Sports: Rick Jussel Column Janauary 01, 2009

Bowlen made right move by firing Shanahan

I was peacefully recharging batteries in Mesquite, Nev., a place that doesn’t lend itself to clarity, when I heard the news.

The message came to me not by ESPN trailer, not by a bar-fly acquaintance, but loud and clear from a cell-phoning friend: “The Broncos have fired Mike Shanahan!”

My first thought: You’re crazy. No way!

My second thought: You mean (team owner Pat) Bowlen actually did that, actually came to the decision that his best friend was no longer the best guy for the job?

It was so unexpected, even mighty ESPN wasn’t ready for it; it ran the trailers mid-afternoon, but no interviews and no analysis. Just the simple message running across the bottom of your television: Mike Shanahan was gone.

It was indeed a shock, but it wasn’t undeserved.

The Broncos, no matter how sunny your world has been of late, were not playoff caliber this season. Think Houston Texans, New Orleans Saints, Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers or New York Jets. Mediocre to the max.

They are also a team that is not going to win the Super Bowl next season. There’s just too much to do on the defensive side of the ball.

Even had Shanahan remained and every plan for reconstructing a defense worked perfectly for the next 12 months, the Broncos still would be far short of the Tennessees, Indys, New Englands (even without Tom Brady), Baltimores and yes, a healthy Chargers team in the AFC.

No, whoever comes in to run the Denver show is going to have a massive amount of work to do. And you can be sure he is going to have to share the workload.

Shanahan is gone because he refused to hand over the reins when it came to personnel. His role as vice president and coach over a lengthy period of time led to his downfall: It became too much authority, unchecked.

His ability to find wide receivers was called into question in the 1990s. He eventually got the wide receiver thing right, acquiring Brandon Stokley and drafting Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal.

In the first decade of the 2000s, he has not been able to find defensive players. And his decisions appeared to be getting worse by the year. It has been a long line of Dewayne Robertsons, Jarvis Mosses, Tim Crowders, Marquand Manuels, Marlon McCrees, and Niko Koutouvideses — all rich free agents and/or early draft picks who have not come close to living up to expectations.

So, Shanahan is gone. He takes with him much glory from the late 1990s, thanks in no small part to a man named Elway and another named Davis (Terrell, not Al).

Bowlen and his Broncos are ready to start over.

Names are being bandied about like Marty Schottenheimer, Bill Cowher and even Bill Parcells.

Forget them.

They are big-monied and, like Shanahan, need total control.

There may be talk of Gary Kubiak coming back. He has been in Houston struggling over the past several years. He’s more likely to be in the mix than the above-named superstars, but would have to be released from a contract by the Texans or compensated with draft choices.

And I ask you, why get rid of Shanahan to hire his clone?

No, I’m thinking the new coach will be some defensive-oriented assistant on a successful team. And the coach will coach.

Also hired will be a general manager or personnel manager.

One of my colleagues in Denver suggested Elway, a bright mind and a veteran of Arena Football League ownership wars. Hmmm?

Another has suggested Scott Pioli of New England — a guy who goes out and gets Bill Belichick the players he needs.

Whether these are the things that happen, the simple fact of the matter is Bowlen has X amount of dollars to spend. He has a certain number of jobs to be filled, in the front office, on the coaching staff, and on the field.

There are a bundle of talented young coaches out there. There are a number of people who can micro-manage personnel. And there are many qualified people who could do either for a relative pittance.

What there isn’t much of is proven talent on the playing field. That’s expensive.

And that’s where most of my money would go right now if I’m Pat Bowlen. Paying out huge amounts of money to people who don’t play wasn’t working.


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