Josh McDaniels' return to Denver highlights his growth as a coach

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When the New England Patriots visit the Denver Broncos on Sunday night, it will mark the second time that Josh McDaniels returns to the Mile High City to coach a game since his tenure as Denver’s head coach from 2009-2010.

A lot has changed for him since then.

Experience can be a great teacher, and that partially explains why McDaniels -- whose last trip to Denver came in the 2013 AFC Championship -- is once again viewed by many as a top candidate to interview for potential head-coaching openings should he decide to do so in the offseason.

“There are a lot of things that I’ve learned over the last four to five years, probably too many to name them all now,” McDaniels said Tuesday when asked the areas in which he’s grown most since his time in Denver, followed a one-year stop as St. Louis Rams offensive coordinator in 2011 before returning to the Patriots in 2012.

“I think you get an opportunity to see how other people in this league think and do things; there are different ways people go about trying to win, a lot of different backgrounds that coaches and players are coming from, and it gives you a lot of appreciation for the difficulty of the team-building process because you have so much to do and not a whole lot of time to do it.”

As one would expect, McDaniels has spent time dissecting where things went wrong in Denver and what he might do differently in a potential stint as a head coach. That type of discussion is more of an offseason type deal, although McDaniels, 39, shared some of his prior thinking when asked.

“You need tremendous leadership. You need a constant vision of what you’re looking for, whether it’s offense, defense, special teams, the entire organization, and I think it gives you a great idea of how much the relationship that you have on a daily basis really goes into formulating the type of place you’re going to have,” he said.

“I didn’t have a long time there in Denver, but really met some great people and I have a tremendous amount of respect for their organization and the things they believe in, and certainly [Pat] Bowlen for the opportunity he gave me when I was there. I wish we would've done better, but again, I’ve learned a lot of different things after that experience looking back on it. And hopefully, it’s made me a better person and a better coach at the same time.”

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is one of McDaniels’ top supporters, telling sports radio WEEI a few weeks ago, “I hope I’m always with Josh. There’s a great chemistry between us [and] I think our relationship is better than it’s ever been. I’m sure he’ll get opportunities, there’s no doubt about that.”

He already has, interviewing for head coaching jobs in Cleveland, Atlanta and San Francisco in recent offseasons. If anything, those discussions have seemed to be more team-driven than McDaniels-driven, as he hasn’t appeared to be in any hurry to leave New England.

For his part, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick sees the same McDaniels he did from 2001-2008, just a little more seasoned.

“He’s come back and continued to do a great job for us,” he said. “He’s always been well prepared, focused, does a great job play-calling, has a lot of poise on the sideline, is very good at making in-game adjustments and recognizing what the problems are, how to address them or fix them, or where the weaknesses of the defense are and how to attack them.

“Working with [defensive coordinator] Matt [Patricia] and how they’ve helped each other or worked with each other, he does a great job there too. We’re really lucky that we have him and have him back.”

Some have wondered if McDaniels might one day be the successor to Belichick, 63, whenever that time comes. For now, that seems far off in the distance. It’s also clearly not a current focus, as the Patriots are 10-0 and on a quest for a second straight Super Bowl championship.

The next stop on that quest is Denver.

McDaniels, of course, knows that stop well.