KANSAS CITY, Mo. —His name has been hot, and it has been mud. In Kansas City these days, it is at least part of the buzz on who might replace Todd Haley as Chiefs coach.
Josh McDaniels is high on the list, the polarizing former Denver Broncos coach who's now offensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams. The gambling website Bovada lists McDaniels as the second-best bet, behind only interim coach Romeo Crennel, with the odds listed Thursday at 5-to-2 that McDaniels will lead the Chiefs in 2012.
In some ways, it makes sense. He worked with Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli when both were with the New England Patriots, and McDaniels was the Patriots' coordinator when quarterback Matt Cassel was forced into the starting lineup in 2008 after Tom Brady suffered a knee injury. The Patriots, facing the same stacked deck as the 0-13 Indianapolis Colts faced this year without starting quarterback Peyton Manning, instead finished 11-5 that season.
Crennel worked with McDaniels in New England. Still a young coach now at 35 years old, McDaniels was a defensive quality-control coach under Crennel, who at the time was the Patriots' coordinator.
"A good football mind," Crennel said this week."... You could tell then that he had a future."
McDaniels went on to be a kind of wunderkind in New England, rising fast and earning praise from the Patriots family and beyond. It wasn't until, at 33, he was hired by the Broncos in 2009 that the luster turned to rust, and McDaniels' star fell to perhaps unsalvageable depths. After starting his head-coaching career with a six-game win streak, the Broncos lost eight of their final 10 contests. McDaniels was fired after Denver began last season 3-9 — but not before an infamous exchange at Invesco Field, in which Haley refused to shake McDaniels' hand after the Broncos' 49-29 win.
Maybe it was because Haley believed McDaniels was running up the score on the Chiefs. Or perhaps, as Chiefs punter Dustin Colquitt suggested this past summer in a radio interview, Haley suspected McDaniels of cheating to get an early look at the Chiefs' game plan.
That ugly scene all but killed talk of bringing McDaniels to Kansas City as the Chiefs' offensive coordinator, after Charlie Weis left to become coordinator at the University of Florida. Now that Haley also has been fired, that could clear the path for a New England reunion.
Not everyone is sold that it would be a good idea.
"I think you'd have concerns," said Rich Gannon, a former NFL quarterback who's now a CBS analyst. "You look at the situation in Denver; I think it was too much, too soon for Josh."
McDaniels had control over coaching and personnel in Denver, and Gannon said that might have been overwhelming for such an inexperienced coach. Gannon added that there's little proof McDaniels can have success beyond the New England system.
After all, McDaniels' offense in St. Louis this season has been a flop; the Rams are ranked 30thin the league by averaging 283.3 total yards and are last in scoring with an 11.8-point average. Under McDaniels, second-year quarterback Sam Bradford has taken a step back from his encouraging rookie season in 2010.
"Those are the questions, I think, more than anything," Gannon said.
There's also the possibility that, if Crennel or someone else is named the Chiefs' coach next year, McDaniels could rejoin his old colleagues as coordinator, allowing Bill Muir to resume coaching the offensive line or perhaps pushing him toward another team. That would, of course, give the Chiefs their sixth coordinator in as many years, another offensive system change for quarterback Matt Cassel to absorb, and a general lack of consistency, which has been a goal around Arrowhead Stadium these last few years.
The Chiefs, who have averaged 13.3 points in 13 games, are just head of the Rams at No. 31 in the league in scoring average. So, Gannon said, a change might be necessary anyway, and maybe McDaniels is the one to reinvigorate Cassel.
"Somebody's got to come in and fix the offense," the former quarterback said. "The thing most troubling to me, and the thing I think cost Todd, is the issues with the offense."
Crennel, who said this week that he's interested in being the Chiefs' head coach in 2012 and beyond, said he thinks McDaniels will be an NFL coach again someday. He even said he wouldn't be averse to working for the youngster, if that's what it comes down to.
Whatever happens next for McDaniels, maybe that'll offer a better fit for the young coach. Crennel said he thinks he it will - whether that's in Kansas City or not.
"He's a smart kid," Crennel said. "Every situation is different that you go into. Sometimes you don't know what you're getting into when you go into it. But I think the experience that he gained will benefit him down the road."