Forget the arrogance that led to the departure of Jay Cutler, the closest thing the Denver Broncos had to a franchise quarterback since John Elway. Forget the short-sightedness that resulted in the Peyton Hillis and Alphonso Smith trades. And forget the fact the Broncos have drafted awfully in the last two seasons.
In the end, the final straw that ended the Josh McDaniels regime in Denver was Pat Bowlen’s pride.
The head coaching job Denver Broncos has always been seen as a premier position throughout the league, partly because of Mr. Bowlen. The quiet 66-year-old Bowlen runs his team quietly behind the scenes but leaves no doubts that he is passionate about the success of the Broncos. His franchise is one of the more successful ones in the NFL, and he undoubtedly takes great pride in his franchise and its fans.
So the direction of the Denver Broncos under Josh McDaniels was impossible for Bowlen to ignore.
When McDaniels was hired, he took control of a talented team that needed only a few tweaks to become contenders again. Instead, McDaniels’ do-things-my-way approach led to the gutting of the roster. Pro Bowlers Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall were jettisoned. Rising young tight end Tony Scheffler was sent packing. Running back Peyton Hillis, who had a good amount of success under Shanahan, found himself inexplicably in McDaniels doghouse and was sent to the Browns for Brady Quinn. Quinn has been the Broncos most valuable clipboard holder since.
McDaniels’ deficiency in personnel decisions showed during his drafts. Of his 19 picks, only four are starters and six are not even with the franchise any longer. In 2010, he drafted six offensive players even though his defense crumbled down the stretch the previous year. The result? The 11th-ranked offense at the expense of the 27th-ranked defense.
But perhaps the most glaring problem was the head coach himself. The public had received hints at McDaniels’ reputation in Week 10, when, after the Broncos finished defeating the Kansas City Chiefs, K.C. head coach Todd Haley refused to shake McDaniels hand at midfield. Cameras caught Haley telling McDaniels "There’s a lot of (expletive) being talked about you." Haley later apologized, claiming he got caught up in the heat of the moment. But was there something substantial behind his angry accusation?
We found out a few weeks later, when the Broncos were caught illegally videotaping the 49ers’ walkthrough before their game in London. McDaniels was not officially implicated, but the stain on the organization was evident. Suddenly, Pat Bowlen’s franchise was not just struggling to win. It was losing its reputation.
And the fans let him know it. Radio stations in Denver lit up with calls from furious fans, calling for McDaniels’ head for embarrassing their beloved franchise. The city of Denver has a unique connection with their football team. Broncos fans love their team like it’s younger brother, and when their brother gets bullied or made fun of the fans feel the pain too.
The direction of the franchise had disheartened the fanbase already; now, the very integrity of their football team had been called into question. Always in tune with the city, Bowlen went on a radio station last week and retracted his comments that a change wouldn’t be made, and finally carried out the axe on his head coach yesterday afternoon.
You can bet that Bowlen won’t be taking a risk on his next head coach. With the franchise in total disarray, someone more stable and knowledgeable will be brought in. The entire front office will be shaken up. The public relations side of the franchise will be challenged to try to spin the franchise’s image back to where it once was.
But it won’t be easy. The Broncos have been contenders for almost two decades now, and this state of mediocrity is uncharted waters for the organization. The only thing the franchise can do now is learn their lesson from the past two years and charge forward in the rebuilding process.
For the fans, forgetting will be difficult. With the end of McDaniels’ tenure, the fans can certainly point to the departures of Cutler, Marshall and the like as pointless. The franchise will turn over again, and what little rewards the team reaped from those trades will likely be gone.
But living in the past will do Denver fans no good. Not when there is so much work ahead of the franchise. A search for a new head coach will commence, and then work will be done once again on the roster. A top-ten pick is in the Broncos’ future, and this draft will be just as important as it was when McDaniels first arrived. Then starts the rebuilding years. The cycle continues.
But this time, Bronco fans should be optimistic. The organization, specifically Pat Bowlen, learned a valuable lesson from the McDaniels regime. And for such a proud, tenured franchise like the Broncos, lessons learned are a means to improvement.
Patience, Denver. All good things to those with faith.