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Denver Broncos: The Top 5 Head Coaches in Broncos History

Adam OdekirkContributor IIMay 11, 2011

Denver Broncos: The Top 5 Head Coaches in Broncos History

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    ATLANTA - NOVEMBER 16:  Head coach Mike Shanahan of the Denver Broncos looks at his playbook against the Atlanta Falcons during the game at the Georgia Dome on November 16, 2008 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    The Denver Broncos will never be mistaken for the Pittsburgh Steelers when it comes to consistency at the Head Coaching position. However, with only seven head coaches in the last 40 years, they aren’t doing too bad either.

    Maybe Denver doesn’t have a head coach in their past like Lombardi, Shula or Walsh that can be mentioned in the discussion for “greatest ever,” but there have been some memorable ones.

    The question of who was the best is a question easily answered by most fans, but the fun is in determining who completes the top five.

    Surprisingly, the team has almost always seemed to find a coach better then the one who preceded him (except for a few hiccups) and that coach has always broken the record for wins that existed upon his hiring. 

    It would be exceptionally hard for John Fox to keep that tradition going but Broncos fans need reasons to believe. So, here is the list that Fox hopes to find himself on someday.

No. 5: Lou Saban

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    Tenure: 1967-1971

    Record: 20-42-3

    Despite having a losing record, Lou makes this list for helping the Broncos during the awkward transition from AFL to NFL. His winning percentage wasn’t stunning and in the end he was eventually fired, but he was a character none the less.

    He played a role in the Broncos drafting Floyd Little and that isn’t a bad decision to have on your record. Although he almost made a big mistake when he supposedly “fired” Little after a fumble against his former squad, the Buffalo Bills, in 1968 that nearly cost the Broncos the game.

    Saban may be remembered more for his funny quips then his teams performance but that is enough for most fans to have a soft spot for old Lou.

No. 4: John Ralston

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    2 Sep 1995:  Head Coach John Ralston of the University of San Jose watches from the sidelines during their 47-33 defeat by Stanford University at Spartan stadium in San Jose, California. Mandatory Credit: Otto Greule/Allsport
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Tenure: 1972-1976

    Record: 34-33-3

    John Ralston gets the nod at four because he was the first Broncos coach to amass a winning record and lay the groundwork for the Broncos future success.

    Unfortunately, Ralston may be most remembered for the way he departed from the Broncos. Despite having won coach of the year honors while with Denver, the players delivered a vote of no confidence in Ralston and caused the coach to resign soon after. 

    Still, Ralston helped the Broncos get a taste of being on the precipice of greatness and stoked the coals that would soon ignite the rivalry with the Raiders.

No. 3: Dan Reeves

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    SAN DIEGO - NOVEMBER 29:  Head coach Dan Reeves of the Denver Broncos reacts on the sidelines during a game against the San Diego Chargers at Jack Murphy Stadium on November 29, 1987 in San Diego, California.  The Broncos won 31-17.  (Photo by George Rose
    George Rose/Getty Images

    Tenure: 1981-1992

    Record: 117-79-1

    Some might wonder why Reeves is only third on this list and that is a valid question.

    The regular season wins, the playoff berths and the AFC Championships are all impressive additions to his resume, but the knock will always be what is missing.

    It’s a shame that Reeves will be remembered more for his Super Bowl losses and constant fighting with John Elway than his coaching record. In the end, it comes down to the fact that the Broncos should have won Super Bowls prior to the late 90s and, sadly, Reeves may shoulder much of the blame for that.

    Overall, Reeves was a good coach, but when you have one of the top three quarterbacks of all time on your roster and can’t get the rest of the team to perform in the big game, you suffer in public opinion. 

No. 2: Red Miller

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    Tenure: 1977-1980

    Record: 42-25-0

    You never forget your first…Super Bowl appearance that is.

    Red Miller took the keys to the car from John Ralston and drove it right where everyone thought it could go. Bronco-Mania took off under Miller’s reign in Denver and the town has never been the same again.

    It was a simple recipe for Miller and the Broncos—play outstanding defense and don’t turn the ball over on offense. Miller was able to get the most out of players like Craig Morton, Rob Lytle and others on offense while letting Joe Collier and the Orange Crush do their thing.

    Why rank Red Miller over Dan Reeves when neither was able to win a Super Bowl?

    Frankly, the teams that Dan Reeves took to the big game were supposed to be there and the team that Red Miller took wasn’t.

No. 1: Mike Shanahan

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    1 Feb 1999:  Head Coach Mike Shanahan of the Denver Broncos stands behind the Vince Lombardi Trophy smilling at the press during the MVP Press Conference after the Super Bowl XXXIII Game Between the Denver Broncos and the Atlanta Falcons at the Pro Player
    Tom Hauck/Getty Images

    Tenure: 1995-2008

    Record: 146-91

    For a time Mike Shanahan was one of the most respected and feared offensive minds in the game. His first 15 plays of any game were almost guaranteed to net points for the Broncos and put the opposing defense right where he wanted them for the remainder of the game.

    Really, though, the only statistic that matters for Shanahan is two appearances and two victories in the Super Bowl.

    Take the mania that began with Red Miller's 1977 team, couple it with the heartache caused by the near (and not so near) misses during the Reeves era, and its easy to see how those championships vaulted Shanahan into the unquestioned first position of Broncos head coaches.

    The end of Shanahan’s time in Denver was tough for fans who remember his dominance. However, his legacy was helped by the utter failure that followed his regime.

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