IMHO, it is pointless, during this preseason to take an etched in stone position on either side of the we're going to do great or we're going to stink it up debate. As has been so eloquently written by so many posters on both sides of the debate, we won't be able to tell whether this off season's moves were brilliance or idiocy until the end of the 2009 season, at the earliest.
For that reason, I thought it might be fun to take a short journey back in history to get a glimpse of how the Bronco's last 3 coaches fared during their first year with the team.In 1981, after an 8-8 season, Denver chose Dan Reeves as their new head coach. Reeves came to Denver with 8 years of NFL coaching experience. All of those years were spent with the Dallas Cowboys, where he served as a Player/Coach, an Offensive Backfield Coach, and the Offensive Coordinator.
Reeves chose to retain 15th year veteran Craig Morton as his quarterback, and made only two offensive starter changes along with two defensive starter changes. The team was predicted to go 9-7 that year. The Reeves led Broncos won 10. They swept Oakland, and split the series with San Diego, Kansas City and Seattle (yes there was a time when Seattle was in our division ;-p). The team average 20.1 points per game (17th in the NFL), gave up 18.1 (9th) and had a Give Away/Take Away Ratio of +7 (8th). They finished in a tie for 1st place with San Diego but lost both the divisional and wild card tie breakers.
In 1993, Reeves was replaced by defensive minded Wade Phillips, after an 8-8 season. Phillips came to Denver with 16 1/2 years of NFL coaching experience, spread among 4 teams. He was a Defensive Line Coach for Houston (the Oilers, not the Texans). He was the Defensive Coordinator and later Interim Head Coach for New Orleans. He served a stint as the Defensive Coordinator for Philadelphia before being brought to Denver by Reeves to be the Broncos Defensive Coordinator.
Phillips chose to keep 11th year starter John Elway as his quarterback. His offense featured 6 new starters while the defense had 4 new starters. Phillips also brought in a new placekicker and a new punter. The Broncos were predicted to go 10-6. They finished 9-7. Denver swept the Seattle series, split with San Diego and Kansas City, and were swept by the LA Raiders. The team averaged 23.3 points per game (3rd), allowed 17.8 (10th), and had a Give Away/Take Away Ratio of +3 (11th). They qualified for a Wild Card Spot, but lost to the Raiders 42-24.
In 1995, Mike Shanahan was brought in to replace Phillips after the Broncos went 7-9. Shanahan came to Denver with 11 years of NFL coaching experience, spread among 3 teams. He served as a Wide Receivers Coach and Offensive Coordinator for Denver before getting his first call to become a Head Coach (with the LA Raiders). After a disastrous year plus a bit with the Raiders, Shanahan returned to Denver as the Quarterbacks Coach under Dan Reeves. Friction with Reeves led to Shanahan's becoming the Offensive Coordinator for San Francisco.
Shanahan, like Phillips, chose to keep 13 year veteran John Elway at quarterback. His offense featured 6 new starters and a change in the basic offensive formation (Reeves/Phillips had been running a 2 TE set as their base formation, Shanahan returned to a more tradition 2 WR/2 RB set). The defense featured 8 new starters. The Broncos were predicted to go 9-7. They finished 8-8. Denver swept the series with the Raiders, split the series with the Chargers and lost the series to both Seattle and Kansas City. The team averaged 24.2 points per game (9th), gave up 21.6 (17th) and had a Give Away/Take Away Ratio of -9 (30th). The Broncos did not qualifiy for the play-offs that year.
In 2009, after watching the team finish 8-8, another new coach was brought in. Josh McDaniels brings 8 years of NFL coaching experience to the Broncos. All of his experience came with New England. He started as a Personal Assistant to the Head Coach, was a Defensive assistant for 2 years before becoming the Quarterbacks Coach and later Offensive Coordinator.
How his first season as a Head Coach will play out has yet to be written.
An interesting comparison (at least to me, and this is most emphatically NOT an attempt to say one coach was/is better than another) is the experience each of our last 4 coaches brought to their first Head Coaching position: Reeves-8, Phillips-9.5 (if you use his interim HC spot with New Orleans), Shanahan-4 (remember he was first tapped to be the Raiders HC).
So, what can we draw from all of this? Not a whole lot! This is not an attempt to say that one coach is better than another, that one system is better than another, or even that there is a pattern we can glean something from. This, IMHO, is NFL football at it's best. That on any given Sunday, in any given season, any team can win, or they can lose. What it demonstrates is that with any coaching change, changes happen. Sometimes, the coach/team exceeded expections (Reeves was predicted to go 9-7, he took the team to 10-6). Sometimes the coach/team did not meet expectations (Phiilips and Shanahan both went a game under their predicted finish). Sometimes we made the play offs (under Phillips), sometimes we didn't (Reeves, Shanahan). In all cases, the team did something well (Phillips getting Denver to the Wild Card Spot, for example). In none of the cases did we go undefeated and win the Super Bowl.
So, how about giving McDaniels at least a year to show us what he can do with our team. Cheer when we see things that go well, ask questions when we don't understand his choices, challenge him to bring his best game to us and raise our players up to be winners. But through it all, win or lose, just keep chanting: