they might have seen Brandstater's ceiling already.)

Last year, Mike McCoy doubled as offensive coordinator and quarterback coach; this year, McCoy is offensive coordinator solely. I think the reason McDaniels chose his brother to oversee the quarterbacks is simple: They learned exactly the same way of coaching the techniques and body motion of quarterbacks from their dad, noted northeast Ohio high school coach Thom McDaniels. Say what you want about having an inexperienced guy coaching the presumptive franchise quarterback day to day, but if the head coach wants his methods to be translated exactly the way he wants, isn't he going to be more comfortable with a coach who knows those methods better than anyone else in the world except him?

Ben McDaniels, like his brother a high school starting quarterback and a college backup, hadn't coached above college grad-assistant level before being hired as an offensive assistant by the Broncos last year. He coaches quietly, but the players seem to respect him. "Coach Ben's a great coach,'' said Tebow. "Very passionate. You can tell he loves coaching and he knows precisely what he wants to get across. I believe in him.''

Josh McDaniels bristled when I asked about nepotism. "Last year, I asked Ben to come in for an interview for the offensive assistant job,'' he said. "Five guys interviewed, and I told him he'd have an equal chance to get the job. He came in and clearly was the best candidate for the job. Period. Going back to high school, people would talk about nepotism [about the brothers starting at quarterback under their father]. Well, we lost nine games in six years with us quarterbacking. Nepotism is for other people to talk about, but we learned a long time ago that's no part of our vocabulary. If you can do the job, you can do the job. Ben is damn good at what he does.''

I have a feeling Tebow will get a real chance to win the job this year, and whether he wins or loses, he will have some red-zone and short-yardage chances. Early and often.

"Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.''-- John Wooden, in 1969, one of the words-to-live-by proverbs that made the former UCLA coach as much of a life coach in retirement as he was a basketball coach. Wooden died Friday at 99 in Los Angeles.

I've seen NFL coaches using Wooden over the years -- John Harbaugh lives by his words -- because they're universal, in sports and in the real world. I never met him, which is one of the great voids of my sportswriting career.

"It too shall pass.''-- Advice given by veteran NFL general manager Bill Polian to Seattle's rookie general manager John Schneider, when Schneider asked if he had any tips for a first-time GM.

I just finished rewriting a few sections of my Monday Morning Quarterback book for a paperback version, and in doing so I gained some new respect for Tony Gonzalez.

Gonzalez is 34. In his first 13 NFL seasons he missed two games due to injury. He has more catches (999) than any other tight end in history. By far. But what interests me is this: In his first 10 seasons in football, he averaged 72.1 catches a year. In his past three, his average is 92.7.

In his 30s, Gonzalez is 20 catches a year better than he was in his 20s. And he has missed zero games in his past three years. With Gonzalez, it's not an exaggeration to say he's not getting older, he's getting better.

Flew from the top of the world (Amsterdam) to the bottom (Cape Town) Saturday, and it's amazing how much you can do when you're not in the mood to watch TV for 11 hours and 13 minutes. Well, I did watch an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm (the one where Rosie O'Donnell beats up Larry, and Larry inadvertently takes two dates in wheelchairs to a recital) and one of The Office, (the Andy-Angela wedding-planning episode), but other than that I read. Got fully up to speed on the World Cup, thanks to writers Grant Wahl and Mark Bechtel and editor Mark Mravic's fantastic preview of the Cup in this week's SI. (What will Ivory Coast do without Didier Drogba?!) And I read 375 pages of the magnetizing The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson.

Also had the opportunity to see the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam Friday. It was a bit of a disappointment. There was no context. No real attempt to show the place exactly as it was. There were lots of signs, no furniture, short videos and never a sense of what it was like to live there. And, frankly (pun intended), no moment of terrible sadness and grief for her like you feel when you read her diary. I kept trying to understand what it was really like but could never feel it.

Cape Town is fantastically beautiful, though the winter can undo your plans. (It is the late fall here, sort of Seattle-ish. Gray, dreary, overcast, though not terribly cold). We tried to sail to Robben Island Sunday to see where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in prison, but the weather cancelled our plans. We'll try again today. I can tell, though, after just one day, that Cape Town should be a destination point for any adventurous traveler. Beautiful in itself and accessible to so many other amazing places. Just come when the weather is a bit nicer. Our summer is their winter.

I have to credit Gil Brandt for this one. At dinner one night, he asked, "Who was the player picked right after Bob Hayes in the 1964 NFL Draft?''

Bill Parcells, linebacker, Wichita State.

Turns out Hayes went 87th overall in the '64 draft, Parcells 88th.

And those are the kind of nuggets you get when mining the mind of Gil Brandt.

"Isn't it funny how growing up I couldn't stand the look or smell of vomit... now that I have kids I step in, catch, clean up without blinking''--@kurt13warner, the former Rams and Cardinals quarterback, late Tuesday night after his 6-year-old son felt sick after eating ice cream, asked his father for a bucket because he was going to be sick and then, indeed, did throw up -- but not before, in mid-vomit, he said to Warner: "Told you Dad!''

More abbreviated than usual this year, but I have five books to tout, all of which will take you away from the TV and the Internet for a few hours and back to where we all spend too little time -- with our noses in books.

WOODEN: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court, by John Wooden with Steve Jamison (Contemporary).

I got this book after speaking at USC earlier this year. I'd known about Wooden's legendary Pyramid of Success, but the one thing that impressed me was Wooden telling the story of his upbringing in a small town in Indiana, and how it affected everything he did for 99 years. "The training I got from my father and mother ... has stayed with my all my life,'' he wrote. I'm reminded of a lot of the great coaches, and how their formative years, and the influence of their parents determined so much of who they became. Reading about Wooden reminded me of the Bill Belichick life story in a different way but with the same parental influence.

MANHOOD FOR AMATEURS, by Michael Chabon (Harper).

Chabon writes about his childhood and his family in a series of essays, and then talks about being a dad. A particularly funny passage is about his kids asking him if he smoked marijuana as a kid, and him describing it as being akin to watching a bad Elvis movie. "Wait -- you mean you actually smoked marijuana?'' one of his kids asks, and then questions how often he did it. Instead of saying a million times (what he was thinking) he says, "a number of times, but I don't do it anymore.'' Quite a few laugh-out-loud, growing-up-in-the-'70s moments from an excellent writer.

THE BULLPEN GOSPELS: Major League Dreams of a Minor League Veteran, by Dirk Hayhurst (Kensington).

Hayhurst, a minor-league pitcher, does the best job I've ever seen of capturing the minor-league life. Though I wish there'd been more baseball in there -- Hayhurst pulls the curtain back on the off-the-field life, and it's riveting -- there's a rawness to this book that I've never read about baseball before. He writes so vividly and hurtfully about his family in Canton, Ohio, with an incredibly depressing home life, and why he was so desperate to escape it. Strongly, strongly recommended.

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, by Stieg Larsson (Vintage).

I've read a lot of the great page-turning writers over the years -- John Grisham, Richard Patterson, Harlan Coben. The late Stieg Larssen (who died of a heart attack six years ago, after turning in three manuscripts that become international sensations) isn't the writer they are but he's got a way of tying you to the pages until you're finished. Maybe something got lost in the translation from the book (written in Swedish); I don't know. I do know Larsson spins a compelling story of a young girl's disappearance from a rich family, with five or six subplots that could have been complete books by themselves. My one must-read recommendation for the summer. I don't care that it's 590 pages. It won't take you long.

THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE, by Stieg Larsson (Vintage).

The second might be better than the first. It's just as disturbing, with the heroine from the first book, Lisbeth Salander, taking center stage as a brilliant but terribly misunderstood computer hacker/investigator accused of triple homicide. The first book was set exclusively in Sweden, but this one meanders to the Caribbean and then back to Sweden with some subplots that, again, could be complete books. I'm right near the end of it now, and plan to finish the trilogy, but I have this awful feeling of what am I going to do without more of his work to look forward to.

1. I think it's not surprising to hear the Patriots and Tom Brady are taking longer than expected to get to the altar on a new deal, and as Yahoo's Mike Silver wrote the other day, there may be a cooling of the historically very warm relationship between Brady and the team.

Let me give you a little history lesson here. Bill Belichick was on the Giants' coaching staff in the mid-'80s when Bill Parcells started making the off-season program sort of a voluntary, mandatory thing. Parcells would tell the players, You don't have to come to the program. But this is where the job is, and if other guys come to the program and outwork you in the offseason, the job might not be there for you when you get to training camp.

Belichick established the same sort of offseason regimen on his coaching stops, including in New England a few years, Brady took pride in being the attendance king his first few years in the league, earning a preferred parking spot and the respect of everyone in the New England locker room. Now Brady's living a bi-coastal life, spending more time than ever in Los Angeles with his wife and two sons -- one of which he shares custody. No matter what he says publicly, Belichick isn't going to like his most important player missing half the offseason program or more. So I wouldn't be surprised if the reality of a family situation impinging on Brady's professional life could end up being a bit of a wedge between player and team.

2. I think, and I'm not the only one who does, that the Patriots wanted to draft Tim Tebow late in the first round or early in the second. I'll always wonder what that would have done to Brady's long-term future in New England. Let me be clear about this -- as long as Brady performs at the highest level, the Patriots will stay with him. As long as he produces, the Patriots are not going to get rid of him. Even if they had picked Tebow, the Patriots wouldn't have -- in my opinion -- pulled a George Seifert and switched from Joe Montana to Steve Young (not saying Tebow will reach that level) when Montana still had some football left in him. But nothing in sports is forever.

3. I think three years ago the Colts might have made long-term plans to keep Marlin Jackson, a smart and tenacious corner from Michigan. Corners have been interchangeable pieces for Indianapolis over the years, but Jackson was the kind of athlete, player and leader the Colts loved. Then he tore his left ACL in 2008. He tore his right ACL in 2009, and the Colts let him go. He signed to play free safety with the Eagles. And last week, in a coverage drill with his new team, Jackson tore his right Achilles. He's out for the year, again.

4. I think Alan Faneca, installed as the starting left guard in Arizona, will be determined to prove the Jets made a mistake in dumping him. Ken Whisenhunt's thrilled with Faneca in early work and thinks he'll be the calming influence a young line needs -- as well as the voice of experience Matt Leinart can use.

5. I think Marion Barber is taking all this talk about Felix Jones being the Cowboys' top running back pretty seriously. Barber's 10 pounds lighter than he was last fall, looks quicker in offseason work and knows he's not on scholarship anymore. The best back will play the most, and Barber knows for it to be him, he has to be quicker and make some of the runs that Jones makes fluidly now.

6. I think, judging by what we've read out of Green Bay on the Johnny Jolly drug trial in Houston, the Packers had better prepare for life without the penetrating defensive tackle in 2010.

7. I think the reason the Rams haven't jumped to sign safety O.J. Atogwe is pretty simple -- a disagreement on how much he's worth. Atogwe wants a contract averaging at least $7 million a year. But the Rams are wary of the big-money deals awarded to safeties who, for multiple reasons, haven't been worth the money (Bob Sanders, Gibril Wilson). Atogwe's a good player, and the Rams need building blocks like him to get better, for sure, but not for $7 million a year.

8. I think if you believe this hasn't been a turnover-filled offseason, you're right. Only 95 starters have left their teams through retirement, free-agency, trades or waivers, according to Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News. Arizona is the biggest loser (seven), Atlanta the least active (zero).

9. I think baseball would be smart to do what football does in instant replay, with a twist: give each team one challenge per game -- on out/safe calls on the bases, on fair/foul calls, and homers/non-homers. That wouldn't slow a game down too much, and it would give each manager the chance to potentially change one huge call from time to time -- and it would have given Jim Leyland the chance to make Armando Galarraga's perfect game a perfect game.

10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:

a. Army First Sgt. Mike McGuire, on the verge of his third deployment to the war zone, checked in the other day after I wrote to tell him about the trip to South Africa, the Pat Tillman/Hall of Fame debate and the success of Five for Fighting in raising money for the recreation equipment for troops.

McGuire writes: "Wow! The World Cup for three weeks. South Africa! What a gig. Preparing for another five weeks in the field, final training for our deployment. We are training our tails off now. Afghanistan is a tougher place altogether than Iraq. I must admit, I am nervous again. That is good though. Keeps me vigilant. I like the recent story about athletes who serve the country and die in combat. I agree with you. [I'd written I didn't think athletes who interrupted their careers should be elected to the Hall of Fame in their sport for military reasons and reasons of great sacrifice, and that Halls of Fame should be for what players did on the field solely.]

"That number, $204,000, doesn't even sound correct as far as the money raised for the troops," he added. "That is massive. Thank you, and thank everyone who contributed. Unbelievable. B Company leaves most quickly. I have already said my goodbyes to buddies in that company. We are right behind them. Glad you and [wife] Ann got to see Walter Reed. Those soldiers are amazing. They only want to be with their unit. Kind of cool, huh? Take care. Talk to you later, Mike.''

b. Tremendously sad story out of Dallas. I'm good friends with ESPN's Ed Werder, and I got to know his road producer, Leah Siegel, a little bit over the years. In TV, the producers make everything happen, and Werder raved about how grateful he was for Leah's competence and relentlessness -- as well as what a good and considerate person she is. Leah and her husband recently had their third child, and while doing so discovered she has an incurable form of breast cancer. Chemotherapy is knocking her for a loop these days. She has a Caring Bridge page with her story, and Werder is spearheading a fund drive for the family (Leah Fund, c/o Barbara Hoffman, American National Bank, 1201 Cross Timbers, Flower Mound, TX 75028). Our best to Leah and her family.

c. What did we ever do without recycling? Found myself thinking that the other day when I brought three things to the curb: a white kitchen garbage bag with four days of house trash, a much larger clear plastic bag with a weekend of paper goods recycling and newspapers, and a bin of commingled plastic, glass and aluminum cans. Our trash was one part garbage, three parts recycling, I'd estimate. Twenty years ago, it was four bags of trash.

d. I was fortunate enough the other day to have lunch with Red Sox outfielder Darnell McDonald, who's so happy and so appreciative to finally have a spot in the majors after a decade of beating the minor-league bushes. It's a tenuous hold on a roster spot, obviously, because of the injuries to Mike Cameron and Jacoby Ellsbury, but he's played well in relief. We spoke about football mostly (he was hungry for Bronco nuggets after formative years as a big-time high school running back there) but some about baseball.

e. Frank Herrmann, welcome to the bigs. Great to see a hard-working righty reliever (he prepped at Montclair Kimberly Academy in New Jersey under Ralph Pacifico, a good friend of mine) finally make the majors. He came up in Chicago the other night and retired his first four big-league hitters, helping Justin Masterson end that long losing streak. Great kid too.

f. MMQB schedule reminder, for those who may have missed it last week:

June 14: Guest columnistJune 21: Guest columnistJune 28: I'll be back, catching up on everything that went down in the NFL while I was in South AfricaJuly 5: Guest columnistJuly 12: Guest columnistJuly 19: Guest columnistJuly 26: I'll be back for good

I don't want to give too much away regarding the guest columnists, but I think you'll enjoy all of them. One of my editors, Dom Bonvissuto, will be tweeting out clues to the identities of the guest columnists in the days leading up to their columns. Follow him @dombonvissuto.

g. And by the way, for those who sent e-mail and Tweets condemning me for condemning BP and saying I won't be buying their gas again -- many of you think the mega-spill is not the fault of the guy who pumps the gas or the local manager who runs the BP gas station, and of course it isn't. But you have to protest in some way when you see horrible injustice, and this will be my little way.