As most of us know, the current Executive Vice President of Football Operations for the Denver Broncos is John Elway. When Elway took the position, there was much discussion about his days as co-owner of the Colorado Crush Arena Football team. This was where he got his experience running a football team.
In 2003, the Colorado Crush began play in Denver's Pepsi Center as an expansion franchise. As with most expansion franchises expectations were pretty low and they were in no way exceeded in how the team played on the field... er turf.. er arena rubbery-plastic playing surface. Narrowly beating the Indiana and Tampa Bay franchises, the Crush would go 2-14 in Elway's Arena League "rookie" year as an executive. Despite the Crush's abysmal record, Elway would go on to win the Arena League's Executive of the Year honor.
In 2004, the Crush would jettison Coach Bob Beers and replace him with Mike Dailey. This would prove a wise decision. The Crush would go to the deep into the playoffs and post an impressive 11-5 record.
In 2005, the Elway would win his third professional football championship when the Crush defeated the Georgia Force in Arena Bowl XIX in Las Vegas. Though their regular season record wouldn't be as good as it was in 2004, it was enough to make the post season and beyond. As Champions the Crush finished the regular season 10-6.
Due to the 2008 financial crisis the Arena League suspended operations for the 2009 season and not all teams resumed play in 2010. The Colorado Crush was one of them. Winning two division titles and three wild card berths from 2004-2008, the Crush were a dominant team on the arena football landscape for all but one year of their existence - their first.
So looking back at this impressive track record in Elway's trial run as executive level leader, what can we learn about how he's going to look to run the Broncos? Stick with me after the jump for a look at the Broncos within the context of Elway's arena league experience.
I must begin with a caveat: I understand that the arena game is entirely different from the NFL. First off, the players play offense and defense and so OL/DL comparisons aren't possible. I also understand that Elways football experience doesn't exist solely in an Arena League vacuum. I'm sure he heavily relies on information gleaned from his playing days. However, this is just a look him from the standpoint of how his team, the Colorado Crush performed during his first run as a football executive.
When the Colorado Crush was founded, Elway hired Denver Broncos scout Bob Beers as head coach. Bob had worked under John's father, Jack Elway, as Offensive Coordinator for the World League franchise Frankfurt Galaxy from 1991-1993, so there was a close connection. Unfortunately, things didn't work out for Coach Beers and he was replaced the following season by a defensive minded coach, Mike Dailey. He turned everything around and led his team to an impressive 11 win season in 2004 and a championship in 2005. Dailey would coach the Crush until it went into inactivity in 2008.
It's interesting that Elway went the offensive route first. On the surface it make sense. The two of them could speak the same language. However, it took a defensive minded coach in Dailey to get the results that Elway was looking for. Could this be why Elway hired Fox? Probably not the only reason. Let's remember (how can we forget, right?) that our defense was in shambles. Is firing his first coach after a two win season a warning to Fox? Personally, I don't think that Fox would be run off if Denver did that bad, but should it go that route; don't think that Elway won't be casually looking to upgrade. He clearly doesn't like to lose.
Colorado Crush QB John Dutton helmed the franchise from it's inception to its final game. During that time he averaged 62.5% completion and 110.03 QB rating. I could go into touchdowns, number of completions and yards (of which there are a ridiculous amount) but because it's the arena game, I don't think they apply.
So this is clearly the sticky issue in Broncos country. This year, Kyle Orton has completed an average of 64.4% of his passes and has an 84.5 QB rating. Using John Dutton as Elway's "gold standard", he's exceeding in completion percentage and falling well short in QB rating. Of course, Orton is also falling behind in the win column. It's worth noting that Orton's stats are, not surprisingly, padded by the Green Bay game wherein his completion percentage was a season high 68% and he amassed his third highest QB rating in 87.1. Essentially this confirms what many say, when the game is out of reach Orton is money for stat accumulation. A change at QB is more than likely coming. Just who will replace him, we don't yet know...
Looking at Tim Tebow. From his three games last year he amassed an average 49.7% completion and an 82.7 QB rating. This is clearly nowhere near the standard that Dutton set and is worse than Orton's. Of course Tebow brings what Orton can't, the ability to run the ball if necessary and unparallelled leadership ability. Of course, Tebow has been practicing and learning since the games last year and stands to benefit from the return of offensive coordinator Mike McCoy. However, if he wants to unseat Orton and hang on with the Broncos in future years, he's going to have it improve those stats to something close to what Dutton gave Elway in those championship seasons.
As an aside, I'm sure that Tebow's rushing ability clouds things in a way that Elway hasn't encountered as an executive. In the Crush's 2005 championship season the team as a whole amassed in 87 attempts 183 rushing yards. The whole team. The entire year. I don't really have a conclusion to draw from this, but it's interesting.
During the Crush's run, there was one WR that stood out and that's Damian Harrell. He won Offensive Player of the Year honors in 2005 and 2006 and made the All Arena team in 2007. John Dutton's success is largely attributable to the skills of this wide receiver. I'd love to go into his stats, but being an arena athlete they're absolutely too insane to relate to the NFL game. Let's just put it this way, Damien Harrell = Stud. (Incidentally, Harrell is still in the arena game, playing for the Milwaukee Mustangs. I urge you to google that team. You might find their logo familiar...)
So what can we glean from the presence of Damian Harrell on the Championship team? It's not an Earth shattering finding. Nothing that will rock your world. Elway wants a bona fide stud at wide reciever. Could that be Brandon Lloyd? Possibly. What about Demarius Thomas? If he can't get on the field and produce his days are numbered. I wouldn't be surprised if the Broncos brought in a highly regarded WR next year either though the draft or in free agency to compete. It's hard to deny the success that Elway had as an executive of a successful Arena team without noting how productive Damien Harrell was. Who's to say that Elway doesn't yearn for that again?
For those of you wondering if the Crush will ever come back to Colorado, here's the latest via wikipedia:
Negotiations with a Denver ownership group (known not to be the Elway group) are underway for a 2012 AFL expansion franchise in Denver, but it is unclear whether or not it will use the Crush branding or that of the Denver Dynamite, an earlier AFL team. Like the Dallas Desperados, the Crush's branding is partially based on NFL teams (the Denver Broncos and St. Louis Rams, though to a much lesser degree), which could give Pat Bowlen and/or Stan Kroenke a potential veto over any usage of the Colorado Crush branding.