I didn't want to write anything at first. I really didn't know how to react. Except to text my parents. And my girlfriend. And everyone else in my phone book that I thought even remotely followed professional football. HOLY CRAP!!! OMG!!! I CAN'T BELIEVE IT!!! I'M FLUMMOXED!!!
I was emotional, I was erratic, I was...Okay, I am exaggerating a bit and I was actually en route to the Justin Jones & The Driving Rain/Robert Randolph & The Family Band show at The National in Richmond, Virginia when I got the news, but I was still pretty shocked. And flummoxed.
Honestly, I thought my friend was ribbing me when he texted at 5:41 PM on Dec. 30, 2008, with the news that Mike Shanahan had been let go as head coach of the Denver Broncos. It's sad, but these are the kinds of friends I have. You know, the ones who usually deliver fake bad news because it's funny, but occasionally deliver actual bad news just to keep you on your toes?
Anyhow, now that I have finally sobered up five days later, I'll tell you what I was thinking. And screaming.
What?!?! Mike Shanahan? Fired?
The same coach that guided John Elway, TD, and Rod Smith to back-to-back Super Bowl titles in the late '90s? The same coach I gawked at from the upper deck in road games at the Jets and Panthers this year, the offensive mastermind who scripts the first 30 offensive plays of every game, the second-coming of Bill Walsh?
The man whom Broncos' owner Pat Bowlen stated earlier this season was his team's coach for as long as he wanted the job? That Mike Shanahan? Fired?
Yessir, the one and only! Mike Shanahan. Former Denver Broncos head coach. Damn you Pat Bowlen and New Year's Eve for driving me into a three-day binge.
I guess I should have seen it coming. Denver hasn't made the playoffs since the bearded-one, Jake "The Snake" Plummer, led the donkeys to the AFC Championship game and a Mile-High thrashing at the hands of the Steelers nearly three years ago.
Despite the gaudy aerial numbers Jay Cutler and los Nuevos Tres Amigos—Brandon Marshall, Eddie Royal, and Tony Scheffler—compiled this season, Denver couldn't overcome the incessant tailback injury problem or the fact that no matter how many points they scored, the defense was an even pick to give up even more.
The bottom line is, Denver's defense stinks and there are numerous areas that need to be addressed in the offseason, the least of which is a new Defensive Coordinator, but I thought that's where the coaching changes would begin and end.
The Broncos also need a defensive line capable of rushing the passer and slowing the run. And linebackers that are bigger than the Barber twins. And how about safeties that can slow the run and help cover deep? Denver flat out needs better personnel and better performance at every defensive position, including the normally reliable cornerback position.
No matter what, though, when things go badly—and they went downhill quickly in a dismal Denver December—there must always be someone to take the blame. And in this case, Owner Pat pointed the finger at Coach Mike, for better or for worse.
Now, it's always nice to have a scapegoat to make management feel better when a season falls apart. Unless the Broncos can somehow lure Bill Cowher to the Rockies or recruit Tony Dungy out of retirement after he relinquishes his post as the Colts' skipper next weekend, I'm not sure there's anyone out there who can step in and fill Shanahan's shoes right away.
However, as long as the next guy can help Cutler and Co. reach the playoffs next year and for the next decade, then all will be forgiven.
One thing is certain, though. This will be the most interesting offseason for high-profile coaching changes in recent memory.
In the end, it was a great run and we still love you Mike. I just wish you had kept John Lynch around this year. And you really should have moved to bring your comrade and fellow ex-Raider coach Lane Kiffin on board to help slow the other guys down.
A little more leadership on the defensive side of the ball and, who knows, you just might have kept your job.
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