A few on MHR have brought up a great point in recent days. In order for this franchise to become successful again, the structure of the organization from the Front Office to the staff will need to be more clearly defined. Starting at the top, roles and responsibilities will need to be levied on trusted individuals, and only then will a solid coaching staff be attainable. The coaches and players change teams regularly around the NFL and thus these resources need to be used as the interchangeable parts that they are. Without an identity - a vision, which should come down from the top - the team will be doomed to constantly reinvent itself from the bottom up.
That is not effective, as evidenced by the colossal waste of everyone's time, which was the McD hiring. Without a clear plan and an organized FO, this team was swimming against the current. If the waters had been smooth, the goal might have been accomplished. But as the inevitable problems arose from media criticism, an excessive amount of roster / staff turnover, and a barrage of injuries in 2010, the Denver Broncos were constantly fighting the waves.
In my last post, "The Case for Wade Phillips," I addressed a potential solution to the Defensive Coordinator position in Denver.
In this follow-up post to the Phillips recommendation, I will address the FO, GM, Head Coach, and Offensive Coordinator positions. To offer only a defensive solution and not consider what to do about these other positions to be filled, would not do justice to our anticipation of the coming changes in the offseason. Only after taking a hard, realistic outlook, did I arrive at a couple of names that I believe would work best, under the circumstances, in Denver.
Although long, the method to my madness (aided by my taking a much-needed staycation) is that there are several factors frequently ignored, that we need to consider when taking an honest look at the current personnel landscape in the NFL.
The Broncos' Identity
There is a long-standing tradition of winning since the 1970s, but over the past decade, the Broncos have been mired in mediocrity, only winning in the playoffs once, in 2005.
The 1970s gave an identity to the defense and Joe Collier's 3-4 became known as the "Orange Crush" defense. An abandoned scheme in the late 1980's, it was replaced with the 4-3 and allowed the offense to help shape the identity of the organization.
After being a conservative run-heavy team for over 30 years, the West Coast offensive system was adopted in the 1990's and when added to the Alex Gibbs Zone-Blocking system, it produced two Superbowls. It was a crowning achievement for our beloved franchise.
The Broncos were identified by the previous great coaches and players: Floyd Little, Gary Zimmerman, John Elway, Red Miller, Craig Morton, Tom Jackson, Randy Gradishar, Karl Mecklenburg, Joe Collier, Louis Wright, Alex Gibbs, the 3 Amigos, Simon Fletcher, Rod Smith, Ed McCaffrey, Shannon Sharpe, Terrell Davis, Mike Shannahan, Steve Atwater, and Jason Elam. These men are the pillars that serve as the foundation for the history and image of this franchise, something that Pat Bowlen is well aware of.
But since most of these great men have retired from the game, something's happened - the Denver Broncos have become a team stuck in neutral. In 2010, they appear to be a team that tried for nearly two years to redefine itself from the ground up, but had failed. In my opinion, the new direction was not the problem. The problem was, it didn't come down from the top.
Since the firing of Mike Shannahan, the two men who became the face of the franchise were owner Pat Bowlen and Chief Operations Officer Joe Ellis. When Josh McDaniels was hired as the new HC of the Denver Broncos, the overall direction was to have Ellis help Bowlen by representing him to the media when necessary, as the beloved owner was rumored to be slowing down. Ellis, in fact, was instrumental in the interview process for the next coach and the eventual hiring of McD. However, it is unknown as to just exactly how involved he was in making football decisions during McD's tenure. Meanwhile, the newly appointed GM Brian Xanders and HC Josh McDaniels were to work together and report directly to Bowlen himself.
The plan was for this structure to hold, with McD taking responsibility for basically making the Broncos a carbon copy of the New England Patriots. Without assigning personnel responsibility to Xanders however, McD was carelessly empowered to the same levels that lead to Shannahan's dismissal. Expectations were high before the fall.
Since McD has also been let go, the only clear change that has been signaled by the organization is that John Elway will be returning as an FO executive to some capacity. This upcoming move has potential, as long as it will not be a mere superficial way to repair the tarnished image of the Denver Broncos. It must have to some extent, clearly defined roles that are executable and measurable. In my view, Elway will need to serve as the face of the franchise for the fans in a marketing sense, but more importantly, will need to serve as a liaison between the FO and the coaching staff, so that the two sides can communicate effectively. With communication and a shared vision across the board, top-down, this franchise could rise from its own ashes.
And Joe Ellis? He can remain on as COO, with a renewed focus on tending to stadium tickets and merchandise sales. From now on, when Bowlen is not available, Elway will speak for him.
To date, short of John Elway being rumored to join Denver's FO as an executive, no other changes have been made public as of yet. My recommendation is that he be appointed Vice President of Football Operations, tasked with overseeing the marketing of the team and due to his ability to understand both the business side of football as well as the game of football, serve as the team's middle-man. We the fans, can only assume that sometime in the next month or so, we'll have our answer.
What will happen to Brian Xanders? A current rumor, is that Pat Bowlen is hurting for money. While this has not been made public and can't be proven as fact, one has to consider this as a very real possibility. And the recent actions by the Broncos appear to add merit to the idea. These include naming Tim Tebow the starter the rest of the season and bringing Brian Xanders along to one-day NFL meetings in Dallas last week, giving an indication that they are considering empowering him in his General Manager role. If they remain consistent going into the off-season, then the Broncos probably will not hire an outside GM and retain Xanders. This time, he'll have personnel decision making power and for now, he appears eager to get to work on the upcoming draft:
"We're in the middle of draft meetings this week," Xanders said before leaving for Dallas. "We have all our scouts in, and there is a draft board. There's league meetings, but we're carrying on in the personnel department."
What about Eric DeCosta or Bill Parcells? Anybody but the second half of McX!
Let's evaluate the current state of affairs, before we head for the nearest ledge. Not in a fictitious world of rainbows and unicorns, but in the real world of today. The economy has been reeling for about four years, Bowlen will be paying for three Head Coaches next season, and Invesco Field could not fill all of their seats for the first time in a long time when the Rams visited Denver. All of these problems currently point to the Broncos starting Tebow to sell tickets for the remaining home games and retaining Xanders so that they can afford to hire quality and compatible newcomers.
Xanders is a capable man who has elevated himself from the scouting ranks to land himself a position in Denver. Here's a brief bio on him prior to joining the Broncos organization:
Xanders, who serves on both the NFL Combine Selection Committee and the NFL College Advisory Committee, brings a diverse foundation of NFL experience gained during 14 years with the Falcons in a variety of coaching, player personnel and football operations positions. He worked under seven different head coaches during that period, including Dan Reeves, Wade Phillips, Jim Mora and Mike Smith. He also trained under several different player personnel executives such as Ron Hill, Bobby Beathard, Rich McKay, Tim Ruskell, Billy Devaney and Thomas Dimitroff.
Xanders was a member of the Falcons’ defensive coaching staff on their 1998 team that became the first in franchise history to earn a Super Bowl berth (XXXIII).
The scouts have been hard at work since May, studying up on prospects they're interested in drafting next April. Let's give the current personnel department a chance to show us what they have in mind to improve the defense. We might find that we'll like the outcome, if we give them a chance.
Soon to be Available Coaches and Assistants
The availability of Wade Phillips has made it possible to consider him as a candidate who could fix the defense. And to a certain extent, as long as the FO reorganization I mentioned above were to also take place, then a Xanders-selected Phillips would help improve what I consider to be the second largest issue with the team.
Despite improving the D, this team would not necessarily become a playoff contender. Until the offense can "stay on schedule," no defense will be able to hold opponents to what I'd like to call "Baltimore Beatdown Proportions." The offense must improve first, in order to help the defense.
Since we all know by now that McD was essentially tasked with doing everything for this team and now he is gone, there will need to be some improvements for the offense in order to help them get better as a unit. By "staying on schedule," 1st downs will need to produce more than 1 lousy yard and 2nd downs will have to produce more than 3 lousy yards, or else, the offense will be confronted with 3rd and longs all the time - and in 2010, they have.
Taking the impatience of the fans into strong consideration, this franchise cannot afford another rebuild. It will take longer to successfully rebuild it into its previous image than even the owner will have the patience for. Acquiring the right combination of Offensive Linemen and add depth, more Running Backs, Tight Ends, and re-educating the team with new (or old for a few players) terminology, will take at least a year. And after a year of mistakes and missed opportunities, then they'll need to show that progress is being made the following year "or else."
God forbid the media should continue to be unforgiving, some new controversy involving a player being traded should occur, or another wave of injuries sweep across the roster producing a losing season, and the new HC will also be ostracized, McD-style.
What I am proposing for the sake of urgency and efficiency this time around, is to maintain the fundamental systems that are in place, retain as many players as are fit for them, and have the GM hire the best available coaching staff, including the coordinators. They should also be the most compatible group of coaches for the current systems and players that are already in place. Notice the improvement by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2010 from its previous year. Xanders should be flexible enough to allow the new HC to bring some assistants along with them and work with his scouting department to draft and acquire FAs who will help complete this most recent rebuilding effort.
There are few available (recently fired) Head Coaches that could improve the Broncos as the next HC right now. This small pool, at this point, consists of Wade Phillips and Brad Childress. John Fox, Marvin Lewis, Mike Singletary, and Gary Kubiak may be let go in the offseason, but if or when that should happen, I'll add their names next to Phillips and Childress. Even if any of these coaches were to be considered, based on their recent failures, they would probably do nothing more than to continue their losing trend in Denver. I believe, that bringing any one of them on board would not make for a great investment - to hire a fallen commodity is too risky, even if they may be affordable.
It is also unlikely that they would be able to afford a high profile HC candidate such as Gregg Williams, John Gruden, or Bill Cowher. Fan favorites include Gary Kubiak and Ron Rivera, but I would suggest looking past the AFC conference and look at the most winning teams in the entire league. After all, that was what Pat Bowlen had in mind when he hired Josh McDaniels in the first place.
Yes, the idea of bringing in Gary Kubiak to be the new OC and perhaps returning Rick Dennison to his previous O-line duties would fit the old Denver West Coast Offense system. Trying to lure Atlanta's Bill Musgrave back could have a similar effect, at least from a QB perspective. Musgrave's name sometimes gets thrown into talks about HC or OC jobs elsewhere in the NFL or in college, so I could put his name on Denver's speculative list as well. But his resume's awfully thin: he's only been OC one time for only one season with the Jacksonville Jaguars (2003-04.) He does have deep ties to the Broncos because he spent much of his playing career as John Elway's backup, but other than name recognition, I don't see anything else going for him.
Despite the Texans current record of 5th in passing and 10th in rushing through week 15, the perception among some fans at least, is that Kubiak would turn the Broncos' offense into a "soft football team that falls short in close games," much like the Broncos 2000-2008. I wouldn't expect to see a playoff team with any of these potential candidates.
From a scheming standpoint, the easiest thing for the Broncos to do, would be to keep the current offense in place, for the most part. That would provide some continuity and maintain more or less the same terminology for the players, otherwise Eddie Royal's head will be spinning faster than Al Davis' secret spy satellite. Here's the problem: this isn't going to be easy because there are very few coordinators or up-and-coming position coaches who are available from teams that run some version of this offense, which include the Steelers, Panthers, Cardinals, Falcons, Chiefs, and of course, the Patriots.
I think I'll skip New England, because after Spygate II, Bowlen may not want to have anything to do with that organization - at least not directly. And the Chiefs' staff have just recently organized themselves as a mirror image of the Patriots circa 2005, so the possibility of bringing Charlie Weis over to Denver is slim to none. But the rest deserve a closer look.
Candidates from Similar Organizations
The list of current coaches / assistants from the other organizations based on availability include:
Bruce Arians is in his fourth season as offensive coordinator under head coach Mike Tomlin, following three seasons as the Steelers’ wide receivers coach. It marks the fifth time he is serving as an offensive coordinator in his coaching career, including one previous time in the NFL and twice at the collegiate ranks.
Named to the Steelers’ coaching staff on Jan. 24, 2004, Arians has over 33 years of coaching experience, including 17 years in the NFL.
Arians has been instrumental in the development of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. With 60 career wins, including a 22-9 mark during Arians’ two seasons as offensive coordinator, Roethlisberger has a .698 winning percentage, fifth among active quarterbacks. Roethlisberger also became the second-youngest quarterback to win two Super Bowls (26 years, 336 days) when the Steelers defeated the Arizona Cardinals, 27-23, in Super Bowl XLIII.
Arians, 56, helped All-Pro wide receiver Hines Ward become one of the best wideouts in the NFL over the past six seasons. During Arians’ first six seasons with Pittsburgh, Ward has been to the Pro Bowl twice and was named Super Bowl XL MVP after finishing with 123 receiving yards and one touchdown. Ward also became the Steelers’ all-time receptions leader, surpassing Hall of Famer John Stallworth, and in 2007 became the team’s career leader in receiving yards and touchdown receptions.
Arians has also guided the Steelers to some of its most productive offensive years in the team’s history. In his first year as offensive coordinator in 2007, Arians helped Roethlisberger get elected to his first Pro Bowl as he broke Terry Bradshaw’s long-standing team record for most TD passes in a season with 32. Roethlisberger also finished with a career-best and team-record QB rating of 104.1. In 2009, the Steelers’ offense became the first unit in team history to boast a 4,000-yard passer, two 1,000-yard receivers and a 1,000-yard rusher in the same season. Along the way the offense broke both of the team’s records for passing first downs (210) and passes completed (351).
Prior to the Steelers, Arians spent three seasons (2001-2003) as the offensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns. In 2002 under Arians’ guidance, the Browns scored their most points since the 1987 season and also improved in virtually every major offensive category from the three years prior to his arrival.
Arians was instrumental in the development of Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning while serving as the Colts’ quarterback coach for three years (1998-2000). Under Arians’ tutelage, Manning totaled 4,413 yards and 33 touchdowns in 2000 to break his own club season record. His 33 touchdown passes in 2000 established a Colts’ franchise record previously held by John Unitas.
I like him as a potential OC in Denver, but I don't see the Steelers letting him go.
A 24-year coaching veteran in the NFL trenches, Paul Boudreau will continue to direct the Falcons’ offensive line for his third season in Atlanta in 2010. Boudreau’s linemen helped the team total the second fewest sacks allowed per play in a single season with just one per 21.1 pass plays in 2009. His line’s strong play also enabled the Falcons offense to amass 330 first downs, the second-most ever in a season.
With Boudreau’s adept coaching, the offensive line allowed quarterback Matt Ryan to throw for 2,916 yards with a career-best 22 touchdown passes last season. Running back Michael Turner scored 10 rushing touchdowns and wide receiver Roddy White topped 1,100 receiving yards with over 80 catches for the third consecutive season for the first time in team history with the aide of Boudreau’s charges. White also went to the Pro Bowl for the second-straight year while catching a career-high 11 touchdowns.
In 2008, Boudreau’s unit opened holes for the NFL’s second ranked rushing offense (152.7 yards per game). Turner ranked second in the NFL in rushing (1,699 yards), marking the third highest rushing total in Falcons history, en route to his first Pro Bowl.
I like him as a potential Offensive Line Coach in Denver, especially if the Mularkey rumors turn out to be true.
3. Mike Mularkey - Offensive Coordinator, Atlanta Falcons
Mike Mularkey has enjoyed great success in this league as an Offensive Coordinator. While with the Steelers back in the early 2000's, his punishing ground attack crippled opposing defenses.
He is a former Buffalo Bills Head Coach, Offensive Coordinator for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and tight ends coach for the Miami Dolphins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Prior to coaching, he played 9 seasons in the NFL as a tight end for the Minnesota Vikings and Pittsburgh Steelers.
I like him as a potential OC in Denver, but he may make an even better HC, on his second opportunity at that position.
Joined the Cardinals on 1/23/07 when he became the team’s assistant head coach/offensive line.
Given the additional title of run game coordinator following 2008 season on 2/18/09.
Selected to the seven-member Class of 2010 for the Pro Football Hall of Fame on 2/6/10. Was among the 15 finalists for the Hall of Fame in 2010 after being a finalist for the past four years (2006-09)
In 2008, his five offensive linemen started all 20 games during the season including Super Bowl XLIII.
In 2007, Arizona’s offensive line ranked sixth in the NFL by allowing only 24 sacks, the lowest total for the team since 1978 (22).
Spent 20 seasons with the Washington Redskins, the first 11 as an all-pro lineman (1981-91) and then as an assistant coach for nine seasons (1992-2000)
In his career, his teams have earned four Super Bowl victories. Three as a player (XVII, XXII and XXVI) and one as a coach (XL).
Earned four consecutive Pro Bowl selections (1983-86) and was a first-team selection to the NFL’s 1980’s all-decade team.
He is an intriguing candidate, but is rumored to be in consideration for the Panthers' HC spot.
Under Dave Magazu, Carolina has fielded some of the best offensive lines in the NFL in recent years, and the numbers prove it. However, he may have been at his best in 2009 when the Panthers became the first team in NFL history to have two running backs each rush for more than 1,100 yards despite playing the last four games of the season without their two starting tackles. Also, center Ryan Kalil earned his first-career Pro Bowl selection under Magazu's guidance.
The Panthers' 2,497 rushing yards and 123 rushing first downs last year marked the second consecutive season that they set team records in those categories, and their average of 4.76 yards per attempt and 18 rushing touchdowns stand as the second most in franchise history. A year earlier, Carolina established team records of 4.84 yards per attempt and 30 rushing touchdowns while rushing for 2,437 yards and 118 first downs as tackle Jordan Gross was chosen to his first-career Pro Bowl. In addition, the Panthers set a team record for the fewest sacks allowed with 20.
After four years of working with Carolina's tight ends, Dave Magazu returned "home" in 2007 to coach the offensive line. His return was a success by every measure as the offensive line helped the Panthers compile 1,824 rushing yards and an average of 4.04 yards per carry.
I like him as a potential Offensive Line Coach in Denver, and the new regime in Carolina may let him go. However, he's older and thus less likely to move away from the East Coast.
6. Jeff Davidson - Offensive Coordinator, Carolina Panthers
Jeff Davidson is another coordinator that does not often get his due respect. After only one season in Cleveland as their OC, Davidson was hired by Carolina to keep their run-first offense intact. In 2008, Davidson released DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart on the league and it paid huge dividends.
I think he is a true dark horse candidate for the OC position and hopefully, Xanders is aware of him.
Candidates from Different Organizations
Other respectable teams in the league include the Ravens, Packers, Saints, and Jets, and here are a few of their coaches who I think would also deserve consideration:
In two seasons with the Jets, Coach Callahan has coached three players to five Pro Bowl appearances (Alan Faneca-2, Nick Mangold-2 and D’Brickashaw Ferguson-1)….In 2009, with the help of his schemes in the running game the Jets set a new franchise record and led the NFL with 2,756 rushing yards in 2009…The Jets rushing attack recorded two 300-yard games, while registering 175-or-more yards seven times during the season.
In his first season with the Jets in 2008, the improved Jets running attack averaged 4.7 yards per carry, ninth in the NFL, and featured the AFC rushing champion, Pro Bowler Thomas Jones, who ran for 1,312 yards and scored a team-record 13 rushing touchdowns (up from one in 2007)...The offensive line also improved in pass protection, limiting defenses to 30 sacks, down from 53 sacks allowed in 2007.
Joined the Jets in 2007 after leading Nebraska to a Big 12 Conference Championship game appearance (2006) and two Bowl appearances in four seasons (27-22).
Other than the fact that he's coached the Raiders for two seasons (2002-03,) I like him as a potential Offensive Line Coach in Denver. Unfortunately, I don't see Rex Ryan parting ways with Callahan.
John Matsko, a 37-year coaching veteran, is in his third year leading the Ravens’ offensive line. He guided a youthful group of O-linemen, who were joined by a veteran center (Matt Birk) in 2009, to a No. 5-overall team rushing ranking (137.5 ypg). Baltimore was also the NFL’s ninth-best scoring team (24.4 ppg). In 2008, the young line blocked for rookie QB Joe Flacco, allowing only 33 sacks, the second-lowest single-season total in team history. At the forefront of teaching offensive linemen, Matsko has a tremendous track record, and his forte has always been developing players. Matsko presided over the blocking unit of one of the most prolific offenses in NFL history - the St. Louis Rams. He has tutored a number of Pro Bowl linemen and was a coach on the high-powered St. Louis offense for seven years (1999-2005). From 1999-2001, St. Louis became the only NFL team to amass at least 500 points in three consecutive seasons (526 in ’99, 540 in ’00 and 503 in ’01). Matsko had stints at Kansas City, the NY Giants, New Orleans and the Phoenix Cardinals.
I like him as a potential Offensive Line Coach in Denver, but I don't see the Ravens letting him go. Besides, like Magazu, he's older and thus less likely to move away from the East Coast.
3. Andy Moeller - Assistant Offensive Line Coach, Baltimore Ravens
Andy Moeller is in his third season as the Ravens’ assistant offensive line coach. Moeller, who has 23 years of coaching experience, joined the NFL ranks for the first time when he arrived in Baltimore in 2008. With Moeller’s assistance, the youthful O-line has made great strides in two seasons. In 2009, the Ravens set a team record with 22 rushing TDs and also tallied Baltimore’s three best offensive total yards games. In 2008, Baltimore was the NFL’s fourth-ranked rushing team (148.5). During his six years coaching Michigan’s offensive line, Moeller coached two All-Americans: C David Baas (2004) and T Jake Long (2006-07), the first-overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft by Miami. Under Moeller, Michigan dominated the All-Big Ten selections list for O-linemen, and many of his pupils moved on to successful NFL careers. In four out of five seasons, Moeller’s offensive line helped pave the way for a 1,000-yard rusher, twice by 2003 Doak Walker Award winner Chris Perry (2002-03) and a pair of Michigan’s top 10 season rushing performances from Mike Hart (2004, 2006). In 2004, the Wolverines’ line was anchored by Baas, the co-recipient of the Rimington Trophy (the nation’s outstanding center). Baas was joined by teammates RG Matt Lentz and LT Adam Stenavich on the first-team All-Big Ten squad.
I like him as a potential Offensive Line Coach in Denver and since he's young, a move for him would be possible.
Pete Carmichael, Jr. inherited an explosive offense from former Offensive Coordinator Doug Marrone, who molded them into one of the leagues' elite units. He is in his second season as the Saints’ offensive coordinator after tutoring the club’s quarterbacks the previous three years. Throughout this time he has been a key figure in the planning and preparations of an offensive attack that has been ranked first in the NFL in yardage in three of the last four seasons, while leading the league in scoring for the past two campaigns.
In his first season with his new title, The Saints continued to compile impressive numbers on offense. The Saints finished in the top five in seven offensive categories and eight single season and single game team records were set or tied. They scored a club-record and NFL-best 510 points, the ninth-highest total in league record books. At least 45 points were scored four times, a fifth time in the postseason, with four straight outputs of at least 30. They ranked first in the league with 6,461 net yards, the second-best total in club history. The Saints’ 348 first downs was the second-best total both in 2009 league rankings and in team record books. The Saints also finished the season ranked sixth in the NFL in rushing yardage with 131.6 yards per game on a club-best 4.5 yards per carry, an improvement from 28th in 2008 and their highest ranking since 1987 when they were third with a 146.0 average.
This is another OC candidate that I like for the Broncos, but will Sean Payton let him go to make a lateral move?
Promoted to offensive line coach Jan. 15, 2007, by Head Coach Mike McCarthy, Campen moved up from his position as assistant offensive line coach in McCarthy’s first season at the helm. Prior to that, Campen filled the role of assistant offensive line/quality control coach for two seasons following nine years in the high school ranks.
A natural teacher, Campen has frequently taken young linemen and prepared them to be significant contributors in the early stages of their careers. Third-year man Josh Sitton started every game at RG this past season, while second-year pro T.J. Lang played three different positions over the course of his rookie year and started games at both tackle spots when needed.
In the first two years at his current post, Campen also worked hands-on in the development of three linemen – Daryn Colledge, Jason Spitz and Tony Moll – who ended up starting a combined 103 games from 2006-08.
Perhaps most impressively, none of the young and developing linemen – a group that also includes fourth-year pro Allen Barbre and third-year man Breno Giacomini – were first-round draft picks, and all but Colledge and Spitz were drafted in the fourth round or later.
He did not, however, play in Superbowl XXXII:
His playing career came to an end in 1993 when he suffered a torn hamstring in Week 4 at Dallas (Oct. 3) and later underwent season-ending surgery. Campen played in 61 games overall with the Packers, making 42 of 48 starts from 1990-92.
I like him as a potential Offensive Line Coach in Denver, but I don't see him wanting to leave the Green Bay organization.
This is a good list of coaching candidates from the best organizations in football today. There are other assistants with these teams that are certainly capable, but would either be likely retained or are still too inexperienced to fix the 2011 Broncos. Let's proceed to the next task.
Big Decisions to be Made
If Wade Phillips is hired to be the DC, then it makes sense to hire an offensive-minded coach to be the new HC in Denver. They will be able to leave the D alone and focus on upgrading the Tight End position, Running Back position, and add depth to this very thin O-line. They will also likely want to bring some of their former assistants with them, as this is expected each time there is a HC change in the league. Denver's OC and Offensive Line coaching positions ought to be available this offseason.
Based on what Xanders has recently been quoted saying, since the defense will receive the most attention, then he and the FO probably won't allow too many changes to take place on the offensive side of the ball - at least they shouldn't, since that would make them hypocritical. For the second time in three years, there is a good young corps of players emerging on the offensive side of the ball, which should not be blown up to start anew. With this in mind, after studying the various position coaches from the teams mentioned above, below is what I've come up with.
The next OC
Due to the anticipated firing of John Fox in Carolina, the new Panthers regime could very easily discard much of the staff, and likely will. If Xanders takes advantage of this golden opportunity, the next Broncos' OC may very well turn out to be Jeff Davidson:
Jeff Davidson has made a significant imprint on the Panthers in his three years as offensive coordinator, establishing Carolina as one of the top running teams in the NFL. The Panthers finished third in the league in rushing in consecutive seasons in 2008 and 2009 as Davidson has made running the ball a staple of the offense. However, changes at quarterback have created challenges in the passing game. Only once in Davidson's three years, 2008, has Carolina played the entire season with the same quarterback.
In 2009, the Panthers set team records with 2,498 rushing yards, 525 rushing attempts and 123 rushing first downs, and Carolina's average of 4.76 yards per attempt and 18 rushing touchdowns stand as the second-most in franchise history. The Panthers did not commit any turnovers in a team-record six games and ended the season by not turning the ball over in a team-record four consecutive games.
Carolina's offensive accomplishments in 2008 included setting team records with 30 rushing touchdowns, an average gain of 5.96 yards per play and six games gaining at least 400 yards in addition to rushing for 2,437 yards. Also, the Panthers amassed 5,595 yards, tallied 414 points and scored 47 touchdowns, all of which rank as the second-highest totals in team history.
Change was the constant for Davidson in his first season as Carolina's offensive coordinator in 2007. Four different starting quarterbacks never started more than three consecutive games, but Davidson still coaxed the fourth-best rushing season in team history with 1,824 yards while the Panthers became the first team in 10 years to win at least one game with four different starting quarterbacks.
Davidson joined the Panthers as offensive coordinator after two seasons in Cleveland that followed a successful eight-year stint with New England. With the Patriots, he contributed to five playoff appearances, four division titles, three conference championships and three Super Bowl wins as the tight ends/assistant offensive line coach from 1997-2004.
In those ten years, Davidson experienced challenges of every nature in preparation to be an offensive coordinator. His units in Cleveland were decimated by injuries, while his time in New England was characterized by remarkable stability. Davidson met both with the same resolve.
Davidson joined Cleveland in 2005, and his impact was immediate as he molded a unit that helped the Browns end a 20-year drought without a 1,000-yard rusher. Reuben Droughns easily eclipsed that plateau with 1,232 yards behind an offensive line that included three new starters.
He was promoted to assistant head coach/offensive line coach in 2006, and Davidson's role was expanded after six games when he became Cleveland's offensive coordinator. Despite having to shuffle the offensive line throughout the year because of injuries, he oversaw an offense that featured tight end Kellen Winslow and wide receiver Braylon Edwards, who produced breakthrough seasons with 89 and 61 catches, respectively.
With New England in 2004, Davidson and offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia worked with a unit that had only three lineup changes all season as the Patriots won Super Bowl XXXIX. The offensive line proved adept at run blocking and pass protection as Corey Dillon rushed for 1,635 yards and Tom Brady was sacked only 26 times, sixth fewest in the NFL. Meanwhile, New England's tight ends, under Davidson's tutelage, accounted for 11 touchdowns and nine pass plays of 20 yards or more.
His time with the Patriots was exemplified by such play from the tight ends as well as the offensive line. As tight ends coach in 1997, Davidson helped Ben Coates emerge as the team leader with 66 receptions and earn a Pro Bowl berth. In 1998, he moved to assist with New England's offensive line for four seasons before adding tight ends to his coaching duties in 2002. The results were immediate as the receiving production for the position more than tripled from the previous year. Then in 2003, the Patriots tight ends again improved their performance by combining for 66 catches and six touchdowns.
While Carolina runs a different version of the "NFL Spread Offense," at least the running game would improve, as they prefer to use the run to set up the pass, much like the Falcons and Steelers. This ought to please many Bronco fans who have missed the run-first style of offense we used to see run under Mike Shannahan.
Yes, there is the dreaded New England connection from the championship teams of the past decade, but of all of the coaches and assistants that could be considered to replace Mike McCoy with, Davidson has the experience, knowledge, and proven ability to put together a competent offense, starting with the O-linemen in the trenches.
One cannot discount his impressive resume and he would offer a smoother transition into the future, all the while retaining Denver's desires to improve the running game, another identity that this organization has lost in 2010. If nothing else, his body of work is living proof that Denver won't need to return to Zone-Blocking exclusively and throw away the current scheme, in order to run the ball well again.
The next HC (saving the best for last)
The Atlanta Falcons have had some success in recent years and have just locked up a playoff spot for this 2010 post-season. After rumors have surfaced that the Broncos are interested in their current OC, and considering Xanders' connections with the Falcons organization, it would be no surprise that Denver's next HC could likely be Mike Mularkey:
For the second consecutive year, Falcons Offensive Coordinator Mike Mularkey guided an offensive unit that featured firepower in both the running and passing attack in 2009. Although injuries hampered both quarterback Matt Ryan and running back Michael Turner, the offense still averaged 340.4 yards per game while the passing game improved to a 223.2 yards per game average as the Falcons earned back to back winning seasons for the first time in franchise history. Among individual offensive highlights, wide receiver Roddy White led the team with 1,153 receiving yards and became only the second player in franchise history to total three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. White also added a career-high 11 touchdowns while earning his second consecutive Pro Bowl selection. Mularkey also pieced together an offensive game plan which featured tight end Tony Gonzalez providing a large contribution in his first year with the team. The future Hall of Fame tight end set a franchise record among players at his position with 88 receptions while adding 867 yards and six touchdowns.
In 2009, Atlanta’s offense averaged 22.7 points per game, which included a 45-10 victory at San Francisco in Week 5. In that game, the Falcons seta club record for the most amount of points scored in the first half of a game, 35, topping the old total which was set in 1980. Atlanta has compiled a 13-3 home record over the last two seasons and Mularkey’s offense has contributed to an 18-1 record in games where the Falcons hold the lead at halftime since 2008. He was again pivotal in guiding quarterback Matt Ryan in his second season under center as the Boston College graduate set five single-game career highs and totaled a career mark for touchdown passes in a season with 22. Mularkey’s successful impact on the Falcons was immense in his first season in Atlanta in 2008.
Under his direction, Atlanta’s diverse offense finished second in the NFL with an average of 152.7 rushing yards per game, sixth in total offense with an average of 361.2 yards a game, 14th in passing yards with a 208.5 average per contest, and 10th in points scored at 24.4. The Falcons broke a 27-year old team record by totaling 5,779 net yards gained in ‘08 and also established a new club mark by only surrendering 17 total sacks overall. The 391 points scored and 61.1 passing completion percentage were both the fifth-best marks in a season in club history. Mularkey’s efficient offense helped the Falcons finish with an 11-5 record – only the fifth double-digit win total in a season in team history - and earn a Wild Card playoff berth.
Focusing heavily on the run in 2008, Mularkey had the talent of newly acquired running back Michael Turner to work with. In his first season with the Falcons, Turner posted 1,699 rushing yards (third most ever by a Falcons runner) while pounding his way to a team record 17 rushing touchdowns. Led by Turner, the Falcons rushing game finished with 2,443 yards on the ground, the fifth-most ever in club annals, as the veteran runner earned his first Pro Bowl nod, was voted a first-team All Pro, and finished second in the NFL in MVP balloting. Roddy White joined Turner in the Pro Bowl for the first time in his career as well as he set a franchise record with 1,382 receiving yards and a personal-best 88 receptions. Part of White’s success came from Matt Ryan who benefited greatly from the experience of Mularkey at the offensive helm. As a rookie, Ryan won the prestigious Associated Press and Sporting News Rookie of the Year honors. He became the first rookie quarterback in club annals to win 11 games as the starting quarterback and became only the second rookie in NFL history to throw for over 3,000 yards in his first season, sharing the honor with Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning.
In 2007, Mularkey served as the Tight Ends Coach for the Dolphins and guided seven year veteran David Martin, who finished fourth on the team in receptions (34). Before joining Miami’s sta. in 2006 as the offensive coordinator, Mularkey spent two seasons as the head coach of the Buffalo Bills (14-18 overall record). In his first season in 2004, he led the Bills to their first winning campaign in five years with a 9-7 record as the club tallied wins in nine of their final 12 games.
From 1996-2003, Mularkey spent eight seasons on the successful coaching staff of the Pittsburgh Steelers under Head Coach Bill Cowher and served as the Offensive Coordinator in his final three years. As Offensive Coordinator, Mularkey’s offense in Pittsburgh finished third and fifth, respectively, in the NFL in total offense in his first two years. The Steelers also averaged 173.4 rushing yards per game, which led the League in 2001. Mularkey helped the Steelers register a 13-3 record in 2001 on the way to an AFC Central Division championship and an AFC Championship Game appearance.
Under Mularkey’s creative tutelage, quarterback Kordell Stewart passed for 3,109 yards en route to be chosen to the AFC Pro Bowl squad. The following season in 2002 Mularkey’s coaching expertise was witnessed again as he helped resurrect quarterback Tommy Maddox’s career. After not playing in the NFL in fi ve years, Maddox threw for 2,836 yards with 20 touchdowns and set a single-season franchise record with a 62.1 completion percentage to earn NFL Comeback Player of the Year honors.
While this proposed duo of Davidson and Mularkey would not keep the entire playbook in place, there is enough similarity between them and what's already ingrained in the minds of the offensive players, that the main differences ought to be in the terminology and general formations that favor run packages - less shotgun and more run-plays with the occasional "Wildcat." Or will they think enough of the "Wild Horses" to use it?
Any philosophical differences between Mularkey and Davidson should not be an issue, since Mularkey's job will be to manage the coaching staff and the correct use of players, and not to call plays. Having already been a HC with the Buffalo Bills before (2004-2005,) he won't put himself in position to try to do it all; as we all know, that doesn't work. If nothing else, unlike McD before him, he'll know what not to do, and run the team by coaching the coaches.
I think Davidson, based on his roots with the Patriots' championship teams, is familiar enough with McD's version of the offense to make this transition less than painful and as smooth as possible going into the third season under this system.
With Brian Xanders as an empowered GM, John Elway as a (possible) VP of Football Operations, a more experienced coaching staff across the board (HC, OC, and DC,) and one more draft and FA period focusing more on defense, the Denver Broncos could be a team to be reckoned with in their first season together. No blowing up the team and starting over from scratch will be necessary.
Does anyone believe that this new organization below has a chance to succeed?
VP of Football Operations - John Elway
General Manager - Brian Xanders
Head Coach - Mike Mularkey
Offensive Coordinator - Jeff Davidson
Defensive Coordinator - Wade Phillips
In closing, I recognize that these proposed changes may never bear fruit or become a success, unless some significant and constructive changes will also take place in the FO. If Joe Ellis can concentrate on selling stadium tickets and Broncos merchandise, John Elway becomes the liaison between the FO and the coaching staff, as well as the face of the franchise for the fans, and Xanders proves himself to be a competent personnel manager as a true GM, then the new power structure of the Broncos will allow for some much-needed stability for the team. A competent and organized top-down structure will breed success in the future for this organization and launch the Denver Broncos back to relevancy in the NFL.