No matter how today’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs goes, 2021 will mark the Denver Broncos’ sixth straight season without a postseason appearance and the fifth consecutive losing season. With second year general manager George Paton set to take over the top spot in the Broncos’ front office, it’s fair to wonder if he’ll hit reset on John Elway’s last coaching staff.
Should Paton retain Vic Fangio as head coach?
AJ: I don’t believe he should. Yes, the defense closed the season strong. There’s no denying that. There’s an argument to be made to keep the continuity going for some guys like Patrick Surtain II and Baron Browning. I get it. The problem is...everything else was bad. The game management was poor at best. We all saw how the challenges went. The guy he hired as OC? Bad. The STs coach he hired? Bad. They’ve both been significant drawbacks on the team’s performance this year. Can we trust the guy to make the right hires? Can we even trust him to fire them? Fangio’s a great defensive coach and a great guy and the Broncos could do worse, but there are too many question marks for me to be comfortable keeping him around.
Joe: If the Broncos weren’t in the midst of a huge leadership vacuum with a new owner on the way in March, would this even be a question? I doubt it.
Fangio has more losses through three seasons than any other head coach in franchise history and the guy who hired him is leaving the front office in a few days. The issues with clock and game management are notable. While I think it made sense to give Pat Shurmur a second year with more to work with, that Fangio employed McMahon as his special teams coordinator the last three years is indefensible. If he’s retained it has to be contingent on finding upgrades for both spots, and that may be a tough ask when he’s on an expiring contract and what looks like “for sale” signs at Dove Valley.
There’s certainly things Fangio brings to the table, of course. The way he’s kept the defense competitive throughout his tenure despite Von Miller and Bradley Chubb playing in all of five games together cross three years is pretty incredible. He’s among the best defensive play callers in the league and provides his teams a puncher’s chance at slowing down Patrick Mahomes. His defensive staff has also proven themselves capable of developing players outside of the early rounds the last three years.
If Paton does decide to retain Fangio, the biggest reason for hope is if general manager can find a real solution to the Broncos’ QB conundrum. Fangio’s had 10 passers start games since John Elway hired him in 2019 and the best of them was Teddy Bridgewater. The problem is unless Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson land in Denver, there may not be an option that doesn’t look like the fourth best arm in the AFC West.
The fact that Fangio would enter 2022 as a lame duck leads me to believe it’s probably best for the Broncos to move on this offseason. With that said, the initial short list of replacements leaves me pretty queasy about where Paton goes from here.
Should Pat Shurmur return as offensive coordinator?
AJ: Nope. Nada. No way. There’s a sick world where I can see it happening because the NFL always finds a way for mediocre coaches to stick around, but there’s no real reason to keep him around.
Joe: There were few reasons I believed Pat Shurmur should return this past year. I thought it made sense to have some year-to-year consistency on offense after the Broncos cycled through five different play callers in as many seasons. That Covid-19 derailed a young offense led by Drew Lock also meant a “normal” year could provide a better opportunity to evaluate Shurmur’s work.
Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Lock are to going to place a glass ceiling on any offense, but it’s fair to say that Shurmur was a massive disappointment in 2021. According to Football Outsiders DVOA metric, the Broncos offense played one of the easiest schedules in football this year and still averaged less than 20 points a game. They finished among the worst goal-to-go offenses in the league.
Worse than the numbers themselves is how Denver got there. Then Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler’s injuries in September knocked the Broncos receiving corps. down to Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick, and Diontae Spencer. Instead of pushing towards more personnel groups with a talented tight end room, Shurmur leaned into more 11 personnel as Paton shifted through veterans trying to find a contributor. They never really found one, though Kendall Hinton had some promising moments. As an aside, the way the offense struggled without Jeudy is also one reason I think the concerns about his touchdown numbers is overblown.
Shurmur also displayed troubling inability to self scout in games. During the early part of the season he was the most consistent part of the offense and yet received just six carries in the first half of week four, despite averaging 6.5 yards a tote. The most obvious recent example came in the second game against the Los Angeles Chargers.
Facing a 10 point deficit, Drew Lock led the Broncos’ offense to the 2-yard-line on his first drive back from an injury to his throwing shoulder. Facing fourth and goal, Shurmur dialed up a Philly Special. Lock handed the ball off to Mike Boone, who then threw a pitch to Kendall Hinton. Hinton then threw the pass back to Lock, who was tackled short of the goal line.
If Fangio’s out, does Ed Donatell come back as defensive coordinator?
AJ: Probably not. Donatell’s 64 years old and has been following Fangio since the 2011 49ers. With a new staff on the way, I don’t see him returning at all.
Joe: AJ hit it on the head. I suspect Donatell goes where Fangio does.
“We want to be a top defense in this league.”— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) July 29, 2021
DC Ed Donatell has high expectations for this season. pic.twitter.com/OebP6gktmd
Is there any way Tom McMahon returns as special teams coordinator?
AJ: He shouldn’t. Plain and simple. It makes no sense to me, personally. We’ve seen him repeatedly make mistakes and cost the team drives and games over and over. Paton might have been fine with keeping him the first year, but now going into his second year, he should flex his muscles. When Paton was in Minnesota, they went through four special teams coaches. He’s no stranger to that process.
Joe: I don’t think I’ll ever understand how he’s coached the Broncos’ special teams this long, if we’re being honest. Denver’s had one of the worst special teams in football over the last four years with some ridiculous snafus that will remain lowlights from this era of ineptitude for years to come.
Should Mike Munchak return as offensive line coach?
AJ: Munchak is one of the best offensive line coaches in the game, period. It’s certainly fair to question the 2021 offensive line’s performance, but by and large, Munchak has long excelled as an offensive line coach. From that standpoint, there’s not a real reason why he shouldn’t return. To me, it’s just going to be a personal choice of the new HC/OC.
Joe: Since Munchak was hired in 2019 the Broncos have drafted four offensive linemen: Dalton Risner, Lloyd Cushenberry, Netane Muti, and Quinn Meinerz. All have taken lumps during their time in the staritng lineup, but NFL history shows that it tends to take a few years for linemen to develop in the league. Over that same time Garrett Bolles has earned an All Pro bid and developed into a good left tackle.
While I have some qualms related to passing on a tackle in the 2020 and 2021 draft, I do believe in what the Broncos are trying to build along the offensive line and Munchak has a reputation as one of the best at developing offensive lineman. I hope he sticks around.
Outstanding value & pick for the Broncos getting Quinn Meinerz at pick 98. Strong, athletic, tough, versatile interior player who gets to develop under a top 2 OL coach in the game in Mike Munchak. You love to see it.— Brandon Thorn (@BrandonThornNFL) May 1, 2021
Summary & report: https://t.co/Y2driVIklz pic.twitter.com/rREOVNvKsI
Does it make sense to retain Bill Kollar to coach the defensive line?
AJ: Bill predated Fangio in Denver, and it’s clear that he’s well-liked internally. However, the man is almost 70 years old. The defensive line needs to get better moving forward as well. If Fangio is gone, which seems likely, the new HC/DC will likely want his own choice of a coach. I’d be surprised if they kept him, but who knows?
Joe: It makes sense, sure. Comes down to the head coach.
Who among the rest of the assistant coaches have the best odds to return?
AJ: Yeah, there are a couple I think have a good shot at returning.
On offense, outside of Munchak, WRs coach Zach Azzanni also makes sense to return. Azzanni is a long-time receivers coach and has been successful virtually everywhere he’s gone. The growth of Tim Patrick under his tutelage has been a welcome surprise for the Broncos' offense. Outside of him, there are not many on offense I’d make the case for. RBs coach Curtis Modkins has been around for a while, so that’s a possibility, but I’m hesitant to say.
On defense, the main name I think should stick around is DBs coach Christian Parker. I’ve heard nothing but positive things about him, and look at the growth of the DBs this year under him. At cornerback, Surtain’s already playing like a top-10 corner in the NFL. Ronald Darby, who has long been inconsistent, showed up and played well to close the season. Nate Hairston played very well in a reserve nickel/dime role after being on a bit of a decline before this year. In the safety room, look at the growth of guys like PJ Locke and Caden Sterns. Each of those guys shined when they played, and neither were high draft picks like Surtain was. There’s tangible growth in that unit, and I think Parker is a big reason why. There’s a case for LBs coach Reggie Herring as well, given the play and growth of guys like Baron Browning and Jonas Griffith this season. He’s been a LBs coach for a long time and has an impressive resume of names under him.
Joe: I concur. Honestly, one of the arguments in Fangio’s favor is that so many of the assistant coaches are doing a good job developing players.
What do you want Paton to do with the Broncos’ coaching staff?
This poll is closed
Dump Fangio and the coordinators, keep some assistants
Keep Vic, fire the big names, keep some of the little guys
Keep them all.
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