Mike Shanahan: The Rise and Fall

Aaron MeeCorrespondent IJanuary 27, 2009

Remember when the Denver Broncos could all but guarantee their offense could put up 30 points, no matter who, where, or when they were playing? The days when Terrell Davis seemed to run through gaps big enough to drive a car through?

Back when Shannon Sharpe was the most dominant tight end the game had ever seen, while Easy Eddie McCaffery and Rod Smith seemed to shake opposing corners at will? A time where John Elway was cementing his status as a hall of fame quarterback? Those were the golden years for those in Broncoland, quite literally.

How far away and distant those days seem to be. Broncomania has been on the decline for over over 10 years now, and it could be another couple years before Denver can think of being a contender again. But where did it go wrong?

Sure, they lost John Elway, Terrell Davis, Shannon Sharpe, and Ed McCaffery, all within a span of a couple years following Denver's second dominant title run. But how many drafts, and how many years of signing free agent busts would it take for Shanahan to finally take the fall?

Well, we finally got that answer this January. Pat Bowlen was forced to do what was once unthinkable: Fire the man who finally took the Broncos to the highest level. Fire the guy that had worked his way up through the bottom of the NFL coaching ranks for over 20 years (most being with the Broncos) to become one of the greatest minds in the football world.

The decision wasn't easy, as you can imagine. Mr. Bowlen and Mike Shanahan had shared many years of both glory and hardship together, and naturally they became close friends. But a change certainly needed to be made.

Most fans and sports writers alike have speculated that it was Shanahan's lack of judgement in the front office that ultimately led to his dismissal. While I agree with this sentiment,  I tend to look a little deeper.

As a longtime observer of the NFL, it seemed to me that Shanahan hasn't even been coaching the Denver Broncos for quite some time. In the Super Bowl years, Shannon Sharpe was one of the biggest keys to the offense. He was the go to guy for Elway, and Shanahan drew up plays specifically for him.

The passing offense was run through Shannon Sharpe, which is the main reason Rod Smith and Eddie Mac were so successful. Opposing offenses had to either double down on Sharpe, or send a cornerback in to try to stay with him on passing routes.

I believe that if Shanahan would have put the same emphasis on getting the tight ends involved in the game now as he did back then, Tony Scheffler would be a pro bowler, and Denver would have made the playoffs. Their is no doubt in my mind.

Another key element that was noticeably missing was the "do-everything" fullback. Anybody remember Howard Griffith? What about Kyle Johnson? The fullback position was always an x- factor in a successful Shanahan offense.

Not only were they expected to blow up linebackers at the second level on running plays and protect the quarterback on passes, but they would also surprise the defense almost every game by leaving their blocks and catching wide open passes.

Not only was the fullback an effective receiver, he also allowed the tight end to be more involved in the passing game rather than staying in to block. This past season, the fullback position was phased out, literally. Shanahan didn't even so much as keep a fullback on the active roster for many of the games.

I understand that a coaches job lies not only with instilling his philosophies in his players, but to also build off of his teams players' strengths...But I think Shanahan went way too far in trying to mold himself to fit Cutler's needs.

Shanahan never ran a shotgun-spread offense with Elway, Plummer, or Griese, yet that seemed to be the base package for the '08 Denver Broncos. I didn't understand it at all. Shanahan is a fine coach. He's one of the greatest minds to ever coach the game. I just wish he would have let that shine through this season.

I could have sworn Bill Belichick was calling the plays for Denver last season, not Mike Shanahan. Why pay Shanahan the big money, if he isn't going to be the one that calls the shots on game day?