Sunday wasn’t just a loss. Oh, no. It was a coronation. Josh McDaniels handed Nathaniel Hackett the baton, chuckled quietly to himself, and walked off Empower Field triumphant.
When the worst coach in modern Broncos history posts a 2-0 record against you in two tries, head-to-head … there’s a new worst coach in modern Broncos history. And it’s not even close.
“I’m happy for our team,” McDaniels said after his Las Vegas Raiders snatched a 22-16, walk-off overtime victory over the Broncos, his old employers, at a crestfallen Mile High. “This was never about me.”
It was. And it wasn’t. I mean, the guy who couldn’t beat a Jeff Saturday-coached team at home just took out a Hackett club on the road. As a measuring stick, it confirmed almost all of Broncos Country’s worst fears in one cruel, fell swoop.
If losing to a 3-7 Raiders at home is a fireable offense, what’s the penance for losing to a 3-7 Raiders team at home that’s coached by Josh Stinking McDaniels? Getting launched into the sun?
“We’re all human,” Las Vegas kicker Daniel Carlson, a Colorado Springs native and former Classical Academy standout, told me after the game. “There (are) degrees on how personal it can be. But it’s always in the back of your mind sometimes, like, ‘OK, maybe I want to win a little more (in) this game.’”
That said, Carlson and another Colorado native on the Raiders roster, long-snapper Trent Sieg, formerly of Eaton High School and the CSU Rams, insisted that McDaniels played down Denver history last week. Played it cool. Which is saying something when an NFL tenure is as brief — McDaniels coached just 28 games with the Broncos from 2009-10, winning 11 of them — and as almost universally loathed as his was here.
“(McDaniels) didn’t act like it’s like, ‘Oh, yeah, like we’re doing this for me, like for revenge,’” the ex-Rams long-snapper said. “It was just a very normal week. This game (was) really important because it was the next one.”
The Raiders are beat up and bad. The Broncos (3-7) are beat up and worse. The final four minutes of regulation was like watching two drunks fighting in front of a bar after closing time, only both mugs are too sloshed to land a punch.
“I came here when I was 32. So, whatever, 13 years ago,” McDaniels said after the game when asked about his Front Range past. “Mr. (Pat) Bowlen gave me that opportunity to engage (this team), and I didn’t do well enough with it. But I learned a lot from it and I hold no ill-will towards anybody here. When you’re coaching in this league, it’s a results business, and that’s what matters. And I didn’t quite get enough done there. And so I tried to learn from that.”
McDaniels on Sunday improved his lifetime mark to 14-24 as an NFL coach. Two of those victories — 14% — are over Hackett-coached teams this year.
Bonus: Hackett is now one of only two coaches in league history who’ve managed to lose to McDaniels twice. Congratulations, Todd Haley. You’re off the hook. And you’ve got company.
“I have a great deal of respect and admiration for the people (in Denver) that are here that I still know and care about,” McDaniels continued. “And I think they do a great job. It’s one of the great organizations in the National Football League. And this is an incredible environment. It always has been. The fans are tremendous. They do an awesome job of supporting their team, and it’s a tough place to play. So I don’t get into too much of that (personal) stuff anymore.”
With that, McDaniels straightened slightly at the lectern and allowed himself a tiny smile.
“You know,” the coach allowed, “I did hear a few things (from the fans).”
Not as many things as Hackett is about to. That’s for darn sure.