Okay, question and answer time: Name three current stars (however you want to define the word) of the Denver Broncos. I can imagine most of you saying, "Jeez, Brian, how about something more challenging?" Alright, name three stars of the Broncos from the 1990s. Still not challenging enough? How about three from each of the following decades: 1980s, 1970s, 1960s. Not hard at all, is it? As fans, we tend to remember the players that are the stars -- and occasionally the goats.
So, let's make this a little harder. How many of the Denver Broncos fourteen head coaches can you name? I'm including the interim head coaches in that count, by the way. Still not hard enough for you? Let's try this then:
How many of you can name the fourteen general managers who have served the Broncos since their founding?
Wait . . . what? The Broncos have had general managers? Didn't the head coach always serve in that capacity? Hmmmm, is this a trick question?
No, Bronco faithfuls, Denver has, in fact, had fourteen general managers. Take a jump with me and meet these often overlooked and forgotten men.
Since the Broncos were founded in 1959 and opened play in 1960, fourteen men have been tapped to serve the Broncos with the title "General Manager." Tenures of these often overlooked members of the franchise have ranged from a single year to the longest tenure of fourteen years. One or two might be names that we all recognize, though I'd be willing to bet the overwhelming majority have barely been awarded a footnote in our attention.
1960-61 - Dean Griffing
Griffing was brought in by owner Bob Howsam and retained by Gerald Phipps when he bought the team in 1961. The head coach at the time was Frank Filchock. Griffing brought three key characteristics to the fledgeling franchise: coaching experience, general manager experience and a reputation for frugality. He has spent time as both the coach and the general manager of the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the Canadian Football League. He also served in similar capacities with the CFL's Toronto and Calgary clubs. He returned to Saskatechewan when Frank Filchock became the Roughriders' head coach. After his time in the CFL, Griffing became the executive director of the Optimist Bowl -- a now defunct, non-Division I bowl about which very little can be found. He was brought to the Broncos to team with Filchock.
His reputation for careful money management was a primary reason for his hiring. In fact, Griffing is generally blamed for the hideous mustard and brown uniforms worn by the cash-strapped Broncos during their first two seasons. Depending on which story you choose to believe, those uniforms were purchased used from either a high school or a college team. Frank Filchock has been quoted as having said that the uniforms were so small that he had to cut the sleeves in order to throw the football.
He was part of the management team that brought such players as QB Frank Tripucka, WR Lionel Taylor, S Goose Gonsoulin and K Gene Mingo to the Broncos.
The Broncos went 4-9-1 and 3-11-0 during Griffing's two years with the team.
1962-64 - Jack Faulkner
When Jack Faulkner was brought in to replace Frank Filchock as head coach, he quickly determined that the direction he wanted to take the Broncos and the direction Dean Griffing wanted to go were not well-aligned. Owner Gerald Phipps agreed with Faulkner and Griffing was fired. Faulkner was subsequently named general manager in addition to his head coach title. Faulkner is often noted for having brought two significant changes to the team. First, he abandoned the mustard and brown color scheme in favor of an orange, blue and white one. He went so far as to hold a public bonfire at which the old uniforms were burned -- though it has been noted that one pair of the vertically striped socks found its way into the NFL's Hall of Fame, and former head coach Red Miller has admitted to having kept a pair. The second change Faulkner brought was a massive overhaul of the roster. He did not keep many of the veterans brought in by Filchock -- this, in the years to come would prove to be a less than effective move.
When it comes to player acquisition, Faulkner is often remembered as having traded a 1964 and a 1965 draft pick to Houston for Oiler QB Jackie Lee. That 1965 pick ended up in the hands of the New York Jets who used it to select QB Joe Namath.
During Faulkner's tenure, the Broncos went 7-7-0, 2-11-1, and 2-11-1.
1965-66 - James Burris
Owner Gerald Phipps decided that change was needed and so he replaced Faulkner with Mac Speedie as head coach. Speedie served only in 1965 and part of 1966 before being replaced by Ray Malavasi. James Burris was brought in to take over the administrative duties. His position was first titled "Executive Vice President" in 1965, then changed to "Executive Vice President/General Manager" in 1966. Burris had been in charge of Phipps' Empire Sports, Inc. -- the management team which oversaw all aspects of both the Broncos operations as well the minor league Denver Bears baseball team. His appointment was reputedly well received by fans in the Denver area.
He oversaw a team that was largely composed of those players brought to Denver by Jack Faulkner.
The Broncos recorded back-to-back 4-10-0 seasons during Burris' tenure as general manager.
1967-71 - Lou Saban
Phipps and the Broncos decided more changes were needed in 1967, so they secured the services of Lou Saban as head coach -- who had coached the Buffalo Bills to the AFL title in consecutive years (1964-65). Saban was also named the team's general manager. When brought on board, he stressed that the goals were to build a solid organization and to win football games. Saban was a driving force behind a fund raising campaign which allowed the city of Denver to purchase the stadium and expand its seating to 50,657. The stadium was subsequently renamed "Mile High Stadium."
Saban was also known for having brought in a number of talented players who would become well-known Broncos: RB Floyd Little (4 Pro Bowls, 1 All Pro, Hall of Fame), WR Al Denson (2 Pro Bowls), DE Rich "Tombstone" Jackson (3 Pro Bowls, 1 All Pro), DT Dave Costa (3 Pro Bowls), DT Paul Smith, DE Lyle Alzado, CB Billy Thompson and K Jim Turner, to name a few.
With Saban as both the head coach and general manager, the Broncos saw records of 3-11-0, 5-9-0, 5-8-1, 5-8-1 and 4-9-1.
1972-76 - John Ralston
When Gerald Phipps decided to bring John Ralston aboard as the new head coach of the Broncos, he elected to give Ralston the same powers he had previously given to both Jack Faulkner and Lou Saban -- a dual role as both head coach and general manager. Ralston was lured away from Standford University after leading the Cardinal to consecutive Rose Bowl titles. Known for his upbeat and positive style of coaching, Ralston lead the Broncos to their first ever winning season.
Some notable names joined the Broncos during Ralston's tenure, including: QB Charley Johnson, RB Otis Armstrong, WR Haven Moses, FB Jon Keyworth, WR Rick Upchurch, TE Riley Odoms, T Claudie Minor, G Tom Glassic, DE Barney Chavous, NT Reuben Carter, LB Tom Jackson, LB Randy Gradishar and CB Louis Wright.
The Broncos went 5-9-0, 7-5-2, 7-6-1, 6-8-0 and 9-5-0 under Ralston's direction.
1977-80 - Fred Gehrke
When Ralston was unable to deliver a post season berth to the Broncos, Phipps made another change: he decided to split the general manager's position away from the head coach's. He promoted Denver's Assistant General Manager, Fred Gehrke to the new post. Gehrke was given one clearly defined task: provide the coaching staff with what it needed in order to build a championship team. Gehrke and Phipps first step was to hire former Denver assistant coach, Red Miller, as the new head coach.
Gehrke then went out to find players to assist the new head coach in chasing a championship. He brought players like QB Craig Morton, S Bernard Jackson, C Mike Montler and T Andy Mauer. This strategy paid off when the Broncos won their first ever back-to-back AFC West titles and made a Super Bowl appearance.
During his tenure, the Broncos posted records of 12-2-0, 10-6-0, 10-6-0 and 8-8-0. Denver won the AFC West twice, and made a playoff appearance as a Wild Card team. Their best season came in Gehrke's first year, as in 1977 the Broncos won the AFC Championship. Unfortunately, Denver lost 27-10 to the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl XII.
1981-82 - Grady Alderman
In 1981, Gerald Phipps sold his controlling interest in the team to Edgar Kaiser. Kaiser chose to "clean house" as he took control and fired both head coach Red Miller and general manager Fred Gehrke. They were replaced by Dan Reeves and Grady Alderman, respectively. Alderman came with a reputation built through time spent as a player and as a broadcaster. He also came with a strong background in business and accounting and had served as the Director of Planning and Development for the Minnesota Vikings.
Alderman did not make major changes to the roster during his tenure. Perhaps the most notable addition from his time as general manager was the addition of barefoot kicker Rich Karlis.
With Alderman as general manager, the Broncos went 10-6-0 and 2-7-0 (in a strike marred 1982 season).
1983 - Hein Polus
This was a general manager about whom very little information is documented. He had served as a member of the Denver Broncos Board of Directors, beginning with their purchase by Edgar Kaiser in 1981. He had previously served in Kaiser's organization as an executive assistant to the chairman of the board and as an executive vice-president.
As a general manager, he was part of the front office that brought QB John Elway and RB Sammy Winder to the Broncos.
The Broncos went 9-7-0 in Polus' only season as the general manager and though they made the post season, the Broncos lost to Seattle 7-31 in the Wild Card round.
1984 - None listed
In 1984, ownership of the Broncos passed from Edgar Kaiser to Pat Bowlen. Although there was no listing of a general manager for that year, John Beake appears in the Media Guide with the title "Assistant General Manager." This season saw LB Rick Dennison become a starter, the Broncos go 13-3-0 to win the AFC West and, sadly, lose to the Pittsburgh Steelers 17-24 in a Divisional round playoff game.
1985-98 - John Beake
Beake was officially recognized as the Broncos' general manager in 1985. He also had the longest tenure of any of the Broncos' general managers. He was entering his seventh season with the franchise, having previously served as the Director of Pro Personnel (1979) and the Director of Player Personnel (1981). He brought with him sixteen years worth of coaching and administrating experience. He srved with head coaches Dan Reeves, WAde Phillips and Mike Shanahan. He was part of the front office that helped the Broncos win two Super Bowl titles. He was responsible for the day-to-day operations of franchise administration with a special focus on contract negotiations.
Thanks to Beake's efforts, the Broncos gained such players as LB Karl Mecklenburg, WR Vance Johnson, DE Andre Townsend, NT Greg Kragen, K David Treadwell, S Steve Atwater, C Tom Nalen, TE Shannon Sharpe, and T Gary Zimmerman, to name just a few.
During Beake's fourteen seasons as general manager, the Broncos: posted nine seasons with a winning record, three seasons with a .500 record and only two seasons with a losing record. They won six division titles and made eight playoff appearances. Denver also won the AFC championship five times and went on to win the Super Bowl twice.
1999-2001 - Neal Dahlen
In 1999, John Beake was promoted to the position of Vice President of Administration. He was replaced as general manager by Neal Dahlen. Dahlen has spent the previous four seasons as Denver's Director of Player Personnel -- which represented only a portion of his thirty-six years worth of experience in football, including being part of the the San Francisco teams that won five Super Bowls. He was involved in all aspects of player acquisition and he was tasked with a wide variety of administrative duties.
Perhaps the hardest duty Dahlen faced was overseeing the transition of the Broncos away from being John Elway-led. Among the players the Dahlen-led front office brought in were: QB Brian Griese, RB Olandis Gary, RB Mike Anderson, RB Terrell Davis, T Matt Lepsis, LB Al Wilson, and S Kennoy Kennedy to name a few.
During his tenure, the Broncos went 6-10-0, 11-5-0 and 8-8-0. Denver made the playoffs following the 2000 regular season but lost 3-21 to Baltimore in the Wild Card round.
2002-07 - Ted Sundquist
Like Beake before him, Dahlen was promoted to the Broncos' Director of Football Administration. Owner Pat Bowlen chose Ted Sundquist to replace him and work alongside head coach Mike Shanahan. Sundquist was entering his eleventh season with the team, having served in a variety of capacities within the player personnel department. His specialties were budget management and contract negotiations. As the general manager, Sundquist oversaw the scouting department as well as being responsible for such diverse tasks as salary cap management, video technologies, equipment, training and medical personnel.
During his tenure, the Broncos acquired such players as RB Clinton Portis, LB Ian Gold, RB Reuben Droughns, WR Ashley Lelie, QB Jake Plummer, CB Champ Bailey, LB D. J. Williams, S John Lynch, QB Jay Cutler, RB Tatum Bell, WR Javon Walker, WR Brandon Stokley, WR Brandon Marshall and G Chris Kuper.
The Broncos posted winning seasons in five out of Sundquist's six seasons as general manager. They went to the playoffs three times: losing to Indianapolis in the Wild Card round in consecutive years before making it to the AFC Championship game in 2005.
2008 - Jim Goodman
Ted Sundquist was fired by owner Pat Bowlen after the Broncos posted a 7-9-0 record in 2007, apparently having reached a point of irreconcilable differences with head coach Mike Shanahan . He was replaced by Jim Goodman, whose official title was Vice President of Football Operations/Player Personnel. Goodman had served the Broncos in a variety of capacities: South region scout (1998-2001), Director of College Scouting (2002-05), Director of Player Personnel (2005-07). He had been lured away from Rice University where he had built a reputation as an elite recruiter. Goodman was given charge of the day-to-day operations of the franchise, the team's scouting process, draft preparation, and the evaluation/acquisition of players -- both college and veteran.
During his brief tenure, Goodman was part of the team that brought in T Ryan Clady, WR Eddie Royal, FB Spencer Larsen and RB Peyton Hills.
The Broncos went 8-8-0 in 2008 and missed the playoffs.
2009-11 - Brian Xanders
After three consecutive seasons without a playoff appearance, owner Pat Bowlen opted to make a change. He fired head coach/de facto general manager Mike Shanahan and replaced him with rookie head coach Josh McDaniels. Brian Xanders, who had been with the team as an assistant general manager in 2008 was promoted to the position of General Manager. After McDaniels was fired in 2010, Xanders worked with head coach John Fox in 2011. Xanders brought with him sixteen years of experience in the NFL. He was given charge of evaluating player talent, directing the scouting department, directing the pro personnel department, overseeing off-season acquisitions, supervising football operations, supervising labor operations and overseeing the equipment, medical, video and turf departments. Though there has been some debate as to just how much control he had while Josh McDaniels was the head coach, he was part of the front office that saw an incredible forty-six new player acquisitions in 2009 (including the signing of sixteen unrestricted free agents).
Xanders was part of the front office that brought RB Knowshon Moreno, QB Kyle Orton, DE Robert Ayers, WR Demaryius Thomas, WR Eric Decker, QB Tim Tebow, DB Syd'Quan Thompson, G Zane Beadles and C J. D. Walton to the Broncos, to name a few.
During Xanders' tenure, the Broncos posted records of 8-8-0, 4-12-0 and 8-8-0 -- that last record was good enough to win the AFC West and give the Broncos their first postseason appearance since 2005. They went on to defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers 29-23 in OT in a Wild Card game, but lost to the New England Patriots 10-45 in a Divisional round game.
As a footnote to Xander's tenure, he and the Broncos agreed to a mutual parting of the ways. It is my understanding that John Elway will be handling the major duties of a general manager assisted by Matt Russell as Director of Player Personnel, Keith Kidd as Director of Pro Personnel and Mike Sullivan as Director of Football Administration. It will be fun to see how that all plays out.
Many thanks to the Denver Broncos for posting their Media Guides online. They provide a wonderful wealth of information -- such as information about the Broncos' general managers -- that is not readily available anywhere else.