When the "hot seat" lists come out at the end of every year, there are always a handful of coaches who, even after mediocre years, would never be on them. Mike Holmgren. Jon Gruden. Andy Reid. And, the (previously) longest-tenured coach with one team in the NFL, Mike Shanahan, who, as coach and G.M., had the job by the throat.
Until the Donkeys choked the last two years, that is.
Is it a sad day for Broncos fans? Sure. He won a lot of games, and two Super Bowls. But the team had reached a stagnant level of putrid proportions, and any casual fan will tell you that they have played up-or-down to their level of competition for quite some time now. Only in the SB-winning years did they consistently pound teams, good or bad.
To me, this is much like the Iverson-Billups trade: part of me is sad to see such a talented person go, but at the same time, it's obviously for the good of the team.
The playoff run (um, beating the Patriots at home) in 2005 was orchestrated by a quarterback that nobody, fans or team alike, seemed to want running things. The defense has gotten more and more pathetic and predictable as the offense (seemingly) did the opposite, even though that was exposed lately due to injuries and a lack of a solid running game. Many of their top defensive draft picks failed to pan out.
However, this is a team with some positives, and here's what I think Pat Bowlen needs to do to get this team back to the perennial top of the AFC.
- Go hard and heavy after Bill Cowher. Denver has many things which should entice the Chin. First, it's a football town. A guy like Cowher would appreciate that, as opposed to baseball-centric New York. Also, since the offense has many of the pieces in place, Cowher wouldn't have to worry about that as much and could focus on his passion, the defense, which is the biggest problem with this team. Speaking of the defense...
- Make Romeo Crennel one of the highest-paid coordinators in the league. Crennel did such a poor job in Cleveland that it's highly unlikely he'll get another offer to coach anywhere. He ran the Patriots' defense in the early 2000s, when they won a few titles. He knows how to scheme, he knows how to find players (via trades, the draft or free agency) who fit the system, and he knows how to mold them into a unit. This would be especially prudent if the Broncos can't land Cowher, and instead go after somebody like Jason Garrett or Eric Mangini, i.e. offensive-minded guys.
- No matter who you hire, do not give them total personnel control. It's just too hard to do both jobs nowadays. Would the Broncos have been maybe a bit more focused if, instead of scouring the scout teams and the waiver wire for a guy who could run the ball late in the year, the coach was preparing the team for a win it sorely needed? If the Browns are interested in the Patriots' Scott Pioli and he in them, then why wouldn't he be interested in the Broncos? Denver is always at the top of players' lists because the facilities are great and the players are treated well. That would make a top-notch personnel man like Pioli's job a whole lot easier.
- Get the home-field advantage back. Teams used to hate playing in Denver. H-A-T-E. Now the weather's a bit warmer, Invesco's a lot quieter than Mile High, and it's not too annoying to hear "In-Com-Plete" only seven or eight times a game, since most visiting QBs complete about 75% of their passes against a woefully porous Denver D. I don't know how you do it, Pat - pour some extra concrete in the stands? - but it's gotta be done.
- Make the right choices on #s 1 & 2. The top choice on everybody's list is Cowher, but Miami, Atlanta and Baltimore seemingly went the right way in getting a bunch of no-name coaches or coordinators. The defense needs a complete overhaul. Maybe he can poach somebody off Dick LeBeau's or Rex Ryan's staffs, or give Rex Ryan the reigns and see what he can do. Either way, the defense must be made a priority.