Be sure to check BrooWaha every week to discover the most controversial sports stories in Steven Waye and Eric Karlan's 2-Point Conversing. In the meantime, contribute to the Conversation by posting an Extra Point of your own below the article.
THE FIRST POINT...Why Steven Waye criticizes Marshall's benching
I’ll say this for Josh McDaniels: when he was named head coach of the Denver Broncos this offseason after Bronco Collapse v1.0, he inherited a Kiddie Corral full of immature, unruly players. Jay Cutler’s public foot-stamping upon hearing his name discussed in trade talks led to his eventual exile to frigid Soldier Field, a veritable wasteland for wide receiving talent. Brandon Marshall pouted and demanded an apology when his teammates were apparently instructed not to publically rejoice when he got let off for battery charges. It was hard to tell whether McDaniels accepted a head coaching position or an $8 million babysitting gig.
Truth is, he accepted both. Any head coach, especially one given as much control over personnel operations as McDaniels, accepts a charge not just to draw up the plays and help run practices, as McDaniels did with great success in New England, but also to manage the superstar egos that come attached to the superstars. His age, as the second youngest coach in the NFL, and his lack of experience don’t do him any favors, but the bottom line is that is just doesn’t matter. It’s the nature of the job to keep whatever feuds and disagreements that may arise in house and off the internet. A successful coach establishes his authority by winning respect in the locker room, not by pulling highly publicized power plays.
Despite the drama surrounding the Broncos at the beginning of the season, McDaniels initially proved many of his doubters wrong. Marshall shut up and started to produce, and Cutler this past season looked like an erratic passer who was no better than the talent (or lack thereof) around him. The Broncos galloped to a 6-0 start, and McDaniels served up an early season Happy meal for Broncos fans and a filet of McCrow for his critics.
But it’s relatively easy to keep players happy when you’re winning. (Just ask anyone who’s ever coached T.O.) Fast forward to yesterday: the Broncos, after a stellar opening to their season, have gone just 2-7 in their past 9 games, on the verge of becoming just the third team since the AFL-NFL merger to miss the playoffs after going 6-0. Fans are angry. Critics are back in force. And the kids are acting up again.
Brandon Marshall is nursing an injured hamstring, and reports are that team officials believe he is exaggerating the extent of the injury after x-rays come back negative. Starting tight end Tony Scheffler, their fourth leading receiver, apparently professed his desire to quit before the game even started. This is not McDaniels fault. How he handled it is.
McDaniels announced in a press conference on Friday that he was benching Marshall and Scheffler, claiming that many players would be playing with worse injuries than what Marshall had, and stressing that this was a “coaching decision.” ESPN reports that Marshall was late to a scheduled therapy appointment, and that Scheffler was overheard telling teammates that he “couldn’t wait for Denver’s season to end.”
Marshall admits himself that his hamstring isn’t really pulled. And if Scheffler said what he is reported to have said, both players are being selfish and cowardly. But this is where you step up as a coach. We have to ask, why aren’t these players motivated to play? They’re fighting for a playoff spot, and they can’t even summon the motivation to strap on their helmets? What is the responsibility of a head coach if not primarily to get your players, ALL of them, especially your stars, motivated to win every Sunday.
McDaniels talked a lot about accountability in his press conference on Friday, so it’s time to hold him to his own standards. You, Josh McDaniels, are accountable for putting your best team on the field if they are healthy enough to play. You, Josh McDaniels, are accountable for getting those players excited to win. But you, Josh McDaniels, chose to shirk responsibility and take the cheap way out, hanging two of your best players out to dry in front of the media and relegating them to the sidelines. I don’t care how big of a pain in the ass they are, you’re getting paid to manage them, not to crucify them.
We all have facets of our work that we find unpleasant, but neglecting those aspects and shifting responsibility is the opposite of accountability. Even putting aside the fact that the Broncos got embarrassed in their finale with the playoffs at stake, McDaniels caved into pressure and let his veteran players dictate his coaching decisions. When a group consisting of team leaders including Brian Dawkins, Champ Bailey, Kyle Orton, D.J. Williams and Daniel Graham all met with McDaniels and encouraged him to be tougher with his players, he responded to their advice not by getting tough and inspiring all of his players to win, but by exiling his problem children and avoiding the issue altogether.
To belabor the babysitting metaphor, if the kid is throwing a tantrum and you deal with it by locking him in a closet and putting on your headphones, would you still get paid? Would you be doing your job? Before you preach accountability, Josh McDaniels, practice it yourself.
GOING FOR TWO...Why Eric Karlan praises Coach McDaniels
"We had the guys that wanted to play in the huddle,'' Denver Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton told the Denver Post. "I appreciate coach for his decision. We're trying to win games and we're trying to build something special. And sometimes you have to make tough decisions. And I stand behind him and I know the other guys do as well.''
Consider the gravity of these words coming from Kyle Orton’s mouth. This is the same Kyle Orton who, after years of playing on an extremely talented Chicago Bears club whose perennial Achilles’ Heal was an incompetent receiving corps, was chased out of town this past offseason in favor of Jay Cutler – the Windy City’s supposed savior.
In other words, Orton was sloppy seconds, a man with a whole lot to prove on a team whose dreams of making the playoffs were way more than a mile high.
So when the Broncos defied expert expectations and positioned themselves with a realistic chance of reaching the postseason with a Week 17 win, one would think that Kyle Orton would be the first man to advocate for doing whatever it took to get that essential win – especially if it meant making sure his top receiving target was playing.
But midway through last week, just days away from the biggest game of his rookie campaign as head coach, Denver’s confrontational Josh McDaniels decided to bench Orton’s top receiving target, Brandon Marshall, after accusing the equally confrontational star player of faking a hamstring injury to get out of practice.
Orton could have complained. He probably had the platform to lead the Broncos faithful in a mutiny, considering the list of grievances that could be filed against McDaniels by a rightfully disgruntled fan base – despite their team’s shocking 6-0 start just months ago and overall surpassing of expectations.
Instead, he did not simply show support – he did not simply show poise. With a series of short sentences, instead of reciting the rhetoric of a disciplined subordinate, he showed why coach McDaniels made the right decision.
Without their Pro Bowl receiver, Denver struggled mightily against a far inferior division rival, losing decisively to Kansas City for the first time ever at Invesco Field. In the process, Orton threw three interceptions, two of which were ran back for touchdowns by Derrick Johnson.
Marshall’s absence was felt from the opening kick to the final whistle. Given the past week’s events, this absence will inevitably extend into the future. The bad blood between Marshall and McDaniels started boiling way back in training camp, and their relationship is now permanently scorched – the star receiver and Denver will undoubtedly part ways this offseason.
This riddance is good. While Marshall may not wield the celebrity status or supernatural talent as Terrell Owens or Randy Moss in their primes, he was already beginning to follow in their footsteps by becoming a royal distraction.
Marshall may well have been suffering through an aggravated hamstring this past week, but true leaders player through much worse when everything is on the line. Tom Brady has taken nearly every snap this past month with three broken ribs. Brett Favre has accumulated a record 306 (including playoffs) consecutive starts, and he surely was not at perfect health every one of those games. Even rookie Matthew Stafford threw a game-winning touchdown pass as time expired earlier this year, insistent on taking the final snap despite separating his shoulder on the previous play.
Denver is a team relegated to rebuilding right now – they are trying to build something special. If McDaniels, Orton, and company want to succeed, they need to rid themselves of divas and complainers like Marshall. Powerhouse football franchises are built on a foundation of commitment, perseverance, and class. Marshall, despite his stellar statistics, lacked all those qualities. McDaniels recognized this, and when forced to deal with it, ruled with an iron fist.
In retrospect, it would not have mattered. The Ravens and Jets were the two teams who controlled their playoff destinies entering the regular season’s final weekend, and both took care of business. Marshall could have scored ten touchdowns and the Broncos still would be sitting at home, watching Wild Card Weekend from their respective couches this weekend.
But at least when McDaniels opens a case of beer on his couch to kick off his offseason, he can feel good about making the hard, but right decision.