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Before Belichick, there was Debeljak for Broncos head coach

Joe Amick

Issue date: 1/30/09 Section: Sports
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Denver Broncos head coach and former Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is well known as a branch of the Belichick tree, but his roots go back to John Carroll University, alongside those of Case's head football coach Greg?Debeljak and special teams coordinator Jerry Schuplinski.

Debeljak recruited McDaniels to John Carroll in 1995 when he?was the Blue Streaks' receivers coach and was McDaniels' position coach. Schuplinski played with McDaniels at John Carroll and the two remain close friends.

"This year I beat him in a NASCAR fantasy league that Josh's dad started. So that's my claim to fame," said Schuplinski with a smile. ??

McDaniels is from the Canton area, about 60 miles south of Cleveland. Akron-Canton was Debeljak's recruiting area when he coached at John Carroll. "His girlfriend was going [to John Carroll]. I'm not sure how much influence I had in the decision," said Debeljak, who's been interviewed about McDaniels by Denver radio stations, the Rocky Mountain News, and The New York Times.

McDaniels, 32, was named Broncos head coach on Jan. 12, after the surprise firing of Mike Shanahan, who'd coached the team since 1995 and won back-to-back Super Bowls in 1997 and 1998. According to the Denver Post, McDaniels signed a four-year, $11.9 million contract.

Schuplinski first heard that his friend was the Broncos' new head coach at the American Football Coaches Association's convention in Nashville. "I sent him a text when I found out. I knew one day that he'd be a head coach. I'm really excited for him," said Schuplinski.

Debeljak also isn't surprised by McDaniels' meteoric rise. "Everybody around him knew he would be a great coach," said Debeljak. "[At John Carroll] he would watch film and offer his opinion, very respectfully. You could tell he'd watched a lot of football already." McDaniels is the son of Ohio high school football coaching legend Thom McDaniels, who was the biggest influence on the younger McDaniels' career choice.

McDaniels played quarterback and kicker at Canton McKinley High School, but transitioned to receiver at John Carroll after another freshman, Nick Caserio, won the quarterback job.

The Patriots tapped Caserio this off-season to manage the daily operations of the personnel department after vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli left the team to become the Kansas City Chiefs' general manager.

McDaniels got his start in coaching working for a year as a graduate assistant under Nick Saban when he was the head coach at Michigan State, but, according to Debeljak, McDaniels got turned off by Div. I football because it didn't seem compatible with raising a family. "I think there was a time when he saw himself as a high school coach," said Debeljak.

After leaving football for a year to work a sales job, he came back to the game in 2001 as a personnel assistant in the Patriots' scouting department. In 2004, he was named quarterbacks coach and in 2006, Belichick promoted him to offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. In 2007, McDaniels' offense broke NFL records for points scored, touchdowns scored, and most players scoring a touchdown, and quarterback Tom Brady broke the NFL record for touchdown passes in a season.

"He's very smart in general, and football-wise," said Schuplinski. "He just made you feel smarter about the game when you interacted with him. Josh has a way of putting the game in a simpler form, whether it be watching tape or playing ?PlayStation."

"We stay in touch in the off-season," said Schuplinski. "We were supposed to do a NASCAR trip this year, but that's probably not going to work out. He's a little busy right now."
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