Ever since that summer day so long ago, football has been knocking down Josh McDaniels and putting him back together. Each time it seems stronger and smarter than the last. The game will do that to a lifer. It did it to Bill Belichick. At 32 years old, that’s what McDaniels already is. A football lifer.

Ever since that summer day so long ago, football has been knocking down Josh McDaniels and putting him back together. Each time it seems stronger and smarter than the last.

The game will do that to a lifer. It did it to Bill Belichick. At 32 years old, that’s what McDaniels already is. A football lifer.

McDaniels was just a kid when he the game hit him with all its brutal force. The lad tagged along behind his father to a McKinley High School football practice. The Bulldog offense was practicing a play-action pass to the left. The coaching staff’s focus was on the left side of the field. They missed 260-pound Ricco Mack blocking the backside of the quarterback. Big Mack blocked his man all the way into 6-year-old Josh.

Thom McDaniels had to take his boy home and explain to his wife how his son got a concussion.

“That was difficult explaining that,” Thom McDaniels says now, laughing at the memory.

Football in Canton, Ohio, prepared Josh McDaniels for the position he holds today. In fact, the Denver Broncos’ new football coach credits Canton as much as anything or anyone for preparing him to handle an NFL team. He watched his father receive praise and criticism that could change like the wind.

“He realized that Disneyland is a place you visit, and it’s not where you live,” Thom said. “He realized that a long time ago.”

The game has been building Josh McDaniels for this since he was in high school. McDaniels, one of the Stark County’s most reliable kickers as a high school senior in 1994, missed an extra point in overtime during the 100th Massillon-McKinley game. McKinley lost, 42-41.

He often looks back at it. People forget he had a great day at quarterback. Or that he had to switch shoes and rush out to kick the PAT. Or that he and Mark Thewes hooked up on the game-winning TD two weeks later in a playoff rematch against Massillon.

“The one thing I’ve learned at a young age, football was the greatest teacher about life I could’ve asked for,” McDaniels said. “I was right there when we had some of the great seasons, some of the losing season and difficult times. I had a front-row seat for the great times and the adversity back in Canton.

“I saw the shift in emotions, the different personalities and people coming and going. My career happens to be the same one. There are things that happen to me as a coach now, and I feel like, ŒOK, I’ve seen that before, or I’ve experienced that disappointment or that triumph before.’ I know how to handle it. Football is a great corollary for life.”

As a high school senior, McDaniels still spoke to reporters after missing the costly kick. Some pro players wouldn’t have the courage to do that.

McDaniels did it and never shed a tear.

“The best thing I could do at that point was try to move on,” McDaniels said. “Hopefully, I made it better two weeks later. It’s all about how you respond to adversity. You learn life isn’t always fair, but it gives you a fair chance. Missing that kick was a great experience to go through. How many kids can say they had to deal with something like that? It made me a better person.”

People in Denver wonder what they have in McDaniels. Fans are calling him J-Mac. This is what they’re getting: A brainy 32-year-old who knows he’s been prepared for this job his entire life.

McDaniels will wear a hoodie in Denver, and that’s not all of Belichick that has rubbed off on him. He will control the team’s message with a Stalin-like lock on information. An interview with Thom McDaniels has to be approved by Josh. Thom was interviewed before Josh was hired by Denver.

But McDaniels promised Denver reporters his delivery would be better.

“I can smile,” he said, a slight nod to an emotionless Belichick.

Later, McDaniels explained the smile line wasn’t a shot at Belichick. He’s never taken a shot at a man he owes so much.

“He smiles, too,” McDaniels said, laughing. “I just wanted people to know my personality. I’ve got a good personality, and hopefully it stays that way.”

McDaniels and Belichick have much in common though they’re separated by a generation. Belichick broke into the league in 1975, a year before McDaniels was born.

Their rise through the ranks to NFL head coach are similar. Belichick, too, is the son of a coach. His father, Steve, was an assistant at the Naval Academy.

McDaniels graduated in the top five of a large McKinley class. Belichick started in the NFL working for $25 a week as a gopher for Ted Marchibroda.

He, too, coached in Denver.

McDaniels landed in Denver after he spent a season as Nick Saban’s graduate assistant at Michigan State. It was the only time his father used his influence to help land a job. A year later, though, McDaniels was out of coaching, selling plastics in Cleveland.

But the Patriots offered him a low-level position, breaking down film. Like Belichick 20 years before, McDaniels consumed the position. He knew what it could lead to.

“I don’t think I ever really thought about it being a reality as a young coach,” McDaniels said. “In college or high school, I know I was too small to play in the league. I was never one of those guys who dreamed about what may happen. My dad’s always told me to focus on the job I have, and the next one will take care of itself. That’s what I’ve done all my life.”

McDaniels could’ve been a head coach last year. He was offensive coordinator on a 16-0 Patriots team. Instead, McDaniels chose not to interview at all. He was focusing on the job he had. Besides, he said, that’s not a decision he could make during a couple days on the Super Bowl bye week.

“I’m better prepared now,” McDaniels said. “I went through things in the offseason that helped me.”

Then the best player in the NFL tore his knee in the first game this season. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was lost for the year. The NFL was going to find out if Brady made McDaniels or if McDaniels made the system.

McDaniels took Matt Cassell, a backup in college and the NFL, and nearly rode him to the playoffs.

Many thought Brady’s injury would hurt McDaniels’ career. Thom McDaniels wasn’t one. It wasn’t a setback. It was an opportunity.

I’ve seen him in a lot of different roles,” said Bob Neff, who coached running backs and signaled in plays to Josh at McKinley. “He’s never lost his composure. Not as a father. Not as a son. Not as a player. Not as a coach. That’s one of his better qualities.”

The Neffs were always close with the McDaniels. They spent summer vacations together. When the McDaniels went to the Super Bowl last year, the Neffs joined them.

“Josh is the same kid as he was,” Neff said. “He’s so down to earth. He still appreciates people watching him. He told us at the Super Bowl, ‘Thanks for coming.’ I said, ‘Josh, c’mon, it’s the Super Bowl.’ “

Josh McDaniels

Born: April 22, 1976

Family: Wife, Laura; son Jack Thomas (4 1/2), daughter, Maddie (2 1/2)

Education: McKinley High School, graduated with honors (4.42 grade-point average) and was in the top five in a senior class of 455. Graduated from John Carroll University, where he played wide receiver.

Coaching career

1999-2000: Graduate assistant, Michigan State University

2000: Out of coaching, worked in sales in Cleveland

2001: New England Patriots personnel assistant. Duties included breaking down film and looking at college and free-agent NFL talent. He joined the staff with Nick Caserio, who was John Carroll’s QB and has become one of McDaniels’ closest friends. Caserio is now New England’s general manager.

2002-03: Defensive coaching assistant, not to be mistaken with assistant coach. Coaching assistant handles much of the grunt work. McDaniels earned his way to working with the defensive backs in practice.

2004-08: Named quarterbacks coach and worked under Charlie Weis. When Weis left to become head coach at Notre Dame, McDaniels handled much of the offensive coordinator duties but wasn’t give the title until a year later.

2006-08: New England’s offensive coordinator. Worked with QB Tom Brady and developed offensive game plans in a record-setting Patriots offense.

The Repository