FanPost

From the FanPosts: The Staff: Where Have You Gone, Josh McD?: Part 2 - Mike Mularkey

Hello, again, from cyber-space.

Since beginning my last post (unfortunately it does take a bit of time to jot a post down) there have been several developments in Broncoland that I would like to get out of the way real quick.

1. The assertion that the head coaching search somehow bodes well for Brian Xanders: I fight the urge to dismiss this as ridiculous because its plausibility actually frightens me.  Anyone who has read my last post - or several prior - know that I am not a fan of Brian Xanders as a personnel man.  Xanders may very well be a good front office executive in terms of dealing with contracts and managing the cap - but he was McDaniels's Yes Man and if we all agree that a lack of talent is one of Denver's big problems, if Xanders wasn't part of the solution he was part of the problem.  My belief is that we still need somebody like Eric DeCosta or Jason Licht heading talent evaluation and both the college and professional level.  I don't care what title you give him, if you want to keep Xanders as GM and just make him a more administrative executive and let somebody else run personnel - the options are literally endless.  I do not believe that you need to necessarily give somebody like DeCosta a specific title - and I don't think that that's what he'd be looking for either.  Young, talented personnel executives need only the ability to cut their teeth with a new team, away from their superior (in this case Ozzie Newsome) to show they can do it on their own.  NFL front offices aren't dumb (in this sense).  If DeCosta were given a role like "Director of Football Operations" everyone would know whose fingerprints were on the team.  That's why somebody like Doug Whaley took the assistant job in Buffalo and why Kevin Colbert remains in Pittsburgh despite the lack of a "General Manager" title.  And this is assuming that Xanders will remain GM.

My personal opinion is that the head coaching search and Brian Xanders have little to do with one another.  For one, Bowlen and Ellis may be willing to give a young professional control of personnel moves - but the head coaching hire will be theirs regardless of who the GM is.  Looking back over the last few years, the Atlanta Falcons hired Thomas Dimitroff just 8 days before hiring Mike Smith as Head Coach.  Do you think the Falcons did all of their coaching interviews in a week?  Last year, the Seattle Seahawks actually hired GM John Schneider a few days after Pete Carroll.  While it's in vogue to say that "We must hire a GM before a Head Coach" the fact of the matter is, even if we do bring in a new GM, by the time that hire is made Bowlen, Ellis, and (maybe) Elway will have already narrowed down their coaching search, conducted several interviews, and perhaps even make a hire.

Sometimes we like to flex our football knowledge muscles on blogs such as MHR to assert ourselves as some sort of expert.  We are not.  If any of us were given a NFL playbook (I actually have a game plan given to Glenn Foley in a Jets game against the Titans in 1997) none of us would be able to make heads or tails of it.  We may know the most rudimentary concepts of certain systems - but we don't know as much as we think we do.  My point is - even the most informed of us only know what we're told.  We believe that the Broncos are looking at certain coaches because that's what we're told by ESPN.  As a (relatively) recent college graduate currently employed at the one of the lowest level of print journalism,  I can tell you one disheartening truth - what is reported is not necessarily  what we need to read, but what we will read.  The average Bronco fan who's maybe a father of three who only has time to follow the team as far as the sports section or a high school student who just knows what he watches on ESPN - that's the target audience.  That audience doesn't give a sh*t about Brian Xanders.  They care about the Head Coach.  If you're a reporter able to ask one question or grab one piece of information from a "source within a team" you have to ask about what will interest the audience - and that's the Head Coach.  Who among you knew who Brian Xanders was before May, 2008?  Exactly.  Just because we don't hear about it, don't assume something isn't happening.

2. Names!  I began writing the first post just a day or two before it was announced that McDaniels had been fired.  The first name that popped into my head as coaches I would want the Broncos to look into was Jim Harbaugh.  I was originally just going to write about him until - the next morning - it occurred to me how respected Russ Grimm is around football and how he could bring his experience to Denver.  This may not have been a great idea.  One of the comments I received from all you lovely people regarding the last post was that it fills heads with names and then we are bound for disappointment.  That's true.  I would be (pleasantly) shocked if Russ Grimm was even brought in for an interview.  In my heart of heart's, I do believe that Harbaugh will leave Stanford because I think he knows his stock is unlikely to get any higher and I do think Pat Bowl would be very interested in him - (relatively) young, offensive minded coaches are to Bowlen like buxom blonds are to Hugh Hefner - but there is no guarantee he will come here.  He should have the option to go to his alma mater at Michigan, potentially reunite with Andrew Luck in Carolina, or stay at home with the 49ers - any of which may be more interesting to Harbaugh than Denver.

Early on, Gary Kubiak and Troy Calhoun were the first names to come out of the woodwork.  Since then, Calhoun has removed himself from the running and names like Leslie Frazier and Mike Mularkey have replaced him.  As you can tell by the title of this post, we'll be focusing on Mularkey here. 

I had a blast doing the last post  just learning about how interconnected the NFL is.  When reading up on Russ Grimm there were obviously some crossover with Mularkey in terms of philosophy, experience, and potential assistant candidates.  Those connections interested me personally and now that he is one of the most publicized candidates associated with the Broncos head coaching vacancy - I decided to dig a little deeper.

From what I've read around the blogosphere, the reaction to Mularkey's name being thrown around has been unenthusiastic if not disappointed.  Talks of a complicated offense, "Inspector Gadget", and the fact that he was in any way involved with the Buffalo Bills organization certainly fuels that fire.  I think some of those reactions are misinformed.  I, clearly, can't tell you want to think - but I can tell you that I'm excited by some of the possibilities and philosophies Mularkey would bring to Denver.  Below is a little comprehensive analysis on the man in the news told in a slightly modified, nonlinear fashion (oh boy, I feel like Chris Nolan).  Enjoy

 

Mularkey-and-ice_medium

via blogs.ajc.com

Name: Mike Mularkey   Age:49   Current Team: Atlanta Falcons   Current Position: Offensive Coordinator

THE OFFENSE:

After a disappointing 2000 campaign in which the Steelers finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs for a third consecutive season, Head Coach Bill Cowher fired Offensive Coordinator Kevin Gilbride due to a lack of improvement in Pittsburgh's passing attack.

"I just wasn't comfortable with the direction we were heading in the passing game," Cowher said in an interview at the time. "We were 29th in the league in passing when he got here and we were 29th in the league this season."

He continued: "Certainly there were a number of factors for this decision.  I wasn't comfortable with what we were doing in the passing game. We've given it two years to see some progress and I wasn't comfortable with where that was going.  We ran the ball before Kevin got here. We ran it when Kevin was here and we'll run it after Kevin leaves, but we need to develop a passing game."

Shortly thereafter, Mike Mularkey, the team's Tight Ends Coach for the past five seasons was promoted to Offensive Coordinator - with the task of diversifying Pittsburgh's offense while still maintaining the smash-mouth style that had been woven into the team's identity over the decades.  In addition to taking over the offensive scheming and play-calling duties, the team needed to rebuild the offensive coaching staff.  A combination of firings, retirings, and Mularkey's promotion left the team without a Quarterbacks Coach, Wide Receivers Coach, Tight Ends Coach, or Offensive Line Coach.  Outside of Mularkey, the only offensive coaches who were to return for the 2001 season were Offensive Assistant Mike Miller who had been with the team since 1999 and Running Backs Coach Dick Hoak - who had been the team's Running Backs Coach since Chuck Noll hired him in 1972.

The Steelers pieced together their offensive staff through firings throughout the league.  From Gunter Cunningham's firing in Kansas City came Quarterbacks Coach Tom Clements who had just aided Elvis Grbac of all people to his first and only Pro Bowl.  From the Al Groh firing in New York came Tight Ends Coach Ken Whisenhunt who had previously bounced around from Baltimore to Cleveland to New York.  And from the Norv Turner firing in Washington came former Hog and longtime Offensive Line Coach Russ Grimm who had two Super Bowl rings as a player and one as a coach to his credit.  Additionally, Penn State Wide Receiver Coach, Kenny Jackson, joined the Steelers in the same capacity.

From there, Mularkey quite literally invented or, at the very least, innovated the offense he runs today - a hybrid of several different schools of thought based around the talents of the players on his roster.

"It started with us meeting and evaluating our personnel, and in reality, this system started with Kordell and worked its way down from there," Mularkey said in a 2008 interview.  "We saw what we had offensively, player-wise, and said, 'Let's fit what we have here. Tinker some things -- don't even install things that we know our left tackle can't do. Even though it looks good or another team is successful with it, let's not put any player in a position where he is uncertain if he can do it."

What thoughts and philosophies helped shaped this offensive system?  To get a vague idea of that - let's review Mularkey's career up to that point.

Originally a quaterback at Northeast High School in Oakland Park, Florida - Mularkey was a commit to Head Coach Charley Pell's inauguaral recruiting class at the University of Florida in 1979.  During his time in Gainesville, Mularkey was a three year letterman at tight end.

Drafted by the 49ers in the 9th Round of the 1983 draft, Mularkey was cut by the innovative Bill Walsh before the beginning of the season and was signed by the Minnesota Vikings - spending his six years there playing for long time Vikings Offensive Coordinator-then-Head Coach Jerry Burns who had been with the team since 1968.  After the 1988 season, Mularkey moved on to Pittsburgh where he played under legendary Head Coach Chuck Noll.  The Steelers offense was in a state of flux at the time.  Young and inexperience, Noll had just fired long-time Offensive Coordinator Tom Moore (of Colts fame) and hired Joe Walton.  Running a complex offense with a wide variety of formations, Walton had Mularkey in the game rather often in two tight end formations.  After the 1991 season Noll and Mularkey both retired.

After spending 1992 away from football, Mularkey served as Offensive Line Coach at Concordia College before joining the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as an Offensive Assistant in 1994.  From the outset, his two years in Tampa Bay - 1994 as an Offensive Assistant and 1995 as Tight Ends Coach - appear to me some of the most formative of his career.  There, he worked under Head Coach Sam Wyche who made a name for himself in the NFL by tutoring a young Joe Montana in San Francisco before becoming Head Coach of the Cincinnati Bengals for 8 seasons - including a 1988 AFC Championship team.  Wyche is credited with inventing the hurry-up offense in Cincinnati and was known to utilize a variety of trick plays throughout his coaching career.  Obviously, the hurry up offense and the well-time trick play are current staples of Mularkey's offense.  Wyche was fired after the 1995 season and was replaced by Tony Dungy - but, as evidence of Wyche and Mularkey's relationship, Wyche would actually come out of retirement 9 years later to serve as Mularkey's Quarterbacks Coach in Buffalo.

After Wyche's dismissal, Mularkey was scooped up by the Pittsburgh Steelers to serve as their Tight Ends Coach in 1996.  Dating back to his time as an assistant under Marty Schottenheimer in Cleveland and Kansas City, Head Coach Bill Cowher favored the Erdhardt-Perkins Offense - so much so, in fact, that he had Ron Erdhardt serve as his Offensive Coordinator for the first five seasons of his tenure in Pittsburgh.  By the time Mularkey had joined the Steelers in 1996, Erdhardt had been let go due to disputes in game plan/play calling and Wide Receivers Coach Chan Gailey had taken over the offense-doing so to the tune of consecutive division titles.

After Gailey took over as Head Coach for the Dallas Cowboys in 1998, the Steelers had one disastrous season under Ray Sherman before hiring Gilbride.  Though the Steelers ranked in the Top 10 in the NFL in rushing offense in the three years under Sherman and Gilbride, both's inability to return Kordell Stewart to his 1997 form led to three consecutive seasons without a playoff appearance and the offensive staff change following the 2000 season.

So what does that all that leave them with?  When, pretty much a hybrid of several schools of thought - one of a kind - though based in the Erhardt-Perkins offense that Cowher preferred.  This version of the offense (and I'm guessing here) is a distant cousin from what is currently being run in Denver.  Remember, Josh McDaniels learned this offense from Charlie Weis who learned it as a Tight Ends Coach (1993-1994), Running Backs Coach (1995), and Wide Receivers Coach (1996) under Offensive Coordinator Ray Perkins during Parcells's stint in New England.  A lot of changes whether it was Belichick's input, the fateful visits to Florida to study the spread, and McDaniels own nuances have occurred between 1993-2010.  Similarly, Mularkey originally learned the offense from Chan Gailey who was Ron Erhardt's Wide Receivers Coach from 1994-1995 with the Steelers.  Along with that, you have to factor in whatever personal touches Gailey, Sherman, and Gilbride made to the offense that Mularkey may have kept or added upon/modified - potentially adding some shades of the West Coast and Run and Shoot to the mix.  The gravy, of course, the institutuion of the hurry-up,trick plays, and other wrinkles that he learned under Wyche. 

What does this all spell out?  Well, in the Steelers case, it led to wins.  The 29th ranked pass offense pumped up to 21st with Stewart enjoying the first and only Pro Bowl apperace of his career and first 3,000 yard passing season since 1997.  Receivers Hines Ward and Plaxico Burress both raked in 1,000 yards receiving.  The already vaunted rushing offense jumped from 4th to 1st behind the four-headed rushing monster of Jerome Bettis/Stewart/Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala/Amos Zereoue - all of whom ran for at least 440 yards on the season.  The scoring offense jumped by almost 2 points a game (20.1-22) to jump in the leage ranks from 17th to 7th and the Steelers, as a team, went from 6-10 to 13-3 - coming within a game of the Super Bowl.

The 2002 team, again, won their division with a 10-5-1 record, defeated the Cleveland Browns in the Wildcard Round, before losing to Tennesee in the Divisional.  Mularkey again had to to adapt his offense due to the benching of Stewart and the rise of journeyman Tommy Maddox.  With Maddox, the Steelers shyed away from the run a bit (though maintained a 8th ranked rushing offense behind Bettis and Zereoue) and became more of a drop back passing team with Maddox enjoying his best (and lone Pro Bowl) season and Ward and Burress each racking up over 1300 yards in the leagues' 7th ranked pass offense as the team's scoring offense improved from 22 to 24.4 points per game.

2003 was a mixed bag for Mularkey.  On one hand, Pittsbugh's attempt to become a more pass-oriented team failed due to a collection of injuries and inconsistent play by Maddox.  The Steelers dropped in every major statistical category and the team fell to 6-10.  The good news?  Former Steelers Director of Football Operations Tom Donahoe was so taken by Mularkey while they were both in the Steelers organization (1996-1999) and the improvements he made to the team in 2001 and 2002 that he hired him to replace Gregg Williams as Head Coach of the Buffalo Bills.

In going to Buffalo in 2004, Mularkey was only able to bring two Steelers assistants with him in part due to Grimm interviewing for his own Head Coaching job (Chicago) before settling as Assistant Head Coach in Pittsburgh and Whisenhunt replacing him as Offensive Coordinator.  Instead, Mularkey promoted Clements from Quarterbacks Coach in Pittsburgh to Offensive Coordinator in Buffalo and Mike Miller from Offensive Assistant in Pittsburgh to Tight Ends Coach in Buffalo.  Along with bringing Wyche in as Quarterbacks Coach - he assembled the majority of the rest of his offensive staff with former Giants coaches who were let go after Jim Fassel was fired.  He kept the defensive staff together - leaving the unit primarily to returning Defensive Coordinator Jerry Gray.

Though unable to jump start Buffalo's passing offense (28th in 2003, 27th in 2004), Mularkey improved the running game from 21st to 13th and the scoring offense from 30th to 7th (15.2 to 24.7).  Most importantly, the team won.  After starting the season 0-4, the team finished the season 9-3 - including a 6-0 stretch between Weeks 11-16.  The team was actually in position to reach the post-season coming into a Week 17 match-up with Pittsburgh before losing 29-24.  Offensively, Willis McGahee - a second year player who debuted in 2004 - had arguable the best season of his career as a rookie rushing for 1128 yards and a still-career high 13 touchdowns.  Rookie Wide Receiver Lee Evans contributed 48 receptions for still-career highs in YPC (17.6) and touchdowns (9).

Though the Bills looked to improve upon 2004, the 2005 team finished 5-11 and took steps back on both sides of the ball due, in large part, to the departure of Drew Bledsoe and the ineffectiveness of J.P Losman.  Though Kelly Holcomb would come on and start 8 games - posting career highs in many categories including a 67.4% completion percentage and McGahee (1247 yards, 5TDS, 28 receptions) and Evans (48 receptions, 15.5 YPC, 7TDS) put in solid sophomore performances - sacks, turnovers, play-calling troubles (Mularkey, for a time, stripped Clements of play-calling duties), and a poor season by a defense the team leaned on during 2004 led to failed season.  At seasons end, Mularkey was pressured into firing Clements - potentially opening the door for Wyche to ascend to Offensive Coordinator.  It never happened though, after long-time Bills Head Coach replaced Donahoe - Mularkey resigned.

For the sake of keeping this discussion to the output of Mularkey and his system - I will not include his two years with the Dolphins as he was asked, in 2006, by Dolphins Head Coach Nick Saban to run former Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan's offense.  "I went to Miami (in 2006) thinking I was expected to run (former Dolphins offensive coordinator) Scott Linehan's offense, use the same terminology and succeed," Mularkey said in an interview.  "I've seen other coaches try to do that and fail. I said I would not fail, and I did. It's hard to explain to people. As hard as you want to try, if it's not your philosophy, you can't just call a game."

After Saban resigned, Cam Cameron took over - bringing in a new offensive system.  Originally offered senior position, Mularkey actually requested to be Tight Ends Coach.  "I actually asked for that job. I was sitting in a meeting, and Cam said, 'If you're going to be here, I'm going to create a title for you.' And I said, 'Cam, I don't take this personal. I don't take it as a demotion, but I don't want to have a title and do nothing."

Though the team went a horrid 1-15, when former Jacksonville Jaguar Defensive Coordinator, Mike Smith as Head Coach, he brought in Mularkey as Offensive Coordinator just 2 days later.

Smith, Mularkey, and the rest of Atlanta's new coaching and personnel staffs inherited a Falcons team in shambles.  The once proud franchise had lost its icon in Michael Vick and was in the midst of its third coaching staff in three seasons.  The offense, learning its third different system in three years, ranked 23rd in the NFL the year prior in Total Offense, 18th in Passing, 26th in Rushing, and a woeful 29th in Scoring - just 16.2 points per game.  Credit some shrewd early moves by Patriots' Director of College Scouting turned Atlanta General Manager Thomas Dimitroff - that saw former Charger back up Michael Turner sign with the team to be their feature back, draft Boston College's Matt Ryan with the 3rd overall pick, and trade back into the first round to grab Southern California left tackle Sam Baker - but by no means were those moves without risk.  Turner had never registered more than 80 carries in a single season in San Diego, Baker was regarded as a 2nd rounder who may not have the agility to play left tackle in the NFL, and Ryan - though uncommonly intelligent and composed - threw 19 interceptions the year prior at BC and had concerns regarding his arm strength.

Working with a staff that had never coached his offense before (Wide Receivers Coach Terry Robiskie had worked with him the year prior in Miami but in Cam Cameron's offense) - Mularkey built a game plan based heavily on the rush to the tune of a 6th overall ranking in the NFL (14th passing/2nd rushing) and improved scoring from 29th (16.2) to 10th (24.4).  Receivers Roddy White and Michael Jenkins each set career highs in yardage and both eclipsed 15 yards per catch while change-of-pace back Jerious Norwood emerged as a valuable receiver hauling in 36 receptions - good for 3rd on the team.  Matt Ryan, posting a respectable 87.7 passer rating, went on to win AP Offensive Rookie of the Year in the NFL and the Falcons, as a team, improved from 4-12 and last in the NFC South to 11-5 and Division Champions.

The offense took a small step back in 2009, due in part to work-horse back, Michael Turner, missing five games, in part due to Ryan being hampered the final third of the season with turf toe, and in part due to the increased role of Atlanta's passing game (Atlanta's 57/43 pass/run ration in 2009 is Mularkey's most pass-heavy ratio to date.)  Still, the offense managed to put up 22.7 points per game in route to a 9-7 finish.  One of the big bright spots was the emergence of 2007 7th rounder Jason Snelling who rushed for 613 yards (4.3 ypc) and 4 touchdowns in spot duty behind Turner and in turner's absence.

Prior to the 2010 season, Mularkey promised to take off the brakes and open up the play book for Ryan.  He hasn't disappointed.  After a rough outing against Pittsburgh to start the season, Atlanta has gone 12-1 (12-2 overall through Week 15).  Turner is back to 2008 form - accumulating 1256 yards through the first 15 weeks while Snelling has emerged as a potent receiving threat (3rd on the team with 39 receptions 3 touchdowns) as his carries have been taken by turner (though he's still amassed 306 yards on 78 carries and 2 scores).  Roddy White has already surpassed his career high in receptions (106 to 88) and Ryan has flourished - thus far completing 62.7% of his passes while protecting the football (25/9 td/int ratio). 

Though - statistically - the offense has not been dominant (12th overall - 14th passing/7th rushing) they are 5th in the NFL in scoring through Week 15 (26.4) and it is important to note that, while Atlanta is one of the NFL's most balanced, complimentary teams - they have clearly leaned on their offense over the past three seasons more so than any of the other phases of their game.  Atlanta has yet to put together a dominant defense (24th in 2008, 21st in 2009, 15th thus far in 2010) and this is the first season Atlanta is in the Top 10 in scoring defense (11th in 2008, 14th in 2009, 7th thus far in 2010.) 

Instead, the Falcons have benefited from an offense going about things the old fashion way - controlling the clock (3rd in the NFL through Week 15), converting their third downs (6th in 2008, 10th in 2009, 2nd in 2010), and protecting the football (8th fewest turnovers in 2008, 12th in 2009, 3rd in 2010).  By doing the little things - things few put much emphasis on in today's "Maddenized" NFL, Mularkey has bred a tough, disciplined, consistent offense that - while not flashy - has done the little things to improve their team's chances of winning week in and week out over the past 3 seasons.

TEBOW INTERLUDE

Tim Tebow is the quarterback of the future in Denver.  Perhaps I should amend that to "Tim Tebow needs to be the quarterback of the future in Denver". 

I've read a lot of silliness on the blogs as our team has plummeted into a Top 3 draft position.  A lot of it has to do with us trading up a spot or two for Stanford's Andrew Luck - assuming he leaves Stanford.  This, with all due respect, may be the most short-sighted opinion I've ever read on this blog - and I say that as a huge fan of Andrew Luck - believing that he may well be an All-Generation quarterback.  Be that as it may - there is no guarantee that he will be.

The prevailing argument for the drafting of Luck is that the NFL has become a quarterback-driven league.  Fair enough, but as I said in comment to a recent fan post - the NFL is just as much driven by elite defenses as elite quarterbacking.  Of the past 10 Super Bowl winning teams, 3 (2000 Ravens, 2007 Giants, 2008 Steelers) have done so without a quarterback who ranked in the Top 10 in passing efficiency that season.  Similarly, only 3 teams (2001 Patriots, 2006 Colts, 2009 Saints) have won without a defense that ranked in the Top 10 that season in defense.  If you want to average it, the average defensive rank of a Super Bowl winning team in the past 10 years in 10.1.  The average pass-effieciency rating for the Super Bowl winning quarterback has been 10.2. 

The difference between an elite defense and an elite quarterback is one is much easier to build and sustain than the other - and that's defense.  Though with many more moving parts - a defense isn't dependent on one man.  A great defense needs a few play-makers, but for the most part so long as there are no weak links and a good scheme - great defenses can be put together.  Conversely, quarterbacking is far less stable.  Ben Roethlisberger - a quarterback widely admired (for his play on the field) has been all over the place.  In his best season, 2007, he ranked 2nd in the NFL in passer rating.  That season was bracketed by a 21st finish in 2006 and 24th finish in 2008.  All-Generation quarterback Peyton Manning has blown it for his team with bad games.  Even the best quarterback in the league - Tom Brady - owner of 3 Super Bowl rings hasn't won a fourth despite some of the best seasons in NFL history.

The fact remains, in the past 10 years 7 quarterbacks (Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Donovan McNabb, Drew Brees, Brett Favre, Trent Green, and Kurt Warner) have ranked in the Top 10 in the NFL in passer efficiency  five or more times.  Only two of them, Manning and McNabb, were first round picks.  Think for a moment how many "can't miss" prospects have fallen short in that time.  Finding a top quarterback is quite literally like finding a diamond in the rough.  On the flip-side, 10 different teams have had defenses rank in the Top 10 in defense 5 or more times.  Those teams include the Steelers, the Patriots, the Ravens, the Eagles - teams in my last post I said we should try to emulate.

Taking a quarterback in the first round for a second consecutive season is not only laughable - but it uses prime assets to (maybe) improve one position at the sake of an entire unit.  Drafting Luck offers no clear, immediate means of leaping back into contention and - unless we changed the way we use our money/draft picks drastically - would lead to maybe one title in 15 seasons (Manning and the 2006 Colts). 

I was not as excited about Tebow's debut against Oakland as some of you though I admit I wasn't a supporter of his prior to the draft to begin with.  He did, indeed, look like a robotic version of his Gator-self and he will not survive 16 (or 18) game seasons running the way he did.  But I also believe anything he does this year - and even next year - should be graded on the curve that he was widely seen by a project prior to the draft.  Even his biggest supporter, Josh McDaniels, didn't have him playing meaningful snaps this year.  Still, look at the production.  Without the benefit of Moreno (and for most of the game, his offensive line) and under the fire of an aggressive Raiders' defense he led the offense to 23 points - 27 if Ball holds on to the ball in the end zone (for my money, that was Tebow's most impressive, accurate throw of the day).  You can win games scoring 27 (or even 23) points against an 11th ranked defense on the road.  You can win a lot of them.  You can't win by giving up 37 points (I'm taking the safety out) to a division rival.

What's most disturbing to me about all this Luck talk is the fact that, last winter while I was defending Kyle Orton (something that looked brilliant for a few months but is now ultimately erroneous) I seemed to certainly be among the minority.  Many wanted Bradford or Clausen or Tebow or McNabb.  By simple mathematics, that means several who are now clamoring for Luck wanted a new quarterback last year, got one, and are now looking for what's next.  With all due respect, that is fantasy football at its worst and it's disappointing.  I'm a big fan of Luck's and do believe he will be very good if not great someday soon - but there comes a time when you can't chase after every top-rated quarterback coming out of college.  The Denver Broncos, as an organization, need to show the discipline to recognize that and we, as a fan-base, need to show the maturity to accept it.

 

THE MAN, THE COACH, AND REUNITING GATORS

A few final points I want to mention in regards to Mularkey - the first of which is his nickname: "Inspector Gadget".  It's a name that has drawn some hesitancy from fans when discussing Mularkey's candidacy for this head coaching position.  This, of course, raises two questions.

1. Does the name fit him?

Mularkey, for one, thinks it doesn't. 

"I'm not going to show our hand of what we're made of, but really the philosophy behind it is we're not going to try to trick people,"Mularkey said in a 2008 interview. "Our No. 1 objective in games is to be physical, but with some deception. There will be some special plays in there to attack certain weaknesses, but that's not how we're going to win games."

Ah, and there lies the difference between perception and reality.  Mularkey may be detail oriented, unpredictable, and open to trying this other coaches may stay away from.  But trickery may not be the operative word.

"I think he tries to be unpredictable," said tight end Tony Gonzalez in a recent article in the Ledger-Enquirer.  "He tries to keep the defense on their heels with different formations. I think we go into games with like 15 different groupings. Not plays, I’m talking about literally sets, names of groups where like each group is different players in the game. Different sets."

Indeed - like another coach we all know, complexity is something Mularkey embraces.  Added wide receiver Michael Jenkins in the same article.

"He’s just real meticulous with his work.  He likes to go over everything to the finest detail. If you’ve heard it 30 times, he wants to go over it 31 times. That’s just the way he is. He strives for perfection. And he does a great job of feeling the games, knowing when to put us in no-huddle, when we should continue to run the ball. He has a good sense of that."

I've been reading Falcons blogs in recent days to try to get a grasp on how the Falcons fans feel about Mularkey and his play-calling.  As with any fan base, thoughts are mixed - but what surprised me the most was that the primary complaint in Mularkey' play-calling wasn't a dependency on trickery but - in their opinions - too much time spent pounding the ball in between the tackles rather than putting the ball in Matt Ryan's hands.  It's worth mentioning that many others believe Mularkey has given Ryan just enough rope to succeed this season but not enough to hang himself with.  These Atlanta fans point to Ryan's average arm strength and tendency to force passes into coverage and wonder if Ryan would be a household name in the NFL if Mularkey didn't scheme and call plays the way he has - masking Ryan's deficiencies.  Knowing that Mularkey, more so than other coaches, adapts his playbook to his personnel - it's a point worth thinking about.

2. If he does, in your opinion, warrant the "Inspector Gadget" label - is that necessarily a bad thing?

When Urban Meyer left Florida a few weeks ago, there was a lot of speculation that he would join Tebow in Denver as either Head Coach or Offensive Coordinator.  I never liked this idea but understood why some did - if people are concerned about how Tebow will handle a NFL offense, why not bring in his old coach and run the Gator offense in Denver?

I, for one, don't think what works in college necessarily works in the NFL and I'm not all too concerned that Tebow lacks the aptitude to absorb, understand, and run a more traditional offense.  But in a 2009 interview with the Orlando Sentinel, Meyer made some interesting comments about whether the spread would work in the NFL among those comments were - "No one has had enough — I don’t want to say courage — no one has wanted to step across that line. Everyone runs the same offense in the N.F.L. A lot of those coaches are retreads."

He makes a good point and I don't want to read too much into it - but I think some of those comments are in defense of the criticism he's received with whether he properly schooled quarterbacks like Tebow and Alex Smith to be NFL ready.  I could be wrong.

Now, I'm by no means saying Mularkey would come in here and install a spread offense - because he won't.  But where I do think Meyer's comments have value is that it's going to take an innovative offensive mind to utilize Tebow and get the most out of him.  That's Mularkey.  Remember, this offense was first designed for Kordell Stewart.  I'm by no means trying to compare Tebow and Stewart, Stewart was better than Tebow at certain things and vice versa, but my point is Mularkey builds his offense in accordance to the strengths and weaknesses of his players.  Kordell Stewart wasn't Tommy Maddox who wasn't Drew Bledsoe who wasn't Matt Ryan.  Some were more mobile, some had stronger arms, some were more accurate - they have different strengths.  It isn't like Mike Shanahan who had Elway - tried Griese and thought "No, I need John Elway again" and has since tried looking for Elway in Jake Plummer, Jay Cutler, and Donovan McNabb.  You can't put Tebow into a mold - I think he needs a creative mind like McDaniels or Mularkey who will conform an offense around him - not the other way around.  I do believe Mularkey can do that and - more than anything - he can give him time to do that. 

If you look at Mularkey's play-calling in Pittsburgh, Buffalo, and Atlanta - he's always run the ball the most in his inaugural season.  He ran the ball 54.5% in 2001 in Pittsburgh, 49.2% in 2004 in Buffalo, and 55.4% in 2008 in Atlanta.  As I said in my last post, I really believe that as a team, no matter the coach, the Broncos need to get back to the run.  In Moreno, White, and Ball (sorry, I've liked him since he was in college) we have some talent to do so so long as our novice offensive line improves in 2011.  If we all agree that Tebow is raw and will be until at least 2012 - what better way to let him play without shouldering too large of a burden than establishing a tough, physical ground game that he can A. Participate in.  B. Run a lot of play action and boot leg passes out of?  You let him get his feet wet in 2011 and then you start opening the playbook up in 2012 (Mularkey has thrown the ball a little more than 54% of the time this season in Atlanta and a little more than 52% in his 8 seasons in Pittsburgh, Buffalo, and Atlanta).

I know a lot of people favor coaches like Ron Rivera or Leslie Frazier because they're defensive coaches and our defense is a mess.  They look back at Steve Spagnuolo and the job he's done in St. Louis and there is certainly a level of regret that McDaniels was hired instead of him.  I see it the opposite way.  I look at players like Tebow, Moreno, Thomas, Walton, Beadles, and Decker - players that we've spent prime picks on during the McDaniels era - and other young players like Clady, Royal, and White and think that - whoever the new head coach is - he is going to NEED to make an offense work with these players.  Free agent money and draft picks can be spent on the defense this off-season.  An infusion of young talent is coming.  So long as a good Defensive Coordinator is hired (more on that later), the improved talent and depth of the unit should lead to an improved output.  The new coach is going to need to teach these young offensive players that he had no part in bringing in and build an offense around them.  He's going to need to find a way to make it work.  I see no one more qualified to do that than Mularkey. 

Additionally, if we're talking about improving the defense, McDaniels preached playing physical, complimentary football.  Mularkey coached it.  Earlier I emphasized three lesser regarded statistics that Mularkey has built this Falcons offense around.  Time of possession, converting 3rd downs, and limiting give aways.  In McDaniels's defense, he did improve our offense in terms of ball security (30th in Shanahan's final season 7th in 2009 16th in 2010) but over the past two seasons, Denver has still conceded 8 more give aways than Atlanta has (47 to 39). 

Ball control is something McDaniels - and the Broncos as a whole - have failed in miserably.  For those of you out there who think ball control - time of possession - is an overrated stat, consider this.  Of the teams currently  in the Top 10 in terms of time of possession, not one of them enters Week 16 with a record worse than 8-6.  How does a team control the ball?  One, by not turning the ball over.  Two, by running the football effectively (we all know how Denver's done there).  Three, by converting on third down.  As I said earlier, Atlanta under Mularkey has done an excellent job of that (6th in 2008 (43.4%), 10th in 2009 (42.1%), 2nd in 2010 (48.4%))  Denver meanwhile, though ranking 3rd in the NFL in third down conversions in Shanahan's last year has slipped during the McDaniels era (22nd in 2009 (36.3%) 30th in 2010 (31.3%) ).  What it all adds up to is that in 2010 Atlanta is 3rd in the NFL in time of possession (32:28) and Denver is 26th (28:04)).  That means that Denver's defense has been on the field 15.7% longer that Atlanta's.  15.7% is no small number for a defense full of very old and very young players.  That's 15.7% less time to catch their breath.  15.7% less time to go over something with their coaches on the side line.  As I said earlier, Atlanta's defense is by no means great - but that extra time allows them time to rest, prepare, and face an offense who is pressured to make something happen every drive in case they don't get the ball back for an extended period of time.  That's difference making.

I've blabbered on.  I'm sorry.  I just think we need to be that tough, smart, physical team McDaniels always talked about and I think the best way to improve both sides of the ball is by hiring a coach who will do the little things to squeak out an extra win or two with a roster that is in flux and will be for at least a few more years.  I think Mularkey is that kind of guy.  On to the coordinators.

 

OFFENSE

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1) Name: Bill Musgrave  Age: 43  Current Team:  Atlanta Falcons  Current Position: Assistant Head Coach/Quarterbacks

I've listed, at awful length, the reasons I'm interested in Mike Mularkey being the Broncos's next Head Coach.  My gut tells me that the Broncos's brain trust's supposed interest in him is for far more direct reasons.

1. He's been the most important coordinator for a team that went from 4-12 in 2007 to 32-14 over the past 2+ seasons.  Combined with his times in Pittsburgh and Buffalo - he's been able to quickly turn teams around.

2. Matt Ryan.

While Mularkey deserves a lot of credit for building this Falcons offense into the physical, disciplined unit it has become - Matt Ryan isn't all his doing.  Just by his position title, you can bet Musgrave has had more than a hand in Ryan's development - and if you look at his track record, you can see that Ryan isn't his first such success story.

Born and raised in Grand Junction, Colorado (about 4 hours west of Denver) - Musgrave was a stand out football, basketball, baseball, and track star at Grand Junction High School - his accomplishments earned him recognition as Colorado High School Athlete of the Year, the 1985 Denver Post Golden Helmet Award, and a spot in the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame.  From Grand Junction, Musgrave moved on to the University of Oregon where he was a four year starter and three year captain for the Ducks at quarterback.  He left Oregon after the 1990 season holding 15 school records including most passing yards and total yards.  At the time, his 60 career touchdown passes were second most in Pac 10 history - behind only John Elway.

After college, Musgrave was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the fourth round of the 1991 NFL Draft.  He was cut in training camp and signed with the San Francisco 49ers to be the team's 3rd quarterback behind Joe Montana and Steve Young.  In San Francisco, being coached by the likes of Mike Holmgren, Mike Shanahan, and Gary Kubiak - Musgrave became schooled in the West Coach Offense and followed Shanahan and Kubiak to Denver in 1995 to back up John Elway before retiring after the 1996 season.

Musgrave immediately got into coaching in 1997 as Quarterbacks Coach for the Oakland Raiders under new Head Coach Joe Bugel.  Under Musgrave, journeyman Jeff George set a career high in touch downs (29), had his second highest career output in passing efficiency (91.2), and led the NFL in passing yards (3917).  After Bugel was fired after one season, Musgrave switched cities with John Gruden.  As Gruden left Philadelphia to replaced Bugel as the Raiders's Head Coach - Musgrave replaced him as the Eagles' offensive coordinator under Ray Rhodes. 

After Rhodes was fired following the 1998 season, Musgrave reunited with his old 49ers Head Coach - George Seifert - as the Carolina Panthers Quarterbacks Coach.  Along with leading Steve Beuerlein to a NFL-leading 4436 passing yards in 1999, Beuerlein also set career bests in touchdown passes (36) and passer efficiency (94.6) that season in an offense that Musgrave not only served as Quarterbacks Coach on - but also supposedly called plays for at times during the season.  After Offensive Coordinator Gil Haskell left to reunite with Mike Holmgren in Seattle at the end of the season - Musgrave replaced him but only lasted for 4 games at which point he resigned after being on the receiving end of a heated discussion with Seifert. 

Musgrave returned to the sidelines in 2001 as Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach for the University of Virginia under new Head Coach Al Groh working with sophomore quarterback Matt Schaub during his first extended action for the Cavaliers.  Schaub's best statistical season in Charlottesville was actually his junior year - Musgrave's second and final season on campus.  There, Schaub set personal bests in touchdowns (28), yards (2976), and rating (147.5) while throwing the fewest interceptions in his three year tenure as starter (7) and helping Virginia to a #22 ranking in the final AP Poll.

That off-season, Musgrave moved back to the NFL as Offensive Coordinator of the Jacksonville Jaguars on Jack Del Rio's inaugural staff.  Inheriting a offense that ranked 25th in the NFL in 2002 and a rookie quarterback in Byron Leftwich - Musgrave improved the offense to 12th overall in 2003 behind the league's 15th ranked passing attack and 7th ranked rushing attack.  Fred Taylor actually set career highs in attempts and yardage that season racking up 1572 yards on 345 carries and Leftwich showed promise with at 57.2% completion rating with 14 touchdowns and 2819 yards in 13 starts though the team finished just 5-11.

In 2004, the offense regressed to 21st but the team improved to 9-7.  In just 14 games, Leftwich had his best seasons in terms of completion percentage (60.5%), yardage (2941) and touchdown passes (15).  Though the team took major steps forward and ranked dramatically improved in giveaways (27th fewest in NFL in 2003 - 7th in 2004) Musgrave was replaced at the end of the season by Carl Smith - who Del Rio knew from his time as a player/coach in the Saints organization.

Musgrave moved to Washington in 2005 as as offensive assistant specializing in quarterbacks on Joe Gibbs's staff.  There, despite a team 52.2%/47.8% run/pass ratio, the team ranked 21st in the NFL in passing yardage and - more importantly - 5th in total passing touchdowns (25) and 5th fewest in total interceptions (11).  That season, former Jaguar quarterback, Mark Brunell set a career high with 23 touchdown passes in 14 games and the team finished the season 10-6 and defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC Wildcard Round before losing to eventual NFC Champion Seattle Seahawks the following week.

2006 was his first season in Atlanta - returning to his familiar West Coast offense under Jim Mora and Greg Knapp as Quarterbacks Coach.  In his first and only season with Mora, Musgrave helped Michael Vick to his largest passing touchdown (20) and second highest passing yardage total (2474) in Atlanta.  Vick had a personal best, 1039 rushing yards that season.  The Falcons finished a disappointing 7-9 though and Mora was replaced by the hot candidate - Bobby Petrino.

That off-season Vick was, of course, arrested on various cruelty charges and Petrino/Musgrave turned to combination of draft busts Joey Harrington, Byron Leftwich, and Chris Redman at quarterback.  Still, the Falcons posted a decent 18th ranked passing offense.  Harrington set career marks in completion percentage, interception percentage, and yards per attempt in 10 starts while Redman set career marks in yards, touchdowns, and completion percentage in just 4.

After Petrino exited in scandalous fashion, Mike Smith kept Musgrave on staff - having worked with Musgrave as fellow coordinators in Jacksonville.  Musgrave stayed on as Quarterbacks Coach in 2008 and 2009 before being promoted to Assistant Head Coach/Quarterbacks prior to the start of this season.  After leading Ryan to becoming just the second rookie quarterback in NFL history to amass 3,000 yards passing a season (the first was Peyton Manning), Ryan's career along with the Falcons' fortunes have progressed to heights earlier documented.

I have little doubt, should Mularkey become Head Coach, that Musgrave would be on his short list to come along with him as Offensive Coordinator - the problem is, Musgrave would also be the top candidate to replace Mularkey as Atlanta's Offensive Coordinator.  At that point, you have to weigh his options.  Coming home to Colorado where he has found his way into numerous record books and ended his playing career would almost certainly have its appeal.  At the same time, this is a West Coach Offense coach and he would be coaching Mularkey's offense in Denver.  The appeal of staying in Atlanta would be to enjoy what Mularkey has enjoyed over the past 3 seasons - autonomy to run an offense under a defensive-minded Head Coach.  Should Mularkey leave and Musgrave stay on, Musgrave could very well transition Atlanta's more established offense into a West Coast system.  So then it comes down to where has the most perks - returning home to Colorado or the autonomy of Atlanta.  I'm inclined to think that Atlanta would win out in that situation, but if it doesn't - Musgrave and his quarterback acumen would be an interesting choice having struggled with the rigors of coordinating as a younger coach and now having an extra 6 seasons of very successful quarterback coaching under his belt.

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2) Name: Mike Miller   Age: 40   Current Team: Arizona Cardinals   Current Position: Passing Game Coordinator

A repeat selection from last post's analysis of Russ Grimm afterwhich Miller, moreso than any other coordinator candidate, was met by some fellow fans with a lot of hesitance.  Having read up on Miller a little more since last post, I actually like him more to the point where - if he should want to come here (assuming Mulareky is hired) - he'd be my personal choice for Offensive Coordinator (luckily, my opinion isn't heard in Dove Valley).  Before we get to that though, let us review Miller's career up until this point.

As stated last post, Miller's curious path into coaching started while he was a Communications major at Clarion University - interning as a public relations assistant with his hometown Steelers (1994-1995) and Indianapolis Colts (1996).  He began coaching in 1997 while working toward his Masters Degree in Education at Robert Morris University - serving as the Colonials' Running Backs Coach for two seasons before taking an Offensive Assistant position with the Steelers in 1999 under new Offensive Coordinator Kevin Gilbride - during which time Mularkey was in his 4th season as the team's Tight Ends Coach.

After Gilbride was fired after the 2000 season, Mularkey took over as Offensive Coordinator - with Miller and Dick Hoak being the only holdovers from the previous offensive staff.  While certainly not as influential in the creation of this offense as Mularkey, Whisenhunt, Grimm, or Clements - Miller was still on hand for that process and Mularkey obviously thought enough of him to not only keep him the Pittsburgh staff, but give him his first position coach job as Tight Ends Coach of the Bills in 2004.  Clements and Miller were the only two assistants from Pittsburgh to accompany Mularkey to Buffalo.

After Mularkey resigned following the 2005 season, Miller was unable to find a NFL job and thus spent 2006 split between NFL Europe (Quarterbacks/Receivers Coach of the Berlin Thunder) and Robert Morris (Defensive Line Coach).  After Whisenhunt accepted the Head Coaching position in Arizona, he took Miller in as his Wide Receivers Coach.

In his two seasons under Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley, Miller helped Larry Fitzgerald (2007,2008) and Anquan Boldin (2008) to a collective three Pro Bowls.  In those two seasons, Fitzgerald led the league in both receptions and receiveing yards and, in 2008, the Cardinals became just the 5th team in NFL history to boast three 1,000 yard receivers (Fitzgerald, Boldin, and 2007 5th Rounder Steve Breaston).  Miller was supposedly very involved in the passing game planning in his two seasons as Wide Receivers Coach and so it was no surprise that he was promoted to Passing Game Coordinator in 2009 - less than 2 weeks after Todd Haley's departure. 

Over the past two seasons, Miller and Run Game Coordinator Russ Grimm have done a good deal of the weekly game planning with Whisenhunt serving as primary play-caller.  In his first season as Passing Game Coordinator, the Cardinals' passing game didn't miss much of a beat.  Warner, despite injuries, tallied another very solid season with 3753 yards to go with 26 touchdowns and Fitzgerald let the NFL in touchdown reception (13) on his way to his third consectuive Pro Bowl birth.  The team itself, improved by a game during the regular season to 10-6 and defeated the Green Bay Packers in a Wild Card Round shootout before losing the following week to the eventualy Super Bowl Champion Saints.

While the Cardinals this season near the bottom of the NFL in most offensive categories (due in no small part to the loss of Warner, Boldin, and the revolving door at quarterback) these past few weeks are actually what makes me most excited about Miller.  As Whisenhunt did with former Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley (Whisenhunt called plays in 2007 before handing over those responsibilities to Haley in 2008), Whisenhunt has been grooming Miller over the past two season to eventually take over the Cardinals' play-calling duties.  Miller has become more and more involved  even, according to Whisenhunt, calling a large chunk of the plays in recent weeks.  That likely includes the Cardinals' beatdown of our own Broncos and certainly includes this weekends dramatic victory over the Cowboys - both while starting rookie 5th Rounder John Skelton. 

I don't expect anybody else to be impressed by a coach who isn't even given full control of an offense as statsitically terrible as Arizona's.  Nor do I blame many of you for the questions you raised last post.  It's true.  It is very difficult to quantify just how good of a coach Miller is.  There is no way for any of us to know what exactly he did as an Offensive Assistant in Pittsbugh.  The Bills were a team that primarily used blocking tight ends - so there isn't much in the way of statistics to show whether or not he helped Mark Campbell and others improve in Buffalo.  And then he inherits two great receivers in Arizona along with a future Hall of Fame quarterback.  He's a risk, but in my opinon - a risk worth taking.

When Mularkey came to Atlanta, he had to teach his offensive staff his offense - having never worked with any of his assistants in the past in his offense (he spent one year with Wide Receivers Coach Terry Robiskie in Miami running Cam Cameron's offense).  That worked out because all Mularkey had to worry about there was the offense and so he could teach both the coaches and the players the system as he went on.  As we saw with McDaniels - teaching players and coaches a system while trying to run a team is a recipe for disaster.  Mularkey, in my opinion, would need - at the very least - one assistant (preferably the coordinator)familiar with his system who can help him teach a new staff and personnel, allowing Mularkey to oversee the team as a whole.  No coach has worked with Mularkey for more seasons than Miller (7).  Not only was he a part of Mularkey's staffs in Pittsburgh and Buffalo, but he has continue to coach in Whisenhunt/Grimm/Haley's version of the offense over the past 4 seasons in Arizona.  Whisenhunt ran a modified version of Mularkey's offense in his three seasons as the Steelers' Offensive Coordinator and brought that system with him to Arizona where it meshed with Haley - a branch on the Parcells coaching tree - who in his final two seasons with the Jets (1995-2000) worked as the Jets' Wide Receivers Coach under Charlie Weis before reuniting with Parcells as Passing Game Coordinator/Wide Receivers in Dallas (2004-2006).  If there is such a thing as a cross between Mularkey and McDaniels' offenses Arizona is running it and it may help to have a familiar face like Miller bridge the gap.

I think this offseason, assuming Mularkey is hired, would be the perfect time to capitolize on the work Whisenhunt has put in with Miller.  Considering he has yet to be named Offensive Coordinator - I do not believe there would be any restrictions in interviewing him at which point - you hope the possibility of working with Tebow, Lloyd, and Moreno, and Mularkey outweighs staying with Skelton, Fitzgerald, Wells, and Whisenhunt. 

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Widcard) Name: Eric Studesville   Age: 43   Current Team: Denver Broncos   Current Position: Interim Head Coach

Should Musgrave and Miller stay with their respective clubs, which is always a possibility, two additional names to round out a Top 5 candidates list would be Falcons' Wide Receivers Coach Terry Robiskie and Packers' Quarterbacks Coach Tom Clements.  Robiskie, 56, has nearly thirty years of NFL coaching under his belt - most notably as the Offensive Coordinator under Art Shell during the Oakland Raiders' glory years of the early 1990's.  Over the past 15 or so years, he's primarily served as a Wide Receivers Coach in Washington, Cleveland, Miami, and Atlanta - with brief stints as Passing Game Coordinator/Interim Head Coach in Washington (1999-2000) and Offensive Coordinator/Interim Head Coach in Cleveland (2004).  He and Mularkey were both position coaches in Miami in 2007 before joining Atlana.

Clements, 57, is a coach I highlighted when discussing Russ Grimm last post.  He's a noted quarterback guru who, as before mentioned, helped Elvis Grbac, Kordell Stewart, and Tommy Maddox to back to back to back Pro Bowl seasons from 2000-2002.  He was actually Mularkey's Offensive Coordinator in Buffalo - but Mularkey eventually had to strip him of his play-calling duties and was forced, by management, to fire Clements before resigning himself.  I have no idea where their relationship stands, but - like Mularkey - I believe he's a better coach now than he was 5 years ago - having helped rejuvenate Brett Favre's career while jumpstarting Aaron Rodgers's.

But obviously, by the picture I have up, the main man I want to focus on here is our own Eric Studesville.

Studesville, a native of Madison, Wisconsin, started his career as a defensive back at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.  His coaching career began at the University of Arizona as graduate assistant as he worked toward his Master's Degree in Excercise Physiology.  From there, Studesville bounced around college football serving as a video assistant at the University of North Carolina (1992-1993) and Defensive Backs Coach at Wingate University (1994) and Kent State (1995-1996).  Studesville broke into the NFL the following year as an Offensive Assistant with the Chicago Bears under Head Coach Dave Wannstedt and was kept on when DIck Jauron took over the tean in 1999.

Studesville received his first position coach job in 2001 as Running Backs Coach for the New York Giants under Jim Fassel.  In his first season with the team, the Giants utilized a two headed attack with second year player Ron Dayne and Tiki Barber.  That season, Dayne had a career high 7 rushing touchdowns and change-of-pace back Barber set career highs with 72 receptions and 5.2 yards per carry.  The following season, Barber would transition from scat back to the workhorse many of associate him with.  Barber took the vast majority of the carries in 2002, in route to 1387 yards and 11 touchdowns - far and away his best season at the time.  The following year, Barber followed with a 1216 yard effort, but a 4-12 team record doomed Fassel and he was fired at the conclusion of the season in favor of Tom Coughlin.  In his three seasons under Studesville, Barber ranked 3rd among NFL backs in receptions and 5th in all-purpose yards despite splitting carries with Dayne.

As beforementioned, several members of Fassel's staff joined Mularkey, Clements, and Miller in Buffalo.  Among them were Offensive Line Coach Jim McNally, Assistant Offensive Line Coach Frank Verducci, and - you guessed it - Running Backs Coach Eric Studesville.  In his first season with the team, Studesville assisted first-year player (he sat out his rookie season with a knee injury) Willis McGahee to 100 yard performances in each of his first three games - just the 3rd rookie to do so since 1970 - in route to a 1128 yard 13 touchdown rookie season - the latter of which is still a personal best for McGahee.

In 2005, despite the offense itself taking steps back, McGahee had a career high 1247 yards and eclipsed the 2000 yard mark in just his 26th game - fastest in franchise history.  That is no small feat considering names such as OJ Simpson and Thurman Thomas also started their careers in Buffalo. 

After Mularkey resigned prior to the 2006 season, Dick Jauron kept several members of the offensive staff including Wide Receivers Coach Tyke Tolbert, McNally, and Studesville - who he worked with during his tenure in Chicago.

In 2006, his first season with Jauron and last with McGahee, McGahee rushed for 990 yards despite an injury plagued season.  It would be the only season from 2002-2009 that Studesville would fail to mentor a 1,000 yard rusher.  The following season, he'd lead rookie Marshawn Lynch to a 1115 yard first-year output and in 2008, while still leaning on Lynch, Studesville did perhaps his finest work yet by developing former  United Indoor League and NFL Europe player, Fred Jackson.  Now as the team's Run Game Coordinator - Studesville helped Lynch to a 1036 yard 8 touchdown season with 47 receptions and an additional touchdown sprinkled in route to his first career Pro Bowl.  Used, initially, as more of a third down back , Jackson chipped in 571 yards, 3 tochdowns and 37 receptions in his second season with the Bills - good enough to become the team's feature back in 2009.  There, still sharing some carries with Lynch, Jackson emerged as a dual threat with 1036 yards and 2 touchdowns rushing and 46 receptions for 371 yards and another 2 scores.  After Chan Gailey was hired to replace Interim Head Coach Perry Fewell last off-season, Studesville too was replaced by long-time Chan Gailey assistant Curtis Modkins.

Last January, Studesville came to Denver having mentored 7 1,000 yard rushing seasons in 8 seasons with 4 different backs.  Though Denver's rushing attack was statsitcally at or near the bottom of the league in most categories - an inexperienced offensive line and pass-heavy play calling did little to help that.  To Studesville's credit though, he - in my opinion - has finally gotten Knowshon Moreno to show flashes of being worthy of the 1st round pick that was spent on him and Lance Ball is likely to be more of the most intriguing players on the 2011 squad.  Most importantly, the players and front office have obviously taken a liking to him and keeping an ally both in the locker room and upstairs at Dove Valley would be in any coach's - particuarly Mularkey's - best interest. 

As I eluded to earlier, while I would expect a change or two on the offensive staff should Mularkey be hired - I would be shocked if the entire unit was gutted.  Because Mularkey's system is so personnel-based, it would be advantagous for him to hold on to a number of the assistants on the team who have already worked with this roster.  Mike McCoy is obviously doing a good job with Tebow, maybe you keep him on as Quarterbacks Coach or promote Wide Receivers Coach Adam Gase - a student of Mike Martz - who as an Offensive Assitant in 2006 and Quarterbacks Coach in 2007 with the Lions helped journneyman Jon Kitna to consectuive 4,000 yard passing seasons despite the team's clear lack of talent.  Maybe you keep Clancy Barone, who -injuries and youth considered - has done an admirable job of transitioning this offensive line from a zone to gap blocking unit.  Most of all though, I think Mularkey's hiring would mean the keeping of Studesville and as I see it there would be two primary directions to go with that.

1) Studesville is named Assistant Head Coach/Running Backs.  In an ideal world, Mularkey is hired and Miller (or Musgrave or Robiskie or any number of other candidates) comes with him leaving Studesville to do what he's most experienced at - coaching running backs.  At the same time, Mularkey would also have a relationship with Studesville having worked together for 2 seasons in Buffalo.  With the majority of Head Coaches in the NFL today having Assistant Head Coaches to deal with the daily in and outs of running a NFL franchise it would make sense for Mularkey to have one too and - being that Studesville has garnered positive standing with both the players and front office while also doing to job himself for what will be 4 games, - for Studesville to be that person.

2) Studesville is named Offensive Coordinator.  This, admittedly, is not the best of ideas - but one that Mularkey may consider based on the fact that Studesville is one of the few active assistants with experience in his offense and his repoire with the current roster.  Does Studesville have the football acumen for such a job?  It is tough to say.  Fred Jackson recently spoke with Buffalo News about his former position coach's rise in Denver.  When asked if he was capable of running a team this is what he had to say:

"Without a doubt.  He had the respect of everybody in this locker room. He was the run game coordinator. He put together all the running game stuff when he was out here, so they showed a lot of faith in him in that. I think he's intelligent enough. He has a lot of football knowledge. He taught me everything that I know coming into the league. I think he'll do a tremendous job for them and hopefully he can get the job full time."

Now granted, Jackson was talking about Head Coaching here and not coordinating - but it's an interesting thought.  Running Backs Coaches seldom, for whatever reason, elevate directly to Offensive Coordinator and -with all due respect -  Studesville isn't even the best Running Backs Coach out there.  There is no telling if he understands the passing game or if he can cut it as a play caller.  My gut says I rather him be an Assitant Head Coach, but Mularkey could always do what Whisenhut is doing right now by calling the plays for the first year or so while training an assistant to take over for him.  Maybe you make Studesville an Offensive Coordinator in name only while learning under Mularkey or perhaps you split the Offensive Coordinator position in two (also like Whisen hunt is doing) between Studesville and maybe Robiskie - while grooming one of them to take over later in 2011 or 2012. 

 

SAM WYCHE INTERLUDE

A week or so ago, some of us were up in arms over Boomer Esiason's criticisms of Tim Tebow.  I, unlike some, were not upst or disheartened by Esiason's comments - it is his right to make them.  Instead, I found them fairly entertaining considering Esiason's long time coach, Sam Wyche, spent most of last winter comparing Tebow to Esiason and Joe Montana.

Wyche made a name for himself as the Passing Game Coordinator under Bill Walsh in San Francisco from 1979-1982 mentoring the young Joe Montana.  After a season as Head Coach of the Indiana Hoosiers, Wyche was a NFL Head Coach for 12 consecutive seasons - 8 with the Cincinatti  and 4 with Tampa Bay.  While not necessarily a great Head Coach (Wyche only had 3 winning seasons as a coach, 2 division titles, 2 play-off births, and a trip to Super Bowl XXIII where his former pupil, Joe Montana, saw John Candy and won the game) but he is respected as an offensive innovator and a genius having made his mark on both Montana and Esiason and inventing the Hurry Up Offense.  What are his thoughts on Tebow?

"If this guy can't be a starting quarterback in the NFLthen I was in the wrong profession for a lot of years." 

He continued:

"He's as smart as anyone.  I was around Montana and Boomer, and they would be at the top of the list of understand theory coming out of college. They understood concepts. This guy is right with them. I hope he gets a good coordinator and a good quarterback coach. If not, he'll be smarter than they are."

Now, if you were to read the interview, Wyche may have overstating Tebow's talents a bit - saying that he'd have one of the strongest arms in the NFL and that his footwork and accuracy were among his strongest suits - but I'm not going to argue there.  My point is, like Marc Trestman who I mentioned last post, Wyche is one of the members of Tebow's brain trust that worked with him last winter in preparation for the NFL Draft.  That, combined with Mularkey's fondness for him makes Wyche's inclusion to our staff rather interesting.

I'm not saying to make him Offensive Coordinator - or even Quarterbacks Coach - but Wyche did come out of retirement to be Mularkey's Quarterbacks Coach in Buffalo in 2004 and I wonder if it'd be worth it to create a position for Wyche on the staff to allow him to both help Denver's offensive transition as well as add another person in the building who believes in Tebow. 

DEFENSE

Grayfinal0910_medium

via voices.washingtonpost.com

1) Name: Jerry Gray   Age: 48   Current Team: Seattle Seahawks   Current Position: Secondary Coach

As mentioned before, when Mularkey took over the Buffalo Bills in 2004 he brought in a combination of offensive assistants primarily from his staff in Pittsburgh and the New York Giants.  He left the defense alone, however, as the Bills' 2003 defense ranked second in the league under Defensive Coordinator Jerry Gray

Long before he was coaching players in Buffalo, Gray was a standout athlete himself.  Born and raised in Lubbock, Texas - Gray was a star in football, basketball, and track at Estacado High School - being inducted in the Texas High School Hall of Fame in 1995.  A safety at the University of Texas, Gray was named Southwest Conference Defensive Player of the Year and a consensus All-American in both 1983 and 1984.  Gray, after his college career had ended was also placed on the University's All-Decade Team for the 1980's and the Longhorns' All-Time Team.

A first round pick (21st overall) in the 1985 NFL Draft by the Los Angeles Rams - moving to cornerback.  In his 9 year career, he played with the Rams (1985-1991), Oilers (1992), and Buccaneers (1993).  That time included a span of 4 consecutive Pro Bowl seasons (1986-1989), NFL Defensive Back of the Year in 1989, and MVP of the 1990 Pro-Bowl.  A year after retiring, he began coaching defensive backs at SMU before accepting a Defensive Quality Control position with the then Tennessee Oilers under Head Coach Jeff Fisher and new Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams - who was a Defensive Quality Control Coach in Houston for Gray's one year there in 1992.

After two seasons a quality control coach, Gray was promoted to Defensive Backs Coach prior to the 1999 season.  In the season prior to Gray taking over the secondary, the Titans ranked 20th in the NFL against the pass and 28th in opponent's quarterback rating (my personal favorite stat to judge pass defense).  In 1999, the Titans went down to 25th against the pass but their ranking against opposing quarterbacks improved to 12th as the team won the AFC Championship and came a yard shy of sending Super Bowl XXXIV into overtime.  The following season, the Titans ranked 1st in the NFL in passing defense and 2nd against quarterbacks and Gregg Williams took over as Head Coach of the Buffalo Bills - bringing Gray along with him as his Defensive Coordinator.

Williams and Gray's first two seasons in Buffalo were bumpy.  Inheriting a fairly talented defense with the Bills, their performance actually regressed in 2001 (3rd overall/18th scoring in 2000 21st overall/29th scoring in 2001).  This in large part was due to a complete change in defensive system as the Bills' former Head Coach was none other then Wade Phillips and Williams and Gray were converting the Bills' stout 3-4 into an attacking 4-3.  The defense improved slightly in 2002 (15th overall 27th scoring) before exploding in 2003 - Williams's last with the team.  That season, the Bills improved to 2nd overall and 5th scoring while also improving to 9th in sacks - something the team had struggled in the two years prior. 

When Mularkey came in in 2004 (the Bills offense was woeful despite the defense's success leading to Williams's firing) Gray stayed on and ran the defense by himself - to the highest point in his tenure.  That season the Bills, again, ranked 2nd in the NFL in total defense, 8th in scoring, 3rd and sacks, and 1st in take-aways (something they were near the bottom of the league in the year before).  That 2004 team, as mentioned, was the only winning team Buffalo has had this best decade.

That off-season, the Bills lost defensive tackle Pat Williams and Will-backer Takeo Spikes.  The 8th ranked rushing defense in 2004 fell to 30th and, like the entire Bills team as a whole, the defense took a major step back in 2005 - leading to Marv Levy's tenure as GM and Mularkey's resignation.

In 2006, Gray reunited with Williams who took over as the Washington Redskins' Defensive Coordinator after being fired by Buffalo.  His first season in Washington was mixed.  The Redskins pass defense ranked 10th in the league - their same ranking as 2005 - but their performance against the quarterback plummeted to 32nd in the league.  In 2007, while the pass defense fell to 16th, the quarterback ranking against improved to 10th amid the emotional loss of safety Sean Taylor.  That off-season, Joe Gibbs resigned, Gregg Williams left for Jacksonville (to replace Atlanta-bound Mike Smith), and Defensive Line Coach Greg Blache was promoted to Defensive Coordinator under Head Coach Jim Zorn.  While Zorn's tenure in Washington was - for the most part - a laughing stock, the team's defense was not - particularly the pass defense which ranked 7th and 8th in 2008 and 2009. 

After Zorn was fired, Gray moved to Seattle under new Head Coach Pete Carroll.  Though the Seahawks' pass defense this year is among the worst in the NFL (29th overall 26th in QB rating) they've actually improved slightly from last season (30th overall 28th in QB rating) despite trading away cornerback Kelly Jennings just before the season started and starting two new safeties. 

Gray's time in Seattle may not make him prime Defensive Coordinator candidate, but it doesn't mean he hasn't or wouldn't be a successful one.  Gray, in recent years, was a finalist for the University of Memphis Head Coaching position and interviewed for the Redskins job (though conspiracy theorists say that he was simply a Rooney Rule candidate - which is disturbing).  He's well-respected, had a lot of success with a poor franchise, and - like Mularkey - has only improved his craft since his time in Buffalo.  The fact that he is a long-time Gregg Williams protege is just the icing on the cake. 

The one problem I see is that Gray would obviously bring his aggressive 4-3 style to Denver in replace of our current 3-4 "bend but don't break" Fairbanks-Bullough system - but the fact of the matter this has been a defense that has been bent, broken, and crushed.  I, unlike some, do not think this 3-4 defensive experiment has been a failure because you can't break what's already broke.  This defense was awful before McDaniels took over, it was awful for the last three quarters of his tenure, and it's time to move on.  My preference is to stay with some version of the 3-4 for transition purposes, but at this point, our defense is so screwed up and in need of talent that - personnel wise - we are just as far away from boasting a top 4-3 defense as we are a top 3-4 and if that means moving our ends inside and our outside linebackers down to end - so be it.  At this point, I'm open to whatever comes our way and if it's Gray and the 4-3 - I'm all for it.

Lewis-tim_medium

via blogs.ajc.com

2) Name: Tim Lewis   Age: 49   Current Team: Atlanta Falcons   Current Position: Secondary Coach

Our second (and final) repeat from Russ Grimm's assistants list, Lewis comes on this list as a coach whose time in Pittsburgh (1995-2003) overlaps Mularkey's (1996-2003) and who has reunited with Mularkey in Atlanta this season.

A native of Quakertown, Pennsylvania - Lewis was a star cornerback at the University of Pittsburgh and 11th overall draft pick of the Green Bay Packers in the 1983 NFL Draft.  He played just over three seasons with the Packers, leading the team in interceptions in two of them, before a neck injury in the 3rd game of the 1986 season ended his career.

The following year, he took a Graduate Assistant's position at Texas A&M under Head Coach Jackie Sherrill who was Lewis's Head Coach during his first three seasons at Pitt.  After Sherrill left A&M in 1988, Lewis moved on to Defensive Backs Coach at SMU - a position he held for four seasons before returning to his alma mater as Defensive Backs Coach from 1993-1994.  In 1995, when Steelers' Defensive Backs Coach - Dick Lebeau was promoted to Defensive Coordinator - Lewis replaced him on his staff.  Though the Steelers' pass defense was already elite when he got their, Lewis maintained excellence in his two seasons under Lebeau (6th in pass defense/11th in QB rating in 1995, 5th and 9th in 1996) before transitioning in his three seasons under Jim Haslett (18th and 10th in 1997, 18th and 14th in 1998, and 4th and 15th in 1999).  Haslett left to become Head Coach of the New Orleans Saints after the 2000 season despite the fact that the defense actually digressed with him at the helm.

Lewis took over as Defensive Coordinator in 2000 inheriting some problems that were foreign to the Steelers organization.  The leagues' top-rated rush defense in 1997 slipped to 13th in 1998 and to 26th in 1999.  The defense as a whole slipped from 6th in 1997 to 12th in 1998 and 11th in 1999.  In Lewis's first  season as Defensive Coordinator, the rush defense improved to 12th and the total defense to 7th.  The following season the defense improved to first in both rushing and total defense. 

When reading Steelers blogs, I found a lot of hatred toward Lewis as the team's Defensive Coordinator for 4 seasons.  Of the 4 Defensive Coordinators to serve under Cowher's tenure, he was the only one to be fired from the job - having been replaced by LeBeau after he had become available.  Supposedly this stemmed from the fact that Lewis's version of the 3-4 wasn't as aggressive as LeBeau's or as aggressive as Cowher wanted it to be.  Still, the team never finished worse than 9th in total defense during Lewis's tenure there and if that's a problem - that's a problem that I would welcome to Denver.

After being fired from Pittsburgh - he took the Defensive Coordinator job in New York under new Giants Head Coach Tom Coughlin.  Inheriting a defense that finished 22nd overall in 2003 and 29th in scoring - Lewis used a 4-3 base defense for the first time of his career.  In 2004 the defense improved to 13th overall and 17th in scoring before slipping to 24th and 14th in 2005.  The following season, the defense regressed to 25th and 24th and Lewis would be replaced by Steve Spagnuolo.

In 2007, Lewis became Defensive Backs Coach for the Carolina Panthers - a team that was 16th in opponent QB rating.  In 2007 that fell to 21st before rising to 15th in 2008.  In 2009, Lewis took over one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL in Seattle.  Yes, Lewis was the Seahawks' Secondary Coach before Gray - and while 30th overall and 28th in passer efficiency is poor - keep in mind that they were 32nd and 29th the season prior.  After Jim Mora Jr. was fired, Lewis moved on to Atlanta - reuniting with Mularkey.

Lewis came into 2010 replacing the popular Assistant Head Coach/Secondary Coach Emmitt Thomas and has thus far improved the team's secondary from 28th to 22nd overall and 22nd to 18th in passer efficiency. While I don't think Lewis has the most impressive of resumes a few things to occur to me.

1. Since 2003, he has not been able to take part in the 3-4 zone defense that he learned over his first 9 seasons in the NFL.

2. If Mularkey were to decide to run a 3-4, he has seen Lewis succeed as a fellow coordinator to that capacity.  There is a familiarity in systems and shared experiences.  I repeat - if Mularkey were to want to run a 4-3, I would not want Lewis to come in here even though he has coached both.  Lewis would only be a choice if we were to keep a variation of the 3-4.

3. Mularkey, based on interviews following Atlanta's Week 1 loss to Pittsburgh has a great respect for Pittsburgh's style of defense.  Additionally, LeBeau was Mularkey's mentor,Wyche's, Defensive Coordinator for many years in Cincinnati.  There is a lot of reason to believe that Mularkey would be interested in bringing that system with him at his next Head Coaching job.  Lewis, again, has coached with Mularkey for a combined 9 years - including 3 as fellow coordinators in Pittsburgh.

Gyi0060317049_medium_medium

via cdn3.sbnation.com

Wildcard) Keith Butler   Age: 54   Current Team: Pittsburgh Steelers   Current Position: Linebackers Coach

Based on Mularkey retaining Gray in 2004, it is entirely possible that he would be open to any variety of defensive coordinator - whether or not he has worked with them in the past.  I think he's shown a willingness to delegate and trust his assistants to do their jobs.  That makes just about any top defensive assistant a possibility.  Wade Phillips would have been a very real possibility had he not gone to Houston.  If he were to want to bring in the 3-4 zone, Steelers Defensive Backs Coach Ray Horton would be a possibility - one that I highlighted last post.

But Linebackers Coach Keith Butler is a name several of you inquired about last post and so he is somebody I will highlight here though he is believed to be the current Steelers' Defensive Coordinator-in waiting.

Butler, a native of Anniston, Alabama was a three-year starter at inside linebacker for the University of Memphis Tigers between 1975-1977 - earning All-American honors after the 1977 season.  After his time in Memphis, Butler enjoyed a 10 season career all with the Seattle Seahawks who drafted him in the 2nd round of the 1978 NFL Draft.  He still ranks 2nd in team history in tackles.

His coaching career began at his alma-mater in 1990 where he was Linebackers Coach (1990-1994) and Linebackers/Defensive Ends/Special Teams (1995-1997).  In 1996, a young Mike Tomlin was a Graduate Assistant/Defensive Backs Coach for the team.

In 1998, Butler took over as Defensive Coordinator at Arkansas State University - reuniting with Tomlin (who went to Arkansas State the year prior) who served as Butler's Defensive Backs Coach.  The following season, Butler would make his NFL coaching debut as Linebackers Coach for the expansion Cleveland Browns.

The expansion Browns were last in the NFL in total defense that season under Defensive Coordinator Bob Slowkik (remember him?)  and 28th in scoring.  The team improved to 26th and 27th in 2000 under Defensive Coordinator Romeo Crennel who would move on to New England after his one year stint in Cleveland.  When Foge Fazio, the former Vikings Defensive Coordinator under Dennis Green, came in in 2001 - the defense steadily climbed to 10th in total and 15th in scoring in 2001 and 21st and 10th in 2002 - the franchise's first trip to the play-offs.

Butler moved to Pittsburgh as Linebackers Coach in 2003 - Lewis's last with the team - and the rest is history.  While Butler has been with the team - the team has never finished lower than 9th in the league in total defense (2003, 2006) and has finished 1st three times (2004, 2007-2008) and have ranked in the Top 3 in scoring defense four times (2004-2005, 2007-2008) leading the league in 2004 and 2008.

Most impressive has been Butler's individual work grooming specific players.  The reclamation of James Harrison - a former fringe player who has now gone to 4 consecutive Pro Bowls, has been named First Team All-Pro in 2007 and 2008, Second Team in 2009, and NFL Defensive Player in 2008 - would be reason enough to consider Butler as a legitimate Defensive Coordinator candidate.  But you then add James Farrior(2 Pro-Bowls and 1 First Team All-Pro under Butler), Lamarr Woodley (1 Pro Bowl and 1 Second Team All-Pro), Lawrence Timmons, Clark Haggans, Joey Porter(3 Pro Bowls and 3 Second Team All-Pros under Butler) - the list goes on and on.  And, in a similar vein to the New England Patriots, it isn't as if all of those guys came to Pittsburgh as top-notch talents.  LeBeau and Butler have gotten the most out of the skills of the unit.

Of the defensive position coaches on the Steelers, Butler has actually worked with LeBeau the least.  Still, what he has done with his linebacking unit in Pittsburgh over the past 8 seasons and his prior relationship with Head Coach Mike Tomlin - he is considered the top choice to replace LeBeau.  I don't know how much that actually means as we see "coaches in waiting" get tired of waiting quite often.  Would a fellow product of the Steelers' system like Mularkey be the one to possibly pry him away from Pittsburgh?  I don't know.  But I wouldn't be surprised if his name (and perhaps Horton's) were to swirl about if Mularkey were to come to Denver as I hope he will.

This is a Fan-Created Comment on MileHighReport.com. The opinion here is not necessarily shared by the editorial staff of MHR

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