With Shanahan Gone, What Will the Fallout Be Like in Denver?

Henry HAnalyst IDecember 30, 2008

The man in the picture is Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen. He, along with the front office, made the decision to fire the head coach and GM of 14 years on Dec. 30.

Mike Shanahan was a guy who had become synonymous with the Denver Broncos football team and organization. One would expect to see him on the sidelines at Invesco Field at Mile High, and he was the mentor and coach of Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway.

He was comfortable making gutsy calls with the game on the line, the most recent of which was Week 2 of this season, when he went for the two-point conversion, and the win, in the thriller against San Diego.

Analysts said, "This is a testament to Shanahan's job security in Denver," and  "You wouldn't see a second-year head coach do that."

Shanahan fired the team's GM Ted Sundquist in 2007, and took the position for himself. He essentially had control of every player that came into Denver, both with their contracts and their play out on the field.

Shanahan also ran the team's drafts, and just this past year he was credited with an exceptional one. Offensive tackle Ryan Clady was arguably the NFL's best rookie lineman and ranked among the best left tackles in the league. Receiver Eddie Royal was also touted as a genius pick, as was late-round selection Peyton Hillis.

However, Shanahan was also expected to lead the Broncos to the playoffs. He was very reliable doing just that—until the 2006 season rolled around. The Broncos were coming off an AFC Championship game appearance and 13-3 record from the '05 season.

The team looked good through the beginning of '06, but they began to lose momentum and quarterback Jake Plummer was benched in favor of rookie Jay Cutler. The team went 9-7 and missed the playoffs by losing an overtime game to the San Francisco 49ers.

In 2007, with a first-year starter at the helm, the Broncos went 7-9 and suffered a losing season. The future was bright, however, and Shanahan was unquestionably the leader for the future.

When the '08 season began, the Broncos finally looked to be what fans and ownership were hoping for—a dominant team. The first game of the season looked to set the tone. Offensively, it did, but from Week 2 onward, the defense was a liability at best, and atrocious at worst.

Nonetheless, Shanahan had his Broncos on track to win the AFC West, up three games with three to play. The rest, as they say, is history. The Broncos would lose out, and their rival, the Chargers, would win out. The season ended with a 52-21 pounding in San Diego.

After the game, Shanahan said, "I didn't do a good enough job preparing the guys for this game." This was among other quotes in which he ultimately took the blame.

Over the past few days, Bronco fans have been discussing who the new defensive coordinator should be and what the Broncos should do to improve their defensive unit. One thing I know they haven't been discussing is a new head coach.

The Broncos will now be searching for a coach this offseason. The front office has not had to look for one in 14 years, and nobody knows if they have a plan as to who to target.

The talk from other teams, namely the Jets, has been of Bill Cowher. The other two teams in search of a coach, the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns, are far less favorable situations for a coach to go into.

The Broncos join the Jets in what one has to believe is a favorable situation. They have a high-powered, young offense and tremendous depth in their running game (provided the backs stay healthy). Their defense does need to be completely re-worked, but it's certainly better than the Lions, whose entire team needs restructuring from the ground up.

I have to believe that the preliminary list will include Cowher, Brian Billick, Steve Spagnuolo, Josh McDaniels, and possibly Steve Mariucci. Denver isn't known for having a rowdy locker room, but then again, Shanahan always kept guys disciplined.

The team may also be looking at smaller name solutions, which have worked for other teams in the past. See Atlanta's Mike Smith and Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin.

The conclusion has to be that Bowlen and the Broncos needed a big change after three years of disappointment. Shanahan was seen as an icon of the Broncos' past, and they wanted a new image for the team. Time will tell if this is a good time for a major move like this.

It seems that right when many of the young guys were getting settled, such as Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall, they will now have to adapt to a new system, which could slow their development.

I do know one thing, there wasn't a single Bronco fan who expected this to happen. But now the search is on to bring a new face to the Denver Broncos franchise.