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Who Will Lead The Denver Broncos in 2011 and Beyond?

There is never a dull moment with the Denver Broncos, be it good or bad, and let me just start this by saying that this team has been a dream for a prospective journalist. The Broncos have provided the media with so much to talk about, and much of it has been of the negative variety, over the last three years or so.

As we approach 2011, here's to hoping this season is forgiven but never forgotten by the Broncos and their fans, and the news surrounding the team is decidedly more positive.

The Denver Broncos are a storied NFL franchise. Despite their woes since John Elway left the team, this has been one of the most beloved and popular franchises in all of professional sports since the 1980's, and owner Pat Bowlen is considered to be one of the most respectable in the business.

Bowlen had a tough decision to make in regards to his proud franchise, and he pulled the trigger on Monday night by firing head coach Josh McDaniels, who will be replaced in the interim by Eric Studesville, formerly the running backs coach.

Studesville spoke to the media on Tuesday and had the look and sound of an NFL head coach. He was forthright, honest, candid, and legitimately excited about his opportunity to lead the Denver Broncos out of the ruins of the NFL. But will he be the Broncos' long term answer?

What comes next for this organization?


 Well, what's next is a game with the Arizona Cardinals, who could be starting rookie quarterback John Skelton. Derek Anderson will likely play if he's healthy, but he had concussion symptoms, and those are not taken lightly in the NFL. Coach Studesville stated at his press conference today that Kyle Orton would remain the starting quarterback, much to the chagrin of many fans.

The game against Arizona along with games against Oakland, Houston, and San Diego are what loom for the Broncos. Obviously, this team has huge issues to attend to, but playing the games is why everyone gets paid the big bucks, so those are first on the agenda.

As for the offseason, I think the first move made will be to hire John Elway. All signs point to that as a legitimate move, and Joe Ellis told us all today that Elway is already heavily involved in the team right now. It's up to the Broncos to make it official, and Ellis also stated that both parties have mutual respect and mutual interest in each other.

Bringing in Elway doesn't seem like a matter of "if" but a matter of "when?"

Many have been skeptical of bringing in Elway to the front office, but nobody is suggesting that he have full control over personnel. As I stated previously, Elway's role with the team likely will be one both in terms of public image and building for the future. It's easily forgotten that Elway knows football. He played the game for the better part of two decades, he went to five Super Bowls, he played for a bunch of coaches, and he saw how this organization is run.

Elway also has great connections, has been an owner of a professional sports team, and can be a great recruiting tool for the Broncos in terms of free agency. To me, Elway has immense value to this organization not only in the front office, but also in terms of being around our players, lending a hand in any way possible.

This move is one that should be made, and if it is, it will likely be made before any other.


The next move will be to hire someone in charge of formulating this team. Brian Xanders is currently the General Manager, and will remain in that position until the end of the year. Xanders has been instrumental in many of the Broncos' biggest moves, and it's hard to envision the front office moving on from him.

That being said, he could just as easily be in jeopardy of losing his job as anyone else is, so he will be evaluated at the end of the year. Even though Xanders had the title of GM, Josh McDaniels had the final say in what player was brought in and he had full control over personnel.

The Broncos need that to change.

Whether it's Xanders who will be calling th shots, I cannot say for sure. What I can say based on Ellis' comments today is that the head coach will not have control over the front office. The head coach will be just that, and a separate role will be carved out for the man in charge of building the team.

Here are some candidates for the Broncos' new General Manager:

Brian Xanders (Broncos)

As I mentioned, Xanders is already here. He has been here for a while, and the team could certainly continue to press onward and upward with him in his new General Manager role calling the shots. He will make his first official moves as general manager today when he fills the slots left by Joe Mays and Dan Gronkowski, who were sent to injured reserve.

Xanders is known as a numbers guy, but he and the Broncos' scouting department have brought in some high quality young players, and Pat Bowlen might want that to continue.


Mike Lombardi (NFL Network)

Lombardi was with the Broncos and Raiders previously, and certainly had other jobs. Most recently, he has a position at NFL Network as an analyst and still has very close connections to the Denver Broncos. He was the one who reported that Elway could have a position in the front office, and suggested that Gary Kubiak could be our head coach should he get fired from Houston.

Lombardi is also a Tim Tebow supporter, and could build a team around our young quarterback.


Marty Schottenheimer (Chargers)

Marty and Elway in the front office would be weird for those fans who remember back to the Dog Pound days of yore and "The Drive" from Elway and the Broncos with Marty standing on the opposing sideline, but it could be a lethal combination.

Schottenheimer has done nothing in the NFL but win ball games (not Super Bowls) and knows how to build a talented roster. If he is interested in a return to football, the Broncos could come calling. He has roots in a 3-4 defense and built an incredible team in San Diego that has dominated the AFC West for years.


Eric DeCosta (Ravens)

Currently the Director of Player Personnel with the Ravens, DeCosta has helped build one of the most dominant franchises of the last 10-15 years. He has been part of the Ravens since they became a franchise, and has played second fiddle to Ozzie Newsome for a long time. Perhaps he is ready to branch away and build a team of his own.

Certainly a general manager who takes the best player available and makes calculated risks would be welcome to Broncos fans who wouldn't have to worry about their general manager trading away draft picks for unproven commodities.

DeCosta could be a dream scenario for Broncos fans.


Those are just a few options for the Broncos, who could certainly look in other directions. Charlie Casserly is available, as is Floyd Reese. Both are proven general managers in the NFL who are theoretically available for hire.


When the team has a front office in place and stablized, it will be time for the head coaching search to begin. In 2008, the Broncos had fired Mike Shanahan before the new year, and hired Josh McDaniels on January 11th, 2009. I expect the front office to be figured out immediately after the season so the team can evaluate who its next coach will be.

When thinking about prospective head coaches, one has to ask, "Why should coach X choose the Denver Broncos?"

That is a good question. Let's break it down:

  • The Broncos have a young quarterback in Tim Tebow with which to build around
  • The Broncos have a young running back playing the best football of his life in Knowshon Moreno
  • The Broncos have one of the best wide receiver groups in the NFL
  • The Broncos have a stable offensive line that lacks only depth
  • The Broncos have a top ten draft pick
  • The Broncos have four draft picks in the first three rounds
  • The Broncos have a sack champion in Elvis Dumervil

Those are probably the biggest things the Broncos have going for them right now, and some have to be very attractive to head coaches who don't want to go through a huge rebuilding process on BOTH sides of the ball. The Broncos clearly have things they need to work on defensively, but the offense at least appears to be set for the time being.

So who are the head coaching candidates? Let's look at a preliminary list of guys who could call the shots for Denver next year.


Eric Studesville (Broncos Interim Head Coach)

Studesville will be given a chance to turn this franchise around in four games, and it starts with a relatively easy contest against the Arizona Cardinals, who are another franchise in disarray. The running backs coach is a very passionate guy, and he just looks like a football coach.

He will be given the first opportunity to show what he can do as the Broncos' head coach, and by my estimation, he's starting out correctly. He's taken a ton of pressure off of himself by making Mike McCoy the offensive coordinator and keeping Don Martindale calling the shots defensively. Studesville is allowing himself to focus on the team as a whole, though he will still focus on the running backs.

He will likely be interviewed, and will help the Broncos satisfy the Rooney Rule.


Troy Calhoun (Air Force Head Coach)

Calhoun took his name off the list today, even though I woke up this morning near certain he was the best man for the job. He is a high character guy with great football roots who has coached for the Broncos before. He is well-balanced, and has been an offensive coordinator for the Houston Texans as well as a quarterbacks coach.

His Falcons lead the NCAA in rushing, and he has Bronco orange in his blood.

He is no longer a candidate until proven otherwise, but was considered one of the top candidates in the early going.


Leslie Frazier (Minnesota Vikings Interim Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator)

Frazier was one of the men we interviewed the last time we had a head coaching search, and all indications were it was a two man race between he and Josh McDaniels.

Frazier has led the Vikings to a couple of victories since Brad Childress was fired, and it looks as though the Vikings could give him an extension if his team continues to perform well.

The problem is, Frazier will be losing Brett Favre, and the front office will put him in a tough situation if they opt for a rookie quarterback. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell is also a solid head coaching candidate, and he could bolt for another team leaving Frazier with a tough decision.

I expect him to test the head coaching free agency waters, and Denver is a legitimate possibility for him.


Darrell Bevell (Minnesota Vikings Offensive Coordinator)

This one was suggested by, and I kind of like it. Bevell's offense is slightly conservative, but the Vikings were a team that had interest in Tim Tebow, and Bevell could hire some of his minions to continue to mold the young quarterback.

The Vikings also have one of the NFL's best running attacks, thanks large in part to Adrian Peterson being the beast taht he is.

Bevell is an interesting possibility, but maybe not the most likely.


Bill Cowher, Brian Billick, or John Fox

All big names, but are they good fits for Denver?

Cowher has been publicly critical of the Broncos lately, Billick was critical of our young quarterback, and John Fox has won in the past but if Carolina doesn't want him, why should we?

None of these guys seem likely to me. Either that, or they'd require too much power.


Jon Gruden

Jon Gruden loves Tebow, so he seems like an obvious candidate. However, he has stated numerous times that he loves his job with Monday Night Football and has turned down other coaching opportunities. He has won in the past, and I personally think he's great. I would love to see him roaming the sidelines for Denver, and if money is not an option, they should bring him in for a visit.

I think Gruden would return to coaching if given the right opportunity, and coaching Tebow could be the window he jumps through.


Jason Garrett and Ron Rivera

Two hot coaching prospects right now. In the case of Garrett, I think he will stay with the Cowboys. They have been rejuvenated under his authority, and he is one of the highest paid assistants in the NFL. He is the interim coach for the Cowboys with Wade Phillips being fired, and interviewed with Denver the last time they looked for a new head coach.

If Dallas lets him go, he is certainly going to be a candidate.

Ron Rivera has led the league's top ranked defense, and has adapted well to multiple schemes. So much so, in fact, that I would be willing to label him a defensive "genius" or "guru". He is a strong candidate if the Broncos would decide they want him as a head coach, but I like him more as a coordinator than a head coach.


Jim Harbaugh and Mike Leach

Harbaugh is a name that has been thrown around a lot recently, and he might be as hot as any coaching prospect right now. He has led Stanford to their best bowl game in a long, long time, and has shown he can develop elite offensive talent.

He is a former NFL quarterback, and his brother John coaches the Baltimore Ravens. If Harbaugh intends on calling the offensive plays, I am skeptical. If he intends on being the head coach, I am all aboard.

Mike Leach is a ridiculous suggestion, but it has been thrown out there. Formerly of Texas Tech, he implements a spread offense that puts up ridiculous passing numbers.

I will pass on that one, and I don't even know why he was suggested as a legitimate candidate. If the Broncos even interview him, I will be disappointed.


Gary Kubiak

Kubiak still coaches the Texans, but rumors are flying rampant that he could be fired. If he is, I would think Denver would be a place he would certainly return to.

He used to play and coach for the Broncos, and has ties to the organization. If Denver can bring him in as head coach, I think he would do a fine job.

Still, he's not available yet, so hiring him is not even a possibility as of right now.


There are sure to be other candidates, but those are the ones that stand out for right now.