HENDERSON — When Josh McDaniels left New England the first time in 2009 to become coach of the Denver Broncos, he didn’t appreciate some of the little things that went into Patriots coach Bill Belichick’s success.
So when he returned to the Patriots in 2012, McDaniels took greater notice of Belichick’s approach to all aspects of the program, including his approach to bye weeks and the offseason.
Details, McDaniels acknowledged Wednesday, “that maybe I wasn’t even clued in on that existed before I left. … And so it gave me a great opportunity to kind of look at it through a different lens and really try to take some time to process those things while I was watching somebody that’s obviously the best that’s ever done it do it again.
“The time for me was important for me personally and … he’s always given to me time, attention and information,” McDaniels continued. “He’s been very open and honest with me about everything, and I wouldn’t be standing here if it wasn’t for him.”
McDaniels’ stint in Denver didn’t go well. He was fired after going 11-17 in less than two seasons. He believes he can do better in his second go-round as a head coach.
The Raiders are 5-8 going into Sunday’s home game against the Patriots (7-6).
With New England fighting for a playoff spot, McDaniels doesn’t expect Belichick to let sentimentality get in the way this week.
“And that’s not a bad thing,” McDaniels said. “I don’t think he would expect anything less from me than to just compete and do everything we can to help our team win, and I know that’s what he’s going to do.”
McDaniels has his own motivation beyond trying to prove the student can beat the teacher, hoping to put together a strong finish to what has been a disappointing season for the Raiders.
Few coaches understand New England’s inner workings quite like McDaniels, but if Belichick has specialized in anything, it’s presenting unique game plans for his opponents. McDaniels knows that’s what’s in store for his team.
“It’s very challenging because what you see on tape is not necessarily what you’re going to get,” McDaniels said.
Part of that challenge is stopping Patriots quarterback Mac Jones, who was a rookie last season under McDaniels. Jones started all 17 games and led New England to a 10-7 record, throwing 22 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions.
He has taken a step back, with seven TD passes and eight picks this season, though his completion percentage has inched up from 67.6 to 68.2.
“He expects a lot out of his players, and he’s a smart guy,” Jones said of McDaniels on Boston radio station WEEI. “He’s got great recall. He remembers things from certain games and all that stuff. Definitely a great coach, and looking forward to going against him this weekend.”
McDaniels spent 18 years with the Patriots, including 13 as offensive coordinator. He was an instrumental part of a two-decade dynasty that won six Super Bowls, including three when he ran the offense.
The Patriots had the NFL’s top-ranked offense three times under McDaniels.
“It’s obvious I wouldn’t be here, or even in the National Football League, if it wasn’t for Bill,” McDaniels said. “He’s been invaluable to me in a lot of ways. Hard to measure all of them. Obviously, football background, understanding how this league works. I got to see firsthand how to try to do it the right way.”
Waller, Renfrow return to practice
Raiders tight end Darren Waller (hamstring) and wide receiver Hunter Renfrow (oblique) returned to practice Wednesday, but McDaniels said he didn’t know if either would be activated off injured reserve this week.
“We’re going to have to see how the next few days go,” McDaniels said. “We haven’t really seen them practice in a while in regard to how those (injuries) are going to respond. So we’re going to get them out there, and we’re going to kind of evaluate how it goes.”
McDaniels also wasn’t sure whether guard Alex Bars (knee) would play Sunday.