- Associated Press - Thursday, December 9, 2010

The firing of Josh McDaniels by the Broncos after only 28 games _ and 17 losses _ made one thing very clear. Any NFL owner who hires a Bill Belichick disciple is playing a dangerous and losing game.

If Pat Bowlen or Randy Lerner (twice) thought they were getting a copy of the most successful coach of the last dozen years, they were badly mistaken. Yes, McDaniels and Eric Mangini and Nick Saban all tried to replicate the coaching style (and control that often borders on paranoia) that Belichick has mastered. What they didn’t try to be was themselves, and all of them failed because of that.

Saban, a two-time national title winner in the college ranks, had a forgettable stint as the Dolphins head coach after working under Belichick in Cleveland.

Mangini, now under the guidance of another highly successful NFL coach, Mike Holmgren, appears to be making progress in Cleveland. But the fact it took someone as far removed in personality and approach as Holmgren to get Mangini headed in a positive direction speaks volumes.

Not that Mangini is surefire safe with the Browns (5-7). Should Jon Gruden, for example, express an interest in returning to coaching _ or should Holmgren get the itch again _ Mangini could wind up losing his second coaching position in three years.

Belichick’s two most successful coordinators in New England, Charlie Weis on offense and Romeo Crennel on defense, also flopped as head coaches. Weis’ run at Notre Dame went downhill fast and sank so low that he might never get offered another such gig. Crennel had one good season with the Browns in his four years at the helm and was 24-40 overall. At least he was well-liked in Cleveland.

That both of them are doing well as coordinators in Kansas City might prove the adage that some men are made out to be second bananas. Both clearly were not destined to duplicate Belichick’s record.

Of all the Belichick apprentices, McDaniels had the stormiest _ and shortest _ stint; some would call it a reign of terror. The litany is familiar by now for the 34-year-old McDaniels, who made his mark as Belichick’s offensive coordinator in the undefeated 2007 season. The next season, with Tom Brady sidelined by an opening-game knee injury, he helped develop Matt Cassel into a solid starter and the Patriots went 11-5, although they didn’t make the playoffs.

Broncos owner Bowlen thought he saw another boy genius in McDaniels; had Bowlen closely studied the Saban and Mangini models, he might have been less aggressive in going after McDaniels and more hesitant about giving him so much power.

Things went sour from the outset in Denver. McDaniels tried to acquire Cassel, who he knew the Patriots would deal for the right package with Brady returning. That alienated Jay Cutler, who was supposed to be the Broncos’ franchise quarterback. Cutler was the first of many _ players, coaches, team personnel, media, fans _ who was turned off by what some have termed McDaniels‘ arrogance. And, in the end, Cassel went to the Chiefs.

Others believe McDaniels simply had too much control. His revamping of the roster and the coaching staff failed miserably. The Broncos were without their three best players this year: Cutler, now the Bears’ starting QB; receiver Brandon Marshall, now a Miami Dolphin; and defensive end Elvis Dumervil, who was lost for the season early in Denver’s training camp with a torn chest muscle.

Mike Nolan, one of the NFL’s better defensive coordinators, was forced out in Denver and landed in Miami.

Both drafts were problematic for Denver, too. Defensive back Alphonso Smith had a bad rookie season after the Broncos traded a 2010 first-round pick to Seattle to move up and select him in the second round in 2009. He then was dealt to Detroit.

McDaniels was convinced he could make Tim Tebow into a starting quarterback in the NFL, but it wasn’t going to happen this year and the Broncos desperately needed to use that first-rounder on defense.

Then came Spygate II, the last item on Belichick’s resume that the Broncos wanted McDaniels to emulate. And even if he was unaware of the taping of a 49ers walkthrough before their game in London, it happened on his watch with an employee he hired.

So while Bowlen _ and Cleveland’s Lerner and the Jets’ Woody Johnson before him _ hoped to get the brilliance of Belichick, instead he got a poor imitation who leveled a once-proud franchise. The lesson should be apparent to all of Bowlen’s peers: Unless you can get the real thing, don’t go for the facsimile.