The hunt for a new Sheriff has got this dusty ol' cowtown we call MHR pretty focused, but as the search draws on, it is going to become apparent that we still have a lot of "inside" business to take care of as well, not the least of which will be an evaluation of the current coaching staff. Bowlen will want reports on their performance, and no doubt the new Sheriff will want to review his "Deputies" when he gets to town.
To start the process off, here is an introduction to the staff, starting with the Most Wanted, a group badguys who strike fear in the hearts of defensive Fort Knoxs throughout the league, threatening to break the bank and rob the stage for a fist full of points every week.
Lets meet the Offensive Gang.
A former standout linebacker for the Broncos, Dennison joined the Broncos’ coaching staff in 1995 after spending the previous three years coaching at the high school level for Suffield Academy in Suffield, Conn. He served for two years in Denver as an offensive assistant (1995-96), providing quality control work and assistance of all types to the offensive coaching staff before being promoted to special teams coach on Feb. 12, 1997.
As special teams coach from 1997-2000, Dennison’s group was instrumental in the Broncos’ success that was highlighted by their back-to-back World Championships from 1997-98. His coverage units held opponents to a tie for the deepest average drive start (26.1-yard line) in the AFC in 2000. One of Dennison’s most outstanding performers, Detron Smith, was recognized in 1999 for his excellence in an often under-appreciated realm, being voted to the Pro Bowl as the special-teams performer.
It marked the third time in Dennison’s tenure with the Broncos that he saw one of his pupils earn a ProBowl invitation. Kicker Jason Elam enjoyed the finest season of his six-year NFL career under Dennison in 1998, earning his second Pro Bowl selection by setting a franchise record for PATs in a season (58-of-58) and converting 85 percent (23-of-27) of his field goal attempts. Elam also tied Tom Dempsey’s 28-year-old NFL record for longest field goal with a 63-yarder vs. Jacksonville on Oct. 25, 1998. His career numbers continued to escalate as well as he became the all-time leading scorer in franchise history during the 1999 season while also establishing franchise dominance in field goals, field goal attempts and PATs.
Punter Tom Rouen consistently performed at or near the top of the league rankings under Dennison's tutelage, posting a gross punting average of more than 46 yards per punt for the second year in a row in 1999 to lead the NFL. His career-best 46.9-yard average in 1998 ranked second while Dennison's kick-return unit ranked sixth in the NFL, staking the Broncos' opponents to an average drive start of their 28-yard line. Under Dennison's guidance in 1997, the Broncos' special teams played an integral role in leading the franchise to its first World Championship. Darrien Gordon tied for the NFL lead with three touchdowns on punt returns and ranked second in the NFL in punt return average (13.6 yds.) while Elam ranked second in the AFC (4th in NFL) in scoring (124 pts.) and Rouen ranked fourth in the AFC (5th in NFL) in net punting average (38.1). As a unit, Denver's kick return and kick coverage teams in 1997 ranked among the league leaders as the Broncos recorded an average drive start of the 28.6-yard line (4th in NFL) while forcing their opponents to an average drive start of the 24.4-yard line (9th in NFL). Denver also led the NFL in punt return average (13.5 yds.).
Starting in 2001 Dennison took over the offensive line with the departure of Alex Gibbs, and in 2002 the line paved the way for Clinton Portis (1508 yds, 15 TDs) on his way to Offensive Rookie of the year. In 2003, this line helped Portis to gain 1591 yds and 14 TDs, and continued to dominate into 2004 when the line allowed a franchise record fewest sacks (15) and backup FB Reuben Droughns helped the team to a 4th overall rushing rank. The offense also recorded a franchis record in passing that year (4089 yds), and then continued to be a dominate force as the offense recorded a #5 ranking in 2005 on its way to the AFC Championship game.
|He retook control of Oline responsibilities in 2007 and 2008, overseeing the emergence of a tremendously gifted and young Oline featuring Clady, Kuper and Harris, while absorbing veteran free agent Weigmann and hinging on returning veteran stalwart Ben hamilton. This line went on to post a new franchise record in sacks allowed (12) and passing yards (4471). Unfortunately, injuries at the RB position limited his overall offensive production, leaving the team at only 5 individual 1,000 yard seasons.
Going forward, Dennison will get a look for Head Coach of the Broncos, as rightly he should. He shows great acumen at directing the offense, and in working with the fundamentals that shape an oline, but there is no history of detailed delegation that Bowlen will be looking for in his head coaching candidate. With a defense that Achilles would have preferred his heel over, Dennison would have his work in an unfamiliar area cut out for him, even if it only amounted to choosing his defensive coordinator, a task we have no idea if he could handle.
One benefit of Dennison for Head Coach is that you can virtually guarantee that the offensive staff will remain mostly to completely intact, a great sign for an offense that is a few healthy RBs away from historic numbers. But retaining him in any way, shape or form, as OC or Oline coach would also signal a high retention rate among the current staff, as in many ways their particular fields are all complementary to what Dennison coaches on the Oline.
For more discussion about Dennison, check out SWG's pro/con fanpost!
14th NFL Season, 14th with Broncos
TEAM Position Years
Suffield Academy (Conn.)....Assistant Coach.......1992-1994
One really doesn't need to look any further than Broncobear's great post on Turner, which can be found here. But I will provide a quick recap here.
After playing all-conference defensive back at Indiana State, Turner got his coaching start at tiny Haworth High School in Kokomo, Ind., where he was an assistant coach with the football and basketball teams from 1972-74. Turner coached the running backs at Fresno State University (1983-88) and at his alma mater, Indiana State University. He accepted a position coaching Indiana State’s running backs and quarterbacks in 1975 and also worked as the team’s strength and conditioning coordinator that season. Turner was Indiana State’s defensive backs coach as well as its strength and conditioning coordinator from 1976-77 before working as the team’s running backs coach and special teams coordinator from 1978-81. In his final year at Indiana State in 1982, he coached defensive backs and served as special teams coordinator.
Turner was the running backs coach at Ohio State University from 1989-90, a period when the Buckeyes went to two bowl games and had one of the best running games in the Big Ten Conference. In his final collegiate coaching stop before moving to the NFL, Turner served as assistant head coach, offensive coordinator and running backs coach at Purdue University from 1991-94.
Turner coached his 14th year of Broncos football, having arrived in Denver in 1996, one year after Shanahan's arrival. All told, Turner is no stranger to coaching, with 36 combined years of experience.
There can be little doubt that Turner is a coach worth keeping. 2008 showed his masterful ability to coach up running backs, something that he has spent the majority of his career doing.
One thing to consider is that all of his pro experience has come coaching RBs in a one cut and go scheme predicated on zone blocking. While there are a few other NFL teams who successfully run zone block, including the Gibbiak led Texans, Turner would no doubt wish to continue working in Colorado where his wife and three daughters have made a home, and where he has a young stable of running backs that includes some amazing young talent.
But if the coaching change indicates signs of moving away from zoneblock, Turner may have to weight the options of staying comfortable or risk moving to a team (such as the one Shanny will be coaching) where his particular set of skills will have a maximum yield. Of course, we can't rule out the idea that he could adapt and overcome, to absorb any offensive philosophy for RBs, which, admittedly, isn't a position that is phenomenally different from scheme to scheme and player to player.
If Turner has what it takes to adapt his coaching strengths to accomodate whichever head coach or offensive coordinator who he might work for, than there can be little doubt that Turne is one of our "Most Wanted".
14th NFL Season, 14th with Broncos.
TEAM Position Years
Purdue University.........................Running Backs...................1991-1994
Ohio State University.....................Running Backs..................1989-1990
Fresno State University................Running Backs...................1983-1988
Indiana State University...............DBs/Special Teams......................1982
.......DBs/RBs/QBs/Strength and Conditioning......1976-1977
....Strength and Conditioning..................1975
Haworth High School (Ind.)..............Assistant Coach............1972-1974
The Young Gun
Bates began his coaching career with Tampa Bay as an offensive quality control coach from 2002-03.
Tampa Bay’s offense in 2003 was arguably the most productive in franchise history as Bates assisted a unit that set single-season records in total offense (340.8 ypg.) and passing offense (237.8 ypg.). In addition, the club ranked among the league’s top 10 in both categories in the same year for just the second time in Buccaneers annals.
In his first season in the NFL’s coaching ranks, Bates worked with a Buccaneers offense in 2002 that was pivotal in the franchise winning its first-ever World Championship with a victory over the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII. Tampa Bay’s offense was particularly dominant in the postseason, averaging 35.3 points and 334.0 yards per game in three playoff contests that year.
Bates worked with Gruden and John Shoop (TB QB coach) preparing Griese to play each game during 2004, and Griese ended up leading the league in completion percentage (69.3) as well as setting franchise records in that category as well as passer rating (97.5) and yards per pass (7.83).
Bates went on to the Jets as Quarterback coach in 2005 and, in a positional injury spree that seems to follow Bates, oversaw a QB position that went through 5 different passers due to injury.
When Bates joined the Broncos in 06, it was to work with Rick Dennison in preparing the oline for each game, but was quickly promoted to coaching the WRs and QBs (he played QB in college, starting at U. of Tenn., before attending Rice to play two sports, baseball and football.) Marshall and Cutler flourished under his tutelage, and 2008 saw his latest promotion, to QBs coach and offensive playcaller, working closely with franchise QB Jay Cutler, during a year where the young QB set or came close to setting nearly every significant passer record for the franchise.
Despite a frustrating predeliction for what can best be described as a "spread" offense, there is no doubt that Jeremy Bates is one of the brightest rising stars among coaching circles. He has seen increasing delegation and responsibilities every year he has been employed, while gaining valuable experience in a number of harsh conditions, including an offense riddled with injuries at QB in New York, and an offense riddled by injuries at RB here in Denver. If those situations don't teach the value of balance, nothing will.
Moving forward, the sky is the limit in Denver, and the Head Coaching search may very well reflect that. the next obvious move for the young coach, who tends to move faster than most teams can keep up with him, is to Offensive Coordinator, and all the delegation responsibilities that carries. But at this time that would mean supplanting Rick Dennison, a coach who spent his entire NFL tenure working for Mike Shanahan. If Dennison is lured away to continue his long run of offensive excellence with Shanny, Bates becomes the obvious OC choice, but is such a leap to extreme, even for a coach as accustomed to leaping as Bates?
Retaining Bates would be a major benefit to maintaining a buffer of comfort between Jay Cutler and the new head coach, which may be of utmost importance if the overall offensive scheme sees a tweak, or even a full blown overhaul. Bates can be expected to be "Most Wanted" for not only the current era of change, but into the future of the Broncos as well.
7th NFL Season, 3rd with Broncos
TEAM Position Years
New York Jets.............Quarterbacks...............2005
Tampa Bay Buccaneers.........AssistantQuarterbacks.......2004
.......Offensive Quality Control......2002-2003
One of the most popular players in team history, Watson was a wide receiver for the Broncos from 1979-87, finishing his sterling career with 353 receptions for 6,112 yards (17.3 avg.) with 36 touchdowns. He ranks fifth on the Broncos’ career list for receiving yards, seventh in receptions and eighth in touchdown receptions. A member of Denver’s Super Bowl XXI team in 1986 and Super Bowl XXII team in ‘87, Watson also was recognized as an outstanding special teams player during his pro career.
Watson came back to the team in a coaching capacity when he worked with the club in training camp as a coaching intern in 2000. He continued working with the team at all home games during that season in preparation for the full-time role as defensive assistant that he accepted in 2001.
In his first year as wide receivers coach in 2003, Watson helped the offense once again flourish and helped his corps of receivers make a smooth transition to a new starting quarterback, Jake Plummer. Smith, for the third consecutive season, led the team in receptions (74) while leading the club in receiving yards (845) for the seventh consecutive year. Lelie (1,084 yds.) in 2004 joined with Smith to give Denver just its sixth pair of 1,000-yard receivers in the same season. He blossomed into one of the NFL’s top deep threats under Watson, leading the league in yards per reception average (20.1) for the best mark by a Bronco in 17 years. Additionally, all seven of his touchdown catches went for 30 or more yards, marking the NFL’s highest total for the year.
In 2005, Watson’s wideouts helped the Broncos post a 13-3 record, win the AFC West title and advance to the AFC Championship Game. Smith was named to the Pro Bowl for the third time in his career and for the first time since 2001 by posting his second consecutive 1,100-yard receiving season (1,105). He also became the first undrafted player in NFL history to reach 10,000 career receiving yards and ranked ninth in the league in receptions (85) for the year. Lelie also led the NFL in yards per reception average (18.3) for the second consecutive year under Watson’s guidance in 2005, posting 42 receptions for 770 yards.
Walker, coming off an ACL injury that limited him to one game in 2005, re-established himself as one of the NFL’s top wide receivers under Watson in 2006. He finished the year with a team-high 1,084 receiving yards and showed his versatility in becoming one of only three wide receivers since the 1970 NFL merger to score on a touchdown reception and a touchdown run of at least 70 yards in the same season. Watson’s wide receivers also in 2006 helped ease rookie quarterback Jay Cutler’s adjustment to the NFL as the first round draft choice started Denver’s final five games of the season.
As an associate head coach in 2007 charged with providing information to Shanahan, and coordinating Shanahan's coordinators, Watson struggled through the tactical supply side turmoil of a roster decimated by 161 man games missed due to a rash of injuries. The following year the situation didn't get much better, with the team watching a slew of 8 RBs activated only to see them go to IR just as quickly.
While it is hard to imagine Watson working anywhere but for the Broncos, he is certainly one of the player/coaches that Mike was referring to when he referred to his coaching "family." With as close as Watson was to Mike, it would not be surprising if he prioritized working with Shanahan over working for Bowlen and the Broncos, and in order for his career to progress, he may find it necessary to leave Denver anyways. There is no doubt that he knows the WR position and lent his experience and knowledge to fine-tuning a future Hall of Famer in Rod Smith, and in getting the best out of Lelie and Walker, the jury is out on his duties at higher levels of coaching. Without a Shanny to assist, Watson may be one of the coaches let go in a coaching overhaul.
8th NFL Season, 8th with Broncos
TEAM Position Years
Fisch, who served as an assistant coach and defensive coordinator at P.K. Yonge High School in Gainesville, Fla., from 1997-98 as an undergraduate, began his professional coaching career in 1998 with the Arena Football League’s New Jersey Red Dogs. He coached the team’s wide receivers and handled quality control duties for both offense and defense while working under Head Coach John Hufnagel, who was a Broncos quarterback from 1973-75.
A graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor’s degree in criminology, Fisch worked with his alma mater’s football program for two seasons as a graduate assistant from 1999-2000 while obtaining a master’s degree in sports management. He assisted Head Coach Steve Spurrier and the rest of the Gators’ coaching staff during those two seasons, helping the team advance to the Citrus (1999) and Sugar Bowls (2000) in addition to winning the Southeastern Conference championship in 2000.
Fisch spent his first three seasons (2001-03) in the NFL with Houston after Head Coach Dom Capers made him the Texans’ third hire in 2001. He worked on both sides of the ball that year, handling administrative duties to help the Texans prepare for their inaugural season. During the Texans’ opening season in 2002, Fisch was a defensive quality control coach and assisted with the instruction of the club’s linebackers. Jay Foreman and Jamie Sharper excelled at the position with both players registering 137 tackles to tie for sixth in the NFL. Following an aortic aneurysm, Fisch handled off-the-field duties for the Texans in 2003 with his responsibilities including opponent tape breakdown and game analysis.
After beginning his NFL coaching career on the defensive side of the ball, Fisch served as an offensive assistant with Baltimore in 2004 during his first year with the team. The Ravens were the only club in the league to not turn the ball over in the red zone and finished the season with a 9-7 record.
In 2005, Fisch was in his first year as Baltimore’s assistant quarterbacks/wide receivers coach and was involved in the development of Clayton, who set franchise rookie records for both receptions (44) and receiving yards (471) that year. Mason also recorded the first 1,000-yard receiving season (1,073) by a Raven in four years, and Baltimore tied for third in the NFL in fewest dropped passes (19) according to STATS, Inc. As assistant quarterbacks/wide receivers coach with the Ravens in 2006, Fisch worked with a team that won the AFC North and posted the best regular-season record (13-3) in club history while earning its first-ever playoff bye. McNair received Pro Bowl honors during his first season in Baltimore after setting a franchise record for completion percentage (63.0 / 295-of-468). Additionally, Fisch helped wide receivers Derrick Mason (68 rec.) and Mark Clayton (67 rec.) form one of four wideout tandems in the AFC that featured two players with at least 65 catches.
He assisted Neuheisel in the instruction of the club’s passers. Kyle Boller and rookie Troy Smith, filling in for injured veteran Steve McNair, combined to throw only one interception in the Ravens’ final three games.
In Fisch we see the reoccuring threads that show up whenever you analyze an NFL coaching staff, from his association with a one-time Denver QB, to his alma mater and coaching experience at Florida, where Shanahan still had connections from his own coaching stint there.
Fisch's trail to and through the NFL definitely leaves something to be desired, with him moving into his positions more through the pressure of a vaccuum, or vacancy at the position, then through his own merits forcing a spot open, like many of the other O-staff. From entering the NFL on an expansion team staff, to joining the Broncos only after Watson and Bates had forced their way up the chain of command in the two years previous. He has the vintage of "the best available" about him, and his future here is less than guaranteed.
In his corner, however, has been the tremendous WR play of Royal, Marshall and others in 2008. Royal's rookie year set franchise records much like Mason's rookie year did in Baltimore under Fisch's watchful eye.
8th NFL Season, 1st with Broncos
TEAM Position Years
U. of Florida.........Graduate Assistant............1999-2000
P.K Yonge HS(Fla.)........Ast.Coach/D.C......1997-1998
The "Safe Cracker"
McPherson, 39, was hired by the Broncos on April 7, 1998, following a four-year coaching stint at his high school alma mater, Bellarmine College Prep, in San Jose, Calif. In addition to coordinating the defense and coaching the inside linebackers, his duties included teaching English, algebra and physical fitness at the school. At Bellarmine, the football team compiled a record of 35-11, won three consecutive league titles and made one section championship appearance as well as two semifinal appearances. He also gained valuable coaching experience volunteering with the San Francisco 49ers in 1996, serving in a defensive quality control capacity for the club.
During his first year working with Denver’s offense in 1999, McPherson was involved in the production of a unit that featured a 3,000-yard passer (Brian Griese), two 1,000-yard receivers (Ed McCaffrey and Smith) and a 1,000-yard rusher (Olandis Gary). He earned a Super Bowl ring a year earlier with Denver as its defensive assistant, coaching a unit that was third in the NFL against the run (80.4 ypg.).
In 2002 as Denver’s offensive assistant, McPherson coached on an offense that ranked third in the NFL (380.6 ypg.) and featured the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in running back Clinton Portis (1,508 yds.). He worked as an assistant with a Denver offense in 2001 that set club records for total yards (6,554), passing yards (4,243) and first downs (383).
McPherson’s promotion to quarterbacks coach in 2003 coincided with Denver’s signing of Jake Plummer, who became one of the NFL’s elite players at his position during four seasons with the Broncos. Plummer’s 39-15 regular-season record (.722) from 2003-06 with McPherson as his position coach marked the fourth-best winning percentage among all NFL signal callers. The quarterback also compiled a +24 touchdown-to-interception ratio (71-47) under McPherson, a significant improvement
Under Pat's instruction, Jay became the first rookie in NFL history and one of only two players in league annals to throw at least two touchdown passes in each of his first four games while posting the second-highest touchdown percentage (6.6) by an NFL rookie since the 1970 merger (min. 125 passes).
McPherson has certainly come through the hard way, and his landing on Shanahan's staff was no doubt due to his volunteer work with the Niners. Though Shanny was a year removed, contacts he still had in San Francisco would have pointed out the ambitious young man, and a littel research would have turned up what an all around good guy McPherson was.
The drawback to this is that McPherson is very much a part of Shanahan's NFL coaching circle, having worked only for him in his 11 paid pro years. This could mean that a change of scenery to Mike's new destination could be likely, leaving one of our most pivotal units high and dry, the TEs. With the position at the prime of a Golden Age, with Graham and Scheff both playing at high levels, it is important that solid coaching and development of the replacements be underway at this time.
While a new head coach may not have a profound impact on the work of Graham and Scheff now, it may be felt later down the line when their replacements are starting to play. Watch carefully for flux in this department.
12th NFL Season, 11th with Broncos
TEAM Position Years
The Man with the Long Scar
Baker began his NFL career in 1994 with the Jacksonville Jaguars as their manager of football operations, helping the club prepare for its 1995 expansion season. He worked as the Jaguars’ assistant special teams coach for the next four seasons (1995-98), a time period when Jacksonville fielded one of the league’s most consistent special teams. From 1995-98, the Jaguars ranked second in the NFL in net punting average (37.9 yds.), third in gross punting average (44.4 yds.), seventh in punt return average
With Baker on its coaching staff, Jacksonville advanced to the AFC Championship in just its second season in 1996. The Jaguars posted 11 wins in each of the next two seasons with two of Baker’s pupils, kicker Mike Hollis and punter Bryan Barker, earning Pro Bowl honors in 1997.
At the University of Wisconsin in 1999, Baker was the Badgers’ outside linebackers/special teams coach for a team that captured the Big Ten Conference title and earned a victory in the Rose Bowl. Wisconsin led the Big Ten in kickoff and punt coverage, kickoff return average and field goal percentage with Baker instructing its special teams.
In five years with the Saints from 2000-04, Baker coached in several different capacities as New Orleans ranked fifth in the NFL in takeaways (163) during his time with the club. He was New Orleans’ secondary coach from 2003-04, secondary assistant in 2002 and assistant defensive backfield/assistant special teams coach from 2000-01.
During the 2001 season as New Orleans’ defensive backfield/assistant special teams coach, Baker instructed Sammy Knight as he posted the third-highest interception total (6) among NFL safeties to earn a Pro Bowl selection.
Baker joined the Rams from Green Bay, where he spent the 2005 season as its secondary/safeties coach. He taught a secondary that helped the Packers rank first in the NFL against the pass, allowing 167.5 yards per game to mark the club’s lowest such total in 27 seasons.
With Baker handling defensive quality control and working with the linebackers in 2006, the Rams ranked seventh in the NFL in takeaways (32) and forced a league-high nine turnovers inside the red zone. Baker instructed Will Witherspoon, who posted a career and team-high 136 tackles to lead a linebacking unit that helped St. Louis rank eighth in the league against the pass (189.7 ypg.).
Baker was brought to Denver in 2007 by his former boss Jim Bates specifically to address the LB flux on the Broncos, in particular the move of fourth year player DJ Williams to MLB after he had played WLB and SLB previously. In the aftermath of Bates' firing, Baker was retained, switching jobs former Bronco LB Jim Ryan, as an assistant on offense.
Without much detail to go on, I would assume that Baker would have zero interest in sticking with Shanahan after enduring what amounted to a demotion by him from his lifelong defensive coaching. And it could be hoped that whomever moves in as a new coach will prefer to either find a place for Baker ont he defensive sideline, or possibly include him in the offensive staff housecleaning. there is no doubt that DJ's transition to MLB was aided by Baker, and there is little indication of significant influence by Baker on offense, so he definitely appears at first glance to be out of place.
13th NFL Season, 2nd with Broncos
TEAM Position Years
Green Bay Packers.........Defensive Backs..............2005
New Orleans Saints.........Secondary.............2003-2004
....Sec. Assist./ST Assist.......2000-2001
U. of Wisconsin...........Special Teams/LBs.............1999
Jacksonville Jaguars.........Assist. STs..........1995-1998
East Stroudsburg U.....DBs/Graduate Assistant...1991