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Josh McDaniels drafted a high-profile reserve in Tim Tebow, despite the fact Denver had several holes to fill. ((Chris McGrath/Getty Images) )

The Denver Broncos decided not to wait until the end of the season, firing head coach Josh McDaniels with four games remaining in the season on Monday.

Broncos have gone 5-17 in their last 22 regular-season games after a terrific start last season.

"My decision to relieve Josh McDaniels as head coach was not taken lightly," owner Pat Bowlen said in a statement posted on the team's website. "I will always be appreciative of his passion, enthusiasm and hard work, and I thank him for his efforts. In the end, I was not satisfied with the results and the direction this team was headed. The decision to make a change was extremely difficult but one that needed to be made for this organization and our fans."

McDaniels had nearly $7 million US left on his contract.

Running backs coach Eric Studesville takes over the 3-9 Broncos, who play in Arizona on Sunday. 

McDaniels was hired in early 2009 just shy of 33 years of age after helping guide New England backup Matt Cassel, who hadn't started a game since high school, to an impressive season.

He was officially named the Patriots offensive co-ordinator in 2006. The following year, New England scored a record 589 points en route to an unprecedented 16-0 regular-season record.

McDaniels had a huge task, replacing longtime coach and two-time Super Bowl winner Mike Shanahan, and there's been no shortage of drama since he arrived in Denver. Within weeks, quarterback Jay Cutler —  who had thrown for more than 4,000 yards the previous season — was traded to Chicago, with Kyle Orton heading to Denver.

Orton has been the least of the problems for the Broncos, who went 6-0 to start the 2009 campaign, but it's been downhill ever since.

The coach frequently clashed with the team's top player, Brandon Marshall, and the receiver was shipped to Miami after the season.

McDaniels, who also had a hand in personnel decisions, then confounded many observers by taking quarterback Tim Tebow in the first round of the draft when the Broncos had plenty of holes, particularly on defence.

He traded two conditional draft picks running back Peyton Hillis, who has enjoyed a breakout season in Cleveland, for yet another quarterback, third stringer Brady Quinn.

Things got off to a bad start before this season when defensive star Elvis Dumervil was lost for the season, one of a host of a injuries on that side of the ball.

The club was then hit with the third death of one of its players in recent years, the suicide of reserve Kenny McKinley.

Denver got off to a 2-2 start, but quickly fizzled, losing 59-14 at home to Oakland on Oct. 24.

Their next game was in London, and the NFL fined the team and McDaniels $50,000 US each because Denver's video operations director broke league rules by filming a San Francisco 49ers practice.

The NFL investigation determined that Steve Scarnecchia took the six-minute video of the walk-through, bringing to mind a similar infraction by Bill Belichick's Patriots when McDaniels was still in New England. 

With files from The Associated Press