ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — For a brief time, Josh McDaniels was a celebrity in Denver and he played the part with gusto, running to the corner of the stadium after his first signature win and pumping his fists to celebrate with the crowd.
"This doesn't mean a whole lot unless you can share it with somebody," McDaniels said that day. "Sometimes, you're allowed to have fun."
The fun ended almost as quickly as it began. And less than five years after that win over New England vaulted the Broncos to a 5-0 record, the name "Josh McDaniels" stirs up far more angst and anger in Denver than those of the men he beat that day, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.
"I ain't got nothing to say about him," said Broncos defensive lineman Robert Ayers, a first-round draft pick during the two-year McDaniels era that Broncos fans want to forget.
The man who gave the Broncos a videotaping scandal and a league-worst defense, who alienated fans and left the franchise holding the bag on the Tim Tebow experiment, returns Sunday to try to deliver another dagger to Denver.
He's now New England's offensive coordinator and will try to devise the game plan to send the Patriots to the Super Bowl and keep his old team out of it.
A 33-year-old coach with a thin resume and a lot to prove, McDaniels got to 6-0 in 2009 but he followed that with 17 losses over the next 22 games and got fired with four weeks left in the 2010 season.
"Obviously, his time here was a little shorter than he probably hoped or expected, but that's in the past," said Broncos receiver Eric Decker, a third-round pick in McDaniels' second draft.
The presence of Decker, Ayers, Demaryius Thomas, Knowshon Moreno and left guard Zane Beadles — all key cogs in the Broncos' current success — adds a layer of complexity to the discussion about what, exactly, McDaniels left behind in Denver. He turned out to not be ready to guide an NFL franchise, but he didn't completely whiff.
"He's been vilified, but he's a bright, young coach, and you see what he's done in going back to New England and being their offensive coordinator," said John Elway, who was brought back to the Broncos to clean up the McDaniels mess. "I don't know why it didn't work out, other than the fact he didn't win enough games."
Elway hired John Fox and jettisoned Tebow in favor of Peyton Manning to turn things around.
McDaniels was not asked about his time in Denver during an interview this week with writers who cover the Patriots, though he has never offered much when asked about it previously.
Brady said if McDaniels is extra motivated this week, he hasn't let on. "He's always focused like he is every week," Brady said. "He's one of the best coaches that I've ever been around and why I love being coached by him because he brings it every day."