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Broncos forgo continuity to upgrade offensive play calling

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The Denver Broncos will start over with a new offense in 2020, and hopefully it will lead to a much improved offense.

Philadelphia Eagles v New York Giants Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

I, like many of you, was shocked on Sunday to hear that Rich Scangarello had been let go as Denver Broncos’ offensive coordinator.

One of the primary reasons I was so surprised was all the talk from John Elway, starting at the end of last season and continuing all through the offseason, about continuity and consistency at coaching staff, especially on offense.

At his end-of-year press conference, in which he had just announced that Vance Joseph and his entire staff would be fired (meaning Denver would yet again be on the head coach carousel), Elway said this about the offensive side of the ball:

“We definitely have to get better on the offensive side. That starts with some continuity. It’s going to be very important for us to get some continuity on the offensive side. This will be our fourth system in four years. That is something that we’re really going to concentrate on, getting some continuity.”

Later at the Combine, during an answer about evaluating quarterbacks, Elway said:

“I think for us, what we’re working for and what I’d like to do is see us have some consistency offensively in what we’re doing. We’ve had three different coordinators the last three years, so we’re working together to get consistency there. That’s why that part is more important than the guy you’re sticking into it.”

Then, at the end of the 2019 season press conference right before the new year after Vic Fangio said he expected all the coaches to be retained, Elway said this about heading into next season:

“I think that obviously with what we have going for us this year with not making any head coaching changes and the fact that we’ve got some continuity there and the players know that—on the personnel side, we’re much more comfortable with Vic and his staff knowing—again, we get back to what everyone’s kind of looking for, what fits in what we do and what doesn’t fit.”

Now that last quote was more specific to having Fangio in place next year, but continuity is still a theme there.

So this seemed like a pretty hard pivot for the team to suddenly change course and fire Scangarello to bring in recently fired head coach for the Giants, Pat Shurmur.

I was initially not a fan of the move (a quick glance at my Twitter timeline from Sunday will show this is a major understatement) - and it is mainly for this reason.

I had bought into the idea that Denver would be heading into an offseason for the first time since 2014 with a head coach, offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, and starting QB in place that carried over from the year before. I, like Elway, believed that continuity after four years of constant churn on the coaching staff would be key, especially for a young offense and young quarterback.

As I reflect on the move in light of these offseason comments, two things come to mind.

1. Denver must be convinced that Shurmur is a significant upgrade at offensive coordinator.

I am certainly not for continuity just for continuity’s sake, the equivalent of keeping Mitch Trubisky or Andy Dalton at quarterback just because they’re familiar. However, I was higher on Scangarello than most here in Broncos Country, and apparently was much more optimistic about his trajectory than Vic Fangio.

I said when I first heard Scangarello was fired that the only reason the move made sense would be if they brought in someone who was a true upgrade, and given how much they had to break rank with their pre-established plan and risk throwing a wrench into Drew Lock’s development timeline, they must clearly see Shurmur as an answer on offense, which is encouraging.

To that end, Shurmur seems to also bring the key thing that Rich Scangarello brought - an ability to work with and develop young QBs. So the Broncos will not lose that with Scangarello’s departure, and perhaps will even upgrade in that department. As a QB coach under Andy Reid, Shurmur has overseen the growth of Donovan McNabb. As offensive coordinator under Chip Kelly, he helped engineer the breakout season of Nick Foles. And as interim OC in Minnesot, he was instrumental in the resurrection of Sam Bradford. Later as Vikings’ OC, he helped during Case Keenum’s breakout year, and this past year at the Giants helped in the surprising strong start from rookie Daniel Jones.

The big differentiator that Shurmur brings, which ultimately was Scangarello’s undoing, is experience as a play caller. I have said before that great offensive coordinators are both great play designers and great play callers. Scangarello was a good play designer but struggled at the play calling side.

Shurmur seems to be the opposite, as he doesn’t do anything ground breaking design-wise on offense, but he’s a skilled play caller with multiple years of experience. This could potentially be even better, especially with a young offense.

There’s power in simplicity executed to perfection and sequenced correctly. That’s the hope for Drew Lock and this Denver offense.

Side note: Joe Rowles and I will be dropping more film pieces on Shurmur’s offense soon, but in the meantime, if you’re curious about what he brings, I unknowingly broke down his offense in Minnesota when we brought in Case Keenum. Check it out here if you want to take a peek at some of Shurmur’s staple concepts.

2. John Elway trusts Vic Fangio

You’ll notice that all those quotes on continuity and the plan for the offense were from Elway. This was his philosophy and plan. Vic Fangio is likely also on board with that approach; no coach plans to have a lot of turnover on his staff.

However, the word coming from several Broncos insiders is that this firing was largely Vic Fangio’s decision, as he and Scangarello were often not on the same page offensively.

John mentioned that he would leave decisions to Fangio and essentially get out of his way and let him coach. This is a great example of that, and Elway backing up his words with action.

Elway said on he and Fangio’s relationship: “We’re on the same page, and like I said, we’re getting to know each other better. The bottom line is I don’t get in his way. If he needs something, I try to help him, and if he’s got questions, I can answer that. It’s been a great working relationship and I only plan on it getting better and better.”

Now, I’m sure Elway was consulted and ultimately signed off on the decision, but it seems that this move was more driven by Vic Fangio, which is important that Elway allowed Vic to go out and get his guy and someone he believed would take the offense where it needs to go.

Whether it all pans out remains to be seen. I am cautiously optimistic at this point and think the move makes sense for Vic as well. As a new head coach Fangio likely wants someone who has plenty of experience on the offensive side who he can essentially trust to run the show while Vic focuses on the defense. This is my conjecture, but it seems like a good setup for a still new head coach having a former head coach as his OC.

I’m sure I’ll continue to have more thoughts on this move as I dig more into the tape and the offseason begins to ramp up, but for now I have come around to the hire and look forward to seeing what Shurmur can do with this young offense, and do think he will definitely be an upgrade in the play calling department, which seems like the primary goal.

What are your thoughts, Broncos Country? So much for a dull offseason with no shakeups!