HOUSTON -- For the most part, as Josh McDaniels answered questions at Super Bowl LI media night, the New England Patriots offensive coordinator kept his poker face.
Whether it was a question about the Atlanta Falcons' pass-rushers, the pressure of a title game or what it’s like to work for Patriots coach Bill Belichick, McDaniels kept things low-key. And then came: “How do you know when you’re ready to be a head coach?"
With that, McDaniels quickly broke into what was easily his biggest smile Monday night, followed by the heartiest of laughs.
“Well, I wasn’t the last time," McDaniels said as he tipped his head back to laugh.
McDaniels, who is now in his 13th season with the Patriots, is preparing for his sixth Super Bowl with the team, which is looking for its fifth title in that span. But the Denver Broncos' faithful know all too well about “the last time" that McDaniels was talking about.
He was a 33-year-old, first-time NFL head coach when the Broncos hired him in 2009, with plenty of fanfare. Broncos owner Pat Bowlen was clearly smitten with the playcaller who was two seasons removed from the Patriots' 16-0 regular-season finish in 2007.
McDaniels' tenure in Denver lasted 28 games. He was fired with four games remaining in the 2010 season, when the Broncos finished at 4-12. Bowlen then asked John Elway to return to the team to be its chief football decision maker.
The Broncos have won five division titles since, signed Peyton Manning in what might be the greatest free-agency coup in league history, went to two Super Bowls and won Super Bowl 50 last February.
McDaniels, though, is still waiting for his second chance to lead an NFL team. He interviewed with the Los Angeles Rams, the Jacksonville Jaguars and the San Francisco 49ers in recent weeks, but those teams passed.
McDaniels was asked Monday night if he thought his experiences with the Broncos actually helped him as he moves toward another head coaching gig.
“Sure. All the experiences I’ve had in coaching I hope have made me a better person, better coach," McDaniels said. “I think so much about this game, this business, is about people and trying to put together the right group of people and allow them to have their responsibilities, trust them to do their job and be a great resource for them and help them in any way that you can.
And then McDaniels added: “Some of the things I failed at before, I think I learned from and am better for it. I think I am."
Though Bowlen had said, after he fired Mike Shanahan to close out the 2008 season, that no Broncos coach would have personnel power again, McDaniels ended up making personnel decisions. He traded quarterback Jay Cutler before he had coached his first game and made an assortment of deals in those two seasons that didn’t pan out.
Some players, at the time, said they had a difficult time connecting with McDaniels. Hindsight is certainly 20-20 and McDaniels is now a 40-year-old coach who has put himself in position to try again.
“Hopefully I’ll continue to grow from it, moving forward," he said.