Mike Nolan's Denver Departure Leaves Many Questions Unanswered

Rich Kurtzman@@RichKurtzman Senior Analyst IJanuary 19, 2010

Just in on this Monday evening, the Denver Broncos and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan have mutually agreed to part ways according to ESPN’s AFC West blogger Bill Williamson. Nolan’s departure from Denver marks the third Broncos’ assistant coach to leave the Mile High City in the last two weeks.

Offensive line coach Rick Dennison went to Houston and running backs coach Bobby Turner left for Washington. Both were Shanahan holdovers and as Turner rejoins Shanny with the Redskins, Dennison will team up once again with Gary Kubiak of the Texans. Sure, Turner and Dennison were smaller pieces than Nolan, but the fact that three assistants have fled from the Josh McDaniels regime throws up an immediate red flag.

What made three men that enjoyed so much success with the Broncos “Get out of Denver” in the hurried fashion that Bob Seger sang about so many years ago?

Is McDaniels really so arrogant and egocentric that he would rather lord over the Broncos’ organization than work with talented parts to create a competitive whole?

Or, was the football field greener on the other side for those men?

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For Dennison and Turner, each will be reunited with the offensive system that brought them the lion’s share of success they have enjoyed in the NFL. Dennison can continue Alex Gibbs’ legacy that spawned the zone blocking scheme with Kubiak, while Turner hopes to build to the list of developed Shanahan discoveries in the running game.

But in Nolan’s case, the argument is whether or not the situation next year was better than what he had in Denver. Reportedly the Miami Dolphins offered Nolan their defensive coordinator positionbefore he and McDaniels agreed to part ways.

Is Miami, who finished 7-9 with the 25th ranked defense a better fit than Denver? The Broncos defense improved remarkably under Nolan from 27th in ’08 to seventh overall in ’09 and his system was in place already if he stayed for the 2010 season.

Personnel wise, the teams are similar besides the defensive line, where the Dolphins have a decided advantage. But Denver is building a solid defense under McDaniels and it will continue to grow (if the Broncos keep the 3-4 scheme that they adapted to last season).

Whether McDaniels and Nolan failed to see eye-to-eye about the Broncos future, completely blew up in McNolangate or if Nolan just thought Miami to be the better fit is not known yet, but likely will be soon.

What is known is that the Broncos are without a defensive coordinator now, and they will be on their fifth different one in five years when the 2010 season kicks off.

Denver’s 2009 D-fense was highlighted with awe-inspiring performances by players with D on their mind first and D in their last name.

Elvis Dumervil set a Broncos franchise record with 18 sacks and gave Denver’s front an explosive attack it’s been lacking for years. Brian Dawkins brought energy, leadership, and a swagger back to new Mile High Stadium. And both D.J. Williams and Andre Davis enjoyed strong seasons in the 3-4 together.

It’s a big if when considering whether or not they can all play that well next year and much depends on who will call plays on the defensive side for Denver in 2010.

Already rumors are flying, and one name that’s surfaced is ex-Patriot’s coordinator and former McDaniels coaching partner Dean Peas. When New England went 18-0 before losing the Super Bowl to the Giants in 2007, McDaniels called the offense, while Peas dictated the defense.

These Broncos are nowhere near that team’s talent level, but maybe McDaniels needs to surround himself with people he knows—those that understand him.

In any case, Denver will have yet another new look on defense next year and Pat Bowlen needs to take this opportunity to act as the dean of the Denver Broncos. Bowlen must look into why Nolan left. If the young McDaniels’ report card comes back with an F in communication and a note saying, “Does not play well with others,” he better be expelled as fast as Wade Phillips after his first two failed years.

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