HENDERSON, Nev. — Josh McDaniels sits back in his chair in his brand-new conference room, in his sparkling-new $75 million practice facility, feeling like the luckiest man in Las Vegas.
Decked head to toe in Raiders gear, McDaniels, 46, is the boss again. Twelve years after his first head coaching job ended disastrously in Denver, McDaniels gets a shot at redemption in Vegas, the city of second chances.
“I had no idea if I was going to be able to do anything like this again,” McDaniels said. “I never took that for granted.”
And what a shot he gets. McDaniels takes over a Raiders team that made the playoffs last year, has a legitimate franchise quarterback in Derek Carr, and has real star power in receiver Davante Adams and pass rusher Maxx Crosby. The Raiders are no rebuilding job — they are built to win.
McDaniels also has facilities that would make Bill Belichick envious: glittering new headquarters that include three outdoor practice fields, a massive indoor barn with 1½ full-sized football fields, a lap pool for rehab, and an office facility that looks like a spaceship that landed in the desert.
On Sundays, McDaniels and the Raiders will be the hottest show in town as they play in a billion-dollar stadium located just west of the Las Vegas Strip.
“They try to do it the right way, which is exactly what I was used to in New England,” McDaniels said. “There’s such a history and tradition with this team, and I knew of it, but I hadn’t ever really been inside of it.
“Just to hear their philosophy and see the commitment that they have and the tradition of the guys that have been here, it’s just a unique opportunity.”
It’s an opportunity that McDaniels didn’t know would materialize after his first experience as a head coach. The Broncos hired him in 2009 as a 33-year-old wunderkind, and it ended up being two of the worst years of McDaniels’s life.
He came from the rival Patriots and never connected with the Denver community. He alienated his staff and players, including popular star quarterback Jay Cutler, who asked for a trade just two months after McDaniels arrived. There was an embarrassing videotaping incident. And the Broncos went 11-17, with McDaniels fired before finishing his second season.
He spent the next year living in a hotel in St. Louis, separated from his family and coordinating the Rams’ 32nd-ranked offense. In 2012, McDaniels slunk back to the Patriots, the only team that still believed in him.
But now McDaniels is appreciative of everything that happened in Denver.
“It was a humbling experience for me, but it was the best experience of my career,” McDaniels said. “There’s a lot of things that I learned and noted about my couple years in Denver, that if I ever had another chance, I would try to do it better.”
When he was hired by the Broncos in 2009, he was a kid with just eight years of NFL experience, and all with one organization. Now he’s a 23-year coaching veteran. He has a wider network of confidants across all levels of football. He has coached a wider variety of quarterbacks beyond Tom Brady — a fading veteran in Cam Newton and a wide-eyed rookie in Mac Jones.
Coming back to the Patriots in 2012, and observing Belichick and Jonathan and Robert Kraft over the next 10 years, taught McDaniels everything about being a head coach that he wishes he had known the first time around.
McDaniels, who won six Super Bowls over 18 years with the Patriots, will see his old friends this coming week when the Patriots visit the Raiders for two days of joint practices and a preseason game.
“The first eight years [with the Patriots], I had no idea what they would be doing on a day-to-day basis that I wasn’t seeing,” McDaniels said. “So it was very good for me to be able to go back there and just slow it down and take stock.
“Whether you’re in a squad meeting or staff meeting or you see some schedule handed out, you’re going, ‘Yeah, I remember that. I didn’t do that right. I made a mistake on that.’ ”
One of the areas in which McDaniels vows to improve with the Raiders is delegating responsibility and trusting his staff.
“When somebody else needed my help [in Denver], I ended up doing too much of it, instead of sitting down and saying, ‘Hey, let’s try to find a way to help them do it better,’ ” he said. “I’ve got to be a good leader, and in order to do that, you have to be able to identify what you need and then delegate, and then let them do it.”
McDaniels will still run the offense in Las Vegas, but he is limiting his football responsibilities because being a head coach is so all-encompassing. Now he watches special teams drills and sets the travel schedule and has media and community obligations.
“I told [team owner Mark] Davis when I came here, I only have two things I really want to do: I want to be the head coach and I want to be the play-caller,” McDaniels said. “I just want to do those two things as well as I can do them, and hire the best people around me to support us in this endeavor.
“So I feel I’m at peace, because I’m not overwhelmed. I wish I could tell every young coach that does that. You can’t do too much, because you’ll never be good enough at any of them.”
Trusting his staff more leads to another area in which McDaniels learned from his experiences in Denver: Having allies in the building.
McDaniels basically went to Denver by himself in 2009. He had never worked with general manager Brian Xanders, and he didn’t bring any coaches from New England.
In Vegas, McDaniels has the support system he needs. His coaching staff has six former Patriots, including both coordinators (Mick Lombardi and Patrick Graham) and his quarterbacks coach (Bo Hardegree).
The Raiders’ 90-man roster has nine former Patriots — almost all of them role players like Brandon Bolden, Duron Harmon, and Jarrett Stidham, who can quietly help McDaniels build his culture and implement his offense without alienating established star players like Carr and Crosby.
And McDaniels’s general manager, Dave Ziegler, was his college roommate and teammate. They are now in their 12th year working together in the NFL, including the last nine in New England.
“There’s not enough time to stop and look around and go, ‘Can you believe this?’ ” McDaniels said. “But it’s not lost on us the fact that we were college roommates worrying about English and math 20-something years ago, and now we have an opportunity to try to hopefully build something that we’re very proud of.”
Being a hotshot young coach didn’t work out for McDaniels in Denver. But 10 years of subsequent growth in New England has him hopeful that his second opportunity in Las Vegas will go smoother.
“It was a blessing that I had a chance to go back there and learn how to do it better,” McDaniels said of New England. “When I was younger, I made a lot of mistakes, and Bill helped me get better.
“And now that’s what I’m trying to do. I’ve got a great staff, the players have been phenomenal, and I just try to be consistent for them every day.”
Ben Volin can be reached at email@example.com.