Tim Tebow was recruited from Florida's 4A Nease High School
as America’s top rushing quarterback. Publications like Sports Illustrated salivated over him, as did College programs that ran “option“ style offenses including Urban Meyer’s Florida Gators, who ultimately convinced him to commit and stay close to home.
At the University of Florida, Tebow ran what was known as the “spread-option offense” and he ran it well. He wasn’t the starting quarterback in 2006, his freshman year, but he played. In fact, he finished with second most rushing yards on his team and thirteen total touchdowns. Florida won the BCS Championship and Tebow scored twice in the big game. They trounced Ohio State 41-14.
After that, Meyer named him the starter. Tebow was the man for three years at Florida, from 2007-2009. He won the Heisman in 2007, almost won another in 2008 and finished his career with an SEC record 88 passing and 57 rushing touchdowns, thanks his incredible talent, willingness to take a hit, and Urban Meyer’s spread-option offense in which Tebow fit so well.
Urban Meyer took the Florida job in 2005, one year before he recruited Tebow, and began laying the groundwork for his signature offensive scheme which he utilized until 2009, when he retired as Gators coach. Among his confidantes during this period was the head coach of the New England Patriots, Bill Belichick, with whom he met regularly in Gainesville. Belichick made recruiting trips there and was as interested in Meyer’s play book as he was his players, who would soon be entering the draft. Similarly, Meyer turned to him for advice on recruits like Tim Tebow and insights on how he could integrate NFL strategies in his attack.
Belichick and Meyer became close friends and kept nothing from one another when it came to football. Josh McDaniels, Belichick‘s aggressive young offensive coordinator, helped him design offensive plays for Tom Brady and the Patriots vaunted offense based on Florida‘s spread-option. Meanwhile, Belichick coveted Gator players, including linebacker Brandon Spikes, tight end Aaron Hernandez and quarterback, Tim Tebow. He would end up drafting two of those three in his pursuit of a secret spread-option offense which he intended someday spring on the NFL.
Belichick is a detail - oriented task-master and dedicated student of the science of football. He never stops studying. His fascination with the Florida Gators is well documented.
After the 2009 season, Denver Broncos owner, Pat Bowlen made the difficult decision to fire long time coach Mike Shanahan. Bowlen felt that his team had become stagnant and that he needed to make a big change. He turned to the league’s most successful franchise for talent. He hired Belichick’s protege, Josh McDaniels.
Bill Belichick was happy to see Josh become a branch on his coaching tree. McDaniels left the Patriots with Bill’s blessing and a promise to keep in touch. And keep in touch they did. And, as Josh prepared drafts, he sought Bill’s advice beginning in 2009.
Bill Belichick coveted Tim Tebow and would have loved to have drafted him in 2010. But his starter, Tom Brady was too good. Maybe the best ever. So he passed his feelings about the kid along to McDaniels. McDaniels spent more time with Tebow pre-draft than anyone in the NFL and he fell in love with him. He also fell in love with the spread option offense that Tebow won with in Florida.
Josh McDaniels and Bill Belichick both drafted Florida players. McDaniels made maneuvers to get Tim Tebow but not before he used his first pick on Demaryius Thomas, a big run blocking wide receiver from a spread-option school, Georgia Tech. He also picked a pair of linemen, Zane Beadles and J.D. Walton known more for run blocking than protecting the passer.
McDaniels had something cookin’. He was going to make his mark on the NFL by installing the Urban Meyer offense using Urban Meyer’s quarterback just like Bill Belichick would have liked to but couldn‘t. He and his offensive coordinator, Mike McCoy, would take advantage of Bill’s research in Gainesville. That meant that starting quarterback, Kyle Orton, was trade-able in McDaniels’ eyes. The team was going to shift to the option and it needed mobility at the quarterback position.
Team President, Joe Ellis, didn’t see eye-to-eye with McDaniels about dealing Orton. The team had traded Jay Cutler for him and had recently handed him a contract extension. He was expected to perform. McDaniels wasn’t allowed to switch to the spread option, either. Instead, he was fired by the Broncos twelve games into his second season. The Broncos had gone 3-9 with Orton under center and it wasn’t until after McDaniels’ exit that Tim Tebow was given a chance to start …under interim coach, Eric Studesville and offensive coordinator, Mike McCoy, both of whom strangely survived the regime change when John Elway and John Fox were hired.
Mike McCoy had worked under John Fox as his offensive coordinator in Carolina before he moved to Denver so, when Fox was hired to replace McDaniels by John Elway, the team’s new VP of football operations, McCoy was retained along with most of his underlings. Fox and McCoy had success together in Carolina running the “Wild Cat” offense, one very similar to the spread option that McDaniels had been developing.
The Broncos offensive coaching staff hardly changed between 2010, when McDaniels was fired and 2011 when “the Johns” took over. In fact, the Broncos worked hard in the off-season to trade Kyle Orton, just as Josh McDaniels had suggested the year before. John Fox preferred to begin the 2011 campaign with Tim Tebow under Center. But Kyle Orton made things difficult by refusing to restructure his contract. He wanted to wait and become a free-agent after the season, seeing a bigger payday down the road. He ultimately was not traded. Instead, he so outshined Tim Tebow in training camp that he ended up keeping his starting job.
Meanwhile, under Fox, the Broncos practiced what came to be known as the “Tebow package”, a holdover from the McDaniels era which was based on Urban Meyer’s spread option, as dictated to Bill Belichick, taught to Josh McDaniels, implemented by Mike McCoy and regurgitated to John Fox, with whom McCoy developed a run-first offense in Carolina.
The Broncos have a fantastic run-blocking offensive line that happens to also be a terrible pass-blocking offensive line. Josh McDaniels wanted it that way and that’s what John Fox inherited. That would mean disaster for Kyle Orton who, despite his best efforts, isn’t a mobile quarterback. The Broncos benched Orton after a 1-4 start in 2011. To say he had been ineffective would be an understatement. Tim Tebow was named the starter after the week six bye.
In Tebow’s first game as a starter, week 7 against Miami the Broncos won playing a conventional game. The following week against the Lions the strategy proved a disaster. The Broncos were creamed 45-10 at home. Things were looking might bleak for them at 2-5. John Fox had seen Tim Tebow’s limitations in the offense he had drawn up for Kyle Orton and he knew he needed to make a change, so he installed the offense that Josh McDaniels and Mike McCoy had crafted and intended to shock the NFL with, the offense Bill Belichick adapted from Urban Meyer’s Gators.
After the Broncos went on to win their next two games versus Oakland and Kansas City, Brandon Spano of Mile High Sports asked Mike McCoy who’s idea it was to change over to a spread option offense with Tim Tebow. McCoy replied “we’ve had that since last year.” In other words, it wasn’t John Fox’s.
John Fox is not the mastermind behind his own team’s offensive game plan. Bill Belichick is.
Fox is, however, smart enough to know a good thing when he sees it. He’s always loved to run the ball so having a quarterback that can do it must be fun for him. Just like it is for all of us. He’s a much nicer fellow that McDaniels, anyway.
Is it a coincidence that Bill Belichick and the Patriots rehired Josh McDaniels before a potential playoff rematch with the Broncos? Not a chance. The Patriots coaches know what you now know, that they built Denver’s offense. Now it’s up to John Fox to put his own twist on it and beat the pants off of the Patriots.