I have been watching this years off-season un-like any other. The firing of Shannahan... the hiring of McDaniels... the Cutler saga... the Draft... obviously this year has been one of the most interesting and highly analyzed off-seasons in Broncos team history.
To be honest, I was skeptical when the Bronco's hired McDaniels. Sure, he was part of a coaching staff that won 3 Super Bowls, and he did a great job as the Offensive Coordinator last year when his team lost their starting QB and had to turn to a guy who had never started a game since high school, but still... being a head coach in the NFL is no entry level job. You just don't throw anyone into that position... It takes a real leader.
And then the Jay Cutler deal. I had held out hope that things were going to work out, but unfortunately it didn't. It was the worst possible scenario. I was pretty much convinced that 2009 and virtually every year after that was lost... and that McDaniels was going to last about 2 seasons as a coach... and the broncos would be back to square one...
But since the draft, I have been able to step back and see the past few months with a little bit less emotion and a little bit more objectivity, and honestly, I think what has gone down this off-season has not only made the Bronco's a better team, but it has helped McDaniels in a task that many times takes years for organizations to do. Change.
In my career, I study leadership and organizational leadership pretty extensively. Change never comes easy, and it rarely comes quickly. I have worked with several organizations which have recognized the need for change, and have tried to change, but have ultimately failed at the task. This is almost always because the resistance to change, internally and externally, is so great. The organizations that do experience radical and meaningful change in a very short time usually have two things... 1. A Great Leader(s) and 2. A Crisis
(Something to note: Many times, a leader's greatness is discovered during times of turmoil or Crisis)
For the Broncos, going 8-8 and barely missing the playoff's could have been a major obstacle. Why?... Because it was average. They weren't great, but they weren't the Detroit Lion's either. There was no real sense of urgency... no real sense of impending doom... People would say, "We were close, and we will probably be close again next year if we don't change up too much... Maybe fix a few peices on Defense, and we're there." (Sound like the majority of analysis of the broncos this off season?) But little to they realize the danger behind such complacency!
Jim Collins wrote an amazing book called "Good to Great" in which he shares that the greatest enemy of "Great" is "Good". As long as we are satisfied with "Good", we will never truely do what it takes to acheive "Greatness". You can watch this principle play out virtually every year in professional sports somewhere. A team that has all the talent in the world, and yet seemingly never fulfills their potential. (For some reason the Cowboys, Chargers, Jets, and Redskins come to mind...)
What is great about a Crisis, is that it can often clarify vision and values within an organization. When a crisis hits, The whole organization starts to take inventory about what is important... what is priority... and it often looks to it's leaders for the answers. It is in the midst of crisis that the fundamentals of what an organization is, or should be, start to be clarified and defined. What seems to be such a terrible thing, can in reality, become exactly what the organization needed in order to get to that next level.
The Jay Cutler saga was a crisis for the Broncos. Losing your Pro-Bowl, franchise Quarterback is a major blow, there is just no way around that. But what has happened in Denver because of this has been a re-defining of the teams vision and values, and that has been a very good thing. You can hear this vision and these values communicated in almost every interview by the coaches and the players. The players are committed to each other... they are working and learning together... and they are allowing themselves to be taught by those who have the responsibility to coach them. I really have been impressed by the direction things have turned for the Broncos since this whole Cutler Crisis has gone down.
Not every organization handles crisis in a positive way. For every example of positive change happening in an organization, you can find 10 organizations that fold under the weight of it. That is why great leaders are often revealed in times of Crisis. These leaders have the ability to focus on the right things, and lead through the crisis rather than be lead by it. It's not yet time to declare that McDaniels is a great leader, but you do have to acknowledge that since Jay Culter was traded to the Bears, the Broncos have seemingly become a different organization. From my view from the cheap seats, the Broncos have become a group of players that are committed to win as a TEAM... and that is a character trait of all "Great" Teams.
All in all, I believe that McDaniel's was handed a gift in disguise through the conflict with Cutler. It opened the door for important and needed change to happen within the organization, and who knows... hopefully another great leader will emerge from it's ashes.