Mike Shanahan's Shadow Looms Large in Denver

DB CooperCorrespondent IDecember 31, 2008

The truth is that the Denver Broncos simply were not very good in 2008.

In all honesty, this was a 6-10 team that came away with lucky breaks at home against San Diego and New Orleans in Weeks 2 and 3.

Embarrassing losses to dreadful Oakland and Kansas City squads surely didn’t help Mike Shanahan’s cause during his post-season meeting with owner Pat Bowlen.

Add in a porous defense, a horrendous record at home, and an obvious regression at the end the season and you have all the makings of a fired coach—regardless of his stature in the team’s history and community.

For all the talk of Shanahan’s shortcomings when it came to his personnel decision-making, it must be noted that the Broncos have turned in excellent drafts in each of the past three seasons.

Take a look at this B/R article and the accompanying chart to see the team’s draft progression over the past eight years and how the team has improved.

The defense was an obvious cause for concern all season.  The numbers speak for themselves, as the unit ranks in the bottom quarter on the league in nearly every statistical category. 

During the team’s utter collapse over the last three games of the season, giant holes appeared again and again in both coverage and the running game. 

Much of the blame falls on defensive coordinator Bob Slowik, but that is shortsighted.  It was Shanahan’s decision to bring in new coordinator after new coordinator to fix the defense, rather than giving a single scheme time to marinate and grow.

While it looks like Shanahan learned his lesson and was planning on bringing Slowik back for next season, it was simply too late to make up for past mistakes.

Take a look at the great defenses around the league.  Rex Ryan has manned Baltimore’s defense for four years, Dick LeBeau has been in Pittsburgh for five years, and Jim Johnson has been in Philadelphia for an even decade.  Each was given the necessary time to develop their schemes and integrate players into the system.

Many have cited the rash of injuries as a cause for the team’s inconsistency this season, but few would question that the Denver defense was pretty ugly, even with Champ Bailey and D.J. Williams in the lineup. 

As for the injuries at running back, it was not the injured running backs’ fault that the Broncos abandoned the run like an unwanted child in nearly every game going down the stretch. 

Despite averaging more than 6.5 yards per carry over the last three games of the season, the team passed more than twice as often as it ran (131 pass to 60 rush). 

While this can partly be attributed to the fact that Denver was often trailing in these games, it is an obvious indicator of the direction the offense was going.

Whether it was the work of Shanahan, primary play caller Jeremy Bates or even offensive coordinator (in name only) Rick Dennison, the running game was never given a chance to establish itself.

Regardless of the actual reasons for Shanahan’s firing, it was the right move. 

This was the right move for Bowlen, for Shanahan, for the organization and even for quarterback Jay Cutler (whether he would like to admit it or not) and the young talent currently flooding this team.

If there is one word that can accurately describe the Denver Broncos at this point in time, it is "stagnant."

With the ultimate patriarch in place, the organization has taken on a tone of monotony that does not lend itself to winning Super Bowls.  This can rub off easily on the many young players walking the halls of the team’s Dove Valley headquarters. 

Shanahan is now out and perhaps a breath of fresh air will sweep through the team’s enormous practice bubble and carry the Broncos out of the depths of 7-9, 8-8, and 9-7. 

Whether he realized it or not, Shanahan has left the Broncos in a good place. It is true that the entire organization revolved around Shanahan and Denver will now be forced to build from the ground up in terms of coaching and much of the administration.  However, if the Broncos have one thing going for them, it’s Jim Goodman.

While it is impossible to know just how much influence the VP of Football Operations/Player Personnel had over the fruitful drafts of the past few years, he was the team’s Director of College Scouting from until 2005.

It would seem that his insight went a long way in bringing in players like Cutler, Brandon Marshall, Elvis Dumervil, and Tony Scheffler in the 2006 draft as well as those that followed. 

I pray that Bowlen not only keeps Goodman and his son Jeff, but increases their power in terms of decision making.  Goodman’s presence would go a long way in helping a new coach to cut the period of “rebuilding” down. 

There is plenty of talent here, especially on the offensive side of the ball.  No one will question that.

It is now the job of Bowlen and Goodman to bring in a young exuberant coach (not Bill Cowher) to bring the potential of this team to fruition. 

Bowlen has stated that he does not wish to bring in a be-all-end-all coach with supreme power, so why not insert Goodman as top dog for personnel decisions and give the organization the adrenaline shot it deserves with one of the red-hot coordinators on the market like Steve Spagnuolo, Jim Schwartz, Jason Garrett, or Bill Musgrave?

There will be as much pressure on this new coach as there has been on every Denver quarterback since No. 7 left and I wish all the luck in the world to whoever comes in to fill the shoes on the Broncos’ sideline—it will not be easy.

While it may have been the right decision for the organization, this is an intensely loyal fan base that doesn't do well with change.  The new sideline commander will have plenty of struggles and plenty to live up to.

A new shadow has been created in Denver to stand along side that of John Elway, and its name is Mike Shanahan.


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