It is not easy to follow in the footsteps of Bill Belichick. Just ask those who have tried to do it. Romeo Crennel, Belichick's defensive coordinator during his three Super Bowl wins with New England, went to Cleveland, never won a title and was fired last year after five seasons as the head coach. Charlie Weis, New England's self-proclaimed offensive genius, went to Notre Dame assuring his players they would have "a decided schematic advantage'' over opponents. After two good years led mostly by players he inherited from Tyrone Willingham, Weis has gone 10-15 the last two seasons and was nearly fired last year.
Eric Mangini, who began with Belichick as a ballboy only to go on and ultimately replace Crennel as Belichick's defensive coordinator, went on to take over the New York Jets and was fired last winter after three lacklustre seasons. He is now in Cleveland running a Browns team that looks more inept than the Jets he left behind. With that as background we come to this year's versions of the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs, who are both being run by two more former Belichick acolytes, ex-offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and former personnel head Scott Pioli. It is early but so far both seem to be following the same, sad pattern as their predecessors.
McDaniels is the 33-year-old head coach of the Broncos, a man who recently reminded a Denver sports columnist that he had never had a losing football season. The columnist reminded him there is a first time for everything. In his short time in Denver, McDaniels has got into a fight with his 26-year-old Pro Bowl quarterback, Jay Cutler, and rather than soothe the situation he traded him away to Chicago for a journeyman, Kyle Orton, who is already hurt and did not lead the Broncos to a single touchdown in three pre-season games. McDaniels later told an ESPN reporter: "Tom Brady, Jay Cutler, Matt Cassel, Kyle Orton, it really doesn't matter who the quarterback is.'' If McDaniels really believes that this season may be his first losing one but it will not be his last.
McDaniels then got into a beef with his best receiver, Brandon Marshall, and was forced to suspend him for the remainder of the pre-season when Marshall made a fool of himself during a mid-week practice, refusing to catch passes and batting balls away rather than catching them. Marshall now is demanding a trade as Cutler did but McDaniels says he will not do it, despite rumours they have already put a high price tag on his head.
This might not be so alarming were it not for the fact the defence McDaniels' inherited is one of the worst in the NFL. Offence was supposed to be the Broncos' strong point because they had the most important part already in place, a top-flight quarterback. Now he is gone and so is much of Denver's offence. As for Kansas City, Pioli arrived as their general manager after running the Patriots' personnel department and immediately had a draft panned by the public, signed former Patriots' back-up quarterback Matt Cassel to a US$63 million (Dh231m) contract only to see him sprain his knee last weekend after playing poorly.
Pioli also fired the team's offensive coordinator 10 days before the season begins after the Chiefs' offence scored only two touchdowns in the first three pre-season games. Time will tell how things work out, but they look grim in both places and equally forlorn for Mangini in Cleveland. Which, when coupled with what already happened to Crennel and Weis, makes you wonder if Belichick is even more of a genius than anyone realised.