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The players learned of McDaniels‘ firing via Twitter, where the Broncos announced it, and text messages.

“Guys are trying to figure out if it’s true, if it’s not true, what’s going on,” wide receiver Brandon Lloyd said on his weekly radio show on Sports Radio 104.3 The Fan in Denver.

Running back Lance Ball tweeted: “this the closest thing to Obama being elected president!!!”

Others were melancholy.

“It’s tough. He’s not out there playing,” wide receiver Eddie Royal said. “The guys in the locker room have got to feel somewhat responsible. We didn’t play well enough to win these games. We haven’t had a good year. We haven’t played the way we should have. Our fans are upset, and I can understand that. We’ve got a lot better football team than we’ve shown this year.”

Even though the Broncos are mired in their worst stretch since 1971-72, the timing of McDaniels‘ firing caught everyone off guard.

“I didn’t think it was going to happen,” Lloyd said. “Come the offseason, yeah, anything can happen. They shuffle players, shuffle coaches. At this point in the season, I did not see that coming.”

McDaniels had nearly $7 million left on his contract, and Bowlen is still on the hook for millions more he owes Mike Shanahan, whom he fired last year. That means he’ll be paying three head coaches next season unless the organization decides to withhold McDaniels‘ salaries for 2011 and ‘12 based on a violation of his deal, such as a morals clause.

After winning his first six games his rookie season, McDaniels lost 17 of his last 22 with the Broncos in his first NFL head coaching job.

He had plenty of off-the-field issues, too, including linebacker D.J. Williams’ drunken driving charge that caused him to get stripped of his captaincy.

Before he was fired Monday, McDaniels said he was reticent to turn to raw rookie quarterback Tim Tebow even though the Broncos had been eliminated from contention with a 10-6 loss at Kansas City, their seventh loss in eight games.

McDaniels made a series of personnel decisions that backfired, notably trading away Peyton Hillis, who has become a power running back in Cleveland. He also let go of Casey Wiegmann, who’s anchoring the league’s top rushing attack in Kansas City.

After beefing up both lines in the offseason, the Broncos rank 29th in the league in rushing offense and next-to-last in run defense.

His biggest blunder might have been the hiring of videographer Steve Scarnecchia, who violated league rules by videotaping a San Francisco 49ers practice in London on Oct. 30. McDaniels was fined $50,000 by the NFL for failing to report the transgression.

A week ago, Bowlen issued a statement that said McDaniels would be evaluated at season’s end just an hour after telling AOL FanHouse, “I’m not interested in making a coaching change.”

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