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MHR Bronco's History Lesson; Know Your Coaches

There has now been twelve coaches in then entire 49 year history of the Denver Broncos. Eight of those twelve had their tenures in Denver during the franchises first twenty seasons in existence. The first eight coaches had a combined winning percentage of .407 as head coaches of the Denver Broncos. The road to excellence was a long hard one for this franchise, but for the past 29 years Broncos head coaches have compiled a career winning percentage of .597. Although, I firmly believe that it took every ounce of coaching ability from each and every one of those first eight coaches for the most recent ones to have had such success in a league that is known more for its parity rather than consistency. The Denver Broncos franchise has been built upon the backs of the great head coaches who languished to compete in the early days of the franchise.

Denver Broncos Head Coaches


Frank Filchock

Head Coach: 1960-1961

Frank Filchock led an interesting and football-filled life. He was a second round draft pick out of the University of Illinois in the late 1930's. He even threw the first 99 yard touchdown pass in NFL history in 1939. Filchock served during World War II and was back in the NFL in 1945. Interestingly, as a member of the Washington Redskins he was accused of accepting a bribe to throw the 1946 NFL Title game against the Chicago Bears. It was proven he was innocent, but his guilt by association caused him to be suspended indefinitely from the NFL for being a part in bringing bad publicity to the league.

Where does a football player go when he is suspended by the NFL? Welcome to Canada! Filchock was hired as a player/coach by the Ottawa Rough Riders in 1947 and played for several years. He fought and won an overturning of his suspension by the NFL in 1950, but no NFL team would take him back so he continued coaching in the Canadian Football League. He retired in 1953 and became a full time head coach of the Saskatchewan Roughriders where he brought in another NFL castaway to be his quarterback, one Frank Tripucka.

Finally in 1960, with the formation of the new American Football League, Filchock was given a head coaching job back in America as head coach of the Denver Broncos. He would lead the rag tag bunch of guys to a 4-2 record in his first season before the wheels came off, not winning a game the rest of the 1960 season. In 1961, the Broncos would win their first game before losing all but two the rest of the season. After the season was over, Frank Filchock was fired and would retire from coaching a few years later. All told, Filchock's record as coach of the Denver Broncos was a less than stellar 7-20-1 in two seasons, but he had the unique role as the first coach of a franchise that would go one to become one of the greatest franchise's in the National Football League. To be fair, the Broncos would win more than four games in a season just three times in its first 10 years.

Regular Season Record: 7-20-1
Playoff Record: 0-0
AFL Championships: 0

Jack Faulkner

Head Coach: 1962-1964

Jack Faulkner was hired by the Denver Broncos after two successful seasons coaching the Los Angeles Chargers record setting defense that went to the AFL's first two Championship games, where in true Charger fashion they lost. One of the first tasks Faulkner set about doing was to change the uniform of the Broncos. He did away with the brown and gold to bring in the vibrant new colors of orange and blue. It must have been a 60's thing.

In a public ceremony of sorts, Faulkner burned the infamous vertically striped socks to kick off training camp in 1962. The team obviously responded to his style of coaching and played far beyond their talent level. Faulkner and the Broncos would defeat his former team, the Chargers, 30-21 and would streak to a 7-2 start that season. A start that included a 44-7 and a 23-6 drubbing of the Oakland Raiders in consecutive weeks. The wheels came off rather quickly after that as the Broncos would lose their final five games and finish the season 7-7.

Jack Faulkner would still go on to receive the AFL Coach of the Year award for that season. Little did he know that that would be the high point of his tenure with the Denver Broncos. After the wheels came off at the end of the 1962 season, the wheels were sold for scrap and the car was traded in for a walking stick as the Broncos would finish 2-11-1 in 1963 and started 0-4 in 1964 which would end Faulkner's term as Head Coach in Denver.

Regular Season Record: 10-21-1
Playoff Record: 0-0
AFL Championships: 0

Mac Speedie

Head Coach: 1964-1966

Mac Speedie experienced quite a bit of drama in his early years. Which sort of make sense with him being a wide receiver and all. Drafted by the Detroit Lions in 1942, he never played for them as he was then drafted by Uncle Sam and spent the next three years waging war with the United States Army. He was big even by today’s NFL standards. Towering at six foot three and two hundred pounds, the Cleveland Browns offered him twice as much money to play for them rather than going back to the Lions after the war ended.

He and counterpart Dante Lavelli would dominate opposing teams throughout the late 40's and 50's. By 1953, Mac Speedie was getting tired of his treatment by the Browns organization, so he signed a contract with the Saskatchewan Roughriders and played for them for two more years before retiring. Ironically, he was Frank Tripucka's go to guy while he was with the Roughriders. Not only that, Frank Filchock was his coach while there. I think the Saskatchewan Roughriders are officially my favorite Canadian Football League team.

Anyways, he was eventually hired back on as wide receivers coach by the Denver Broncos in the Spring of 1962. However, Jack Faulkner was fired after the Broncos lost thirteen straight games. Speedie would break that streak in his head coaching début with a 33-27 upset over the powerhouse Kansas City Chiefs. The good times would not last as the 60's Broncos were perennial doormats and he would win just five more games out of the next twenty-five. He would resign two games into the 1966 season after fans hurled objects at him in anger over another heartbreaking loss.

Regular Season Record: 6-19-1
Playoff Record: 0-0
AFL Championships: 0

Ray Malavasi

Head Coach: 1966

At the tender age of 31, Ray Malavasi became the Personnel Director of the Denver Broncos in 1961. He would go on to build a juggernaut....oh wait. No, he would do his best to keep fans from storming the building and hanging everyone. By early 1966, the fans had nearly did just that when they hurled garbage and other items at then head coach Mac Speedie. Speedie resigned following that experience and Ray Malavasi was thrust into the spotlight.

Malavasi would lead the Broncos to just four wins that year and he would be let go in favor of Lou Saban.

Regular Season Record: 4-8
Playoff Record: 0-0
AFL Championships: 0

Lou Saban

Head Coach: 1967-1971

Lou Saban came to Denver on the crest of two AFL Championships as head coach of the Buffalo Bills. Saban felt he would whip the Broncos into shape and set about drafting winners. His first task, Floyd Little. Little would become the first top prospect ever to sign with the Broncos and would earn the nickname "The Franchise". The turnaround wouldn't be easy and a 3-11 season in his first year would put Lou Saban's back to the wall to produce results.

1968 was an historical year in football as the Denver Broncos would become the first team to start an African American quarterback, Marlin Briscoe, to start in the modern era. He would lead the Broncos to a 5-6 record in his eleven starts. Lou Saban would finish just 5-9 in 1968, but the marked improvement kept him from losing support of a fickle fan base. Floyd Little also emerged as a star and the team's only real threat on offense and special teams.

Yet another five win season followed in 1969, then another in 1970, then came 1971. The fan base was quickly becoming one of the rowdiest in football and Broncomania was spreading like wildfire. The problem was, they were getting tired of seeing their team finish just under .500 year in and year out. It all came to a head on opening day in 1971. The would be playing the powerhouse Miami Dolphins in Mile High Stadium. With the game tied at 10, Saban opted to play for the tie rather than trying to win the game. The Denver media and its fan base were outraged. When asked about it, Saban would reply with his infamous "half a loaf" speech.

The team would unravel after that and Saban would be dismissed after a 24-10 debacle by the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 9 with just a 2-6-1 record.

Regular Season Record: 20-42-3
Playoff Record: 0-0
AFC West Titles: 0
AFC Championships: 0
Super Bowl Titles: 0

Jerry Smith

Interim Head Coach: 1971

Ironically, Jerry Smith would be the only head coach ever to come close to finishing his tenure with the Broncos with a .500 record in the teams first dozen years of existence. He would finish out the 1971 season undefeated at home(1-0) as well as a win over the Steelers in Pittsburgh.

Regular Season Record: 2-3
Playoff Record: 0-0
AFC West Titles: 0
AFC Championships: 0
Super Bowl Titles: 0

John Ralston

Head Coach: 1972-1976

John Ralston came to Denver after consecutive Rose Bowl titles with Standford. He had a unique ability to find talent and proceeded to fill the roster with talented football players. Though his first season would end with a disappointing 5-9 record, there seemed to be an invigorated feeling in Colorado for this young team. The biggest game of the year was a 30-23 victory over the Oakland Raiders. That victory would end a twenty game losing streak by the Broncos to the Raiders dating back to the early 60's.

After a 2-3 start in 1973, the season and team would be saved on "Orange Monday". In front of a national audience John Ralston and the Denver Broncos would rally from behind to tie a strong Oakland Raider team. The tie would launch the team to its first winning season in its history. Finishing 5-2-1 to end with a record ov 7-5-2 for the year. Though they weren't going to the playoffs, the Bronco players and the fans felt it was only a matter of time.

John Ralston would lead the team to a 7-6-1 record the following season for the teams second winning season ever. 1975 would be a let down as the team would finish 6-8. By 1976, the team and the fans were getting restless. The playoffs had still not been reached and the young talented team was turning into a veteran team in their prime. Not even a solid 9-5 record in 1976 could save Ralston as the Broncos were also swept by the hated Raiders. The players issued a vote of no confidence in Ralston and he would resign at the end of the season.

To his credit, John Ralston would be the first coach of the Denver Broncos to leave with a career record above .500.

Regular Season Record: 34-33-3
Playoff Record: 0-0
AFC West Titles: 0
AFC Championships: 0
Super Bowl Titles: 0

Red Miller

Head Coach: 1977-1980

Red Miller was brought in to do one thing - get this team to the playoffs! He did one better than that in his first season as head coach. He would guide the Broncos and their heavyweight Orange Crush defense to a 12-2 record and an AFC West division title in 1977. The Broncos would crush the dynastic Pittsburgh Steelers in the divisional round, then dispatched the Raiders in a classic AFC Conference Championship game, 20-17. At the conclusion of which, Tom Jackson said to John Madden, "It's all over fat man!"

Though the Broncos lost to the Dallas Cowboys in the Super Bowl, the Broncos and their fans were a mile high. It took 18 years of toiling for the Denver Broncos to join the ranks of the elite organizations. Though that elite status has yet to be recognized by the Hall of Fame, there is no denying which organizations dominate the NFL today.

Red Miller would follow up with two consecutive 10-6 records and one more AFC West division title, but would come up short in the playoffs both years. Having failed to win a playoff game since his first season as coach and a disappointing 8-8 finish in 1980 would lead to the firing of Red Miller as head coach. Miller would finish with an impressive winning percentage of .645, but the ownership and its fans were beginning to thirst for more than just a winning record. A yearning for greatness was forming in the Broncomaniac's psyche and one and done in the playoffs just wasn't going to cut it any longer.

Regular Season Record: 40-22
Playoff Record: 2-3
AFC West Titles: 2
AFC Championships: 1
Super Bowl Titles: 0

Dan Reeves

Head Coach: 1981-1992

Dan Reeves brought a no nonsense attitude to Denver and worked to turn the team into a professional organization whose goal was to win football games. He succeeded early, with a 10-6 record but failed to make the playoffs in 1981. A strike shortened catastrophe that was 1982 was basically a throw away season, then in 1983 the Denver Broncos landed the trade of the decade by stealing away John Elway from the Baltimore Colts. A new era would begin as the Orange Crush slowly retired and the young, energetic Elway would begin to wow fans with his amazing play.

Elway would reach the playoffs in his first two seasons, but those years ended after one playoff game. Then in 1985, the Broncos would be denied a playoff berth after winning eleven games! Seems like the Broncos got the shaft a lot back then. Missed the playoffs with a 9-5, 10-6, 10-6, and an 11-5 record. Then again, if you can't beat the teams in your own division then you don't deserve to play in January...

Dan Reeves and Elway would go on to three Super Bowl appearances in four years to go along with five division titles. Unfortunately, the Super Bowl losses piled up and the blowouts got worse each time. By the early 1990's, the relationship between Elway and Reeves was falling apart as the organization reeled from a 55-10 blowout loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl.. Finally, owner Pat Bowlen was forced to make a decision and fired Dan Reeves following the 1992 season.

Regular Season Record: 110-73-1
Playoff Record: 7-6
AFC West Titles: 5
AFC Championships: 3
Super Bowl Titles: 0

Ring of Fame Worthiness

Wade Phillips

Head Coach: 1993-1994

Wade Phillips was the Broncos defensive coordinator from 89-92 and was hired as the head coach mostly because Bowlen was unable to get his man in Mike Shanahan. Phillips kept the seat warm for two seasons, which included a playoff appearance that resulted in a blowout loss to the hated Raiders in 1993. A wholly average stint and two wasted years for Elway as Pat Bowlen waited for Shanahan to change his mind.

The one bright spot was the freedom given to John Elway to throw the ball at will. He would top 4000 yards for the first and only time in his career, but stats were no longer important to the veteran quarterback and time was running out for a chance to get that coveted Super Bowl trophy.

Regular Season Record: 16-16
Playoff Record: 0-1
AFC West Titles: 0
AFC Championships: 0
Super Bowl Titles: 0

Mike Shanahan

Head Coach: 1995-2008

The hiring of Mike Shanahan propelled the Broncos to back to back Championships in 1997 and 1998; allowing John Elway to retire at the top and allowing all Broncomaniacs to weep over the decades long struggle to the top. One might debate whether Mike Shanahan had anything to do with those Super Bowl teams, but looking back I think it was Shanahan's will and desire to win that got that team over the hump(not to mention the free agent's he brought in).

The true character of Mike Shanahan and his desire wouldn't fully be known until the years following those glorious Super Bowl years. He toiled endlessly to keep the team competitive. The Broncos would be one and done in the playoffs in 2000, 2003, and 2004. Finally in 2005, Shanahan was able to put together a solid football team and led the Broncos to a 13-3 record and its first playoff win since 1998. Unfortunately for Shanahan, the draft busts and aging veterans began to take their toll on the Broncos and on the head coach.

Starting in 2006, Mike Shanahan finally began to draft his future team and the success of his drafting was due in large part to a reorganization of the Broncos to include more people in the decision making side of the personel department. The result was the drafting of Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, Elvis Dumervil, and Tony Scheffler in 2006; followed by Jarvis Moss, Tim Crowder, Marcus Thomas, and Ryan Harris in 2007. The misses among those names are far and few between. No sure busts, but the jury could still be out on a couple of those names. The 2008 draft could very well be the best draft of Mike Shanahan's tenure as he picked up valuable contributers in every round he picked from.

Though the drafts were beginning to show dividends, no owner of an elite team can sit idly by and watch his team go 24-24 over a three year span and not take action. I still believe that this team should have gone 12-36 rather than 24-24 over this three year span and Shanahan should get credit for doing the best coaching of his career during this period. Pat Bowlen ended the Mike Shanahan era after the Denver Broncos blew a three game division lead with three games left to play, losing to the San Diego Chargers 52-21 in the final game of the season. The monumental collapse was too much for Bowlen and for the fans, but optimism is slowly returning to Broncoland and the future again looks as bright as ever.

Regular Season Record: 138-86
Playoff Record: 8-5
AFC West Titles: 3
AFC Championships: 2
Super Bowl Titles:2

Josh McDaniels

Head Coach: 2009-?

Josh McDaniels has an impressive resume and may turn out to be one of the best hires Pat Bowlen has ever made. In spite of his young age he appears to be making all the right moves to bring a Super Bowl title back to Denver in the near future. Only time will tell.

Regular Season Record: 0-0
Playoff Record: 0-0
AFC West Titles: 0
AFC Championships: 0
Super Bowl Titles: 0