Firing Their Coach Won't Solve the Broncos Problems

So the Broncos fired head coach Josh McDaniels yesterday in a move that was curious for its timing. McDaniels was fired after less than two seasons on the job, and with a freshly drafted QB still in his rookie season. Typically, a new NFL coach gets three years before being shown the gate, particularly with a rookie QB in the fold.

Obviously, there are exceptions to this (Hi, Cam Cameron!), but the Broncos still very much appeared in a rebuilding mode when they decided to cut ties with McDaniels anyway. And the fact that they did it so abruptly is enough to make you wonder if this wasn’t about wins and losses. In fact, I pretty much guarantee it wasn’t.

Obviously, SpyGate II was a factor in the Broncos’ decision making process. But that wasn’t the only reason. Instead, that episode likely serves as the mere exclamation point to growing frustration the team had with McDaniels’s management style. I asked author Stefan Fatsis, who spent a year with the team, if McDaniels’ ouster was about more than simply being 3-9:

I’m not inside, but I think McDaniels’s scorched-earth policy when he got to Denver came back to bite him. He cut good, veteran, respected players without so much as a courtesy call; he canned the longtime video systems guy and hired his buddy from New England (that worked out well); he adopted a closed-doors, tough-guy persona that didn’t sit well with holdovers from the Shanahan era.

And then he lost 17 of 22 games. (Broncos owner) Pat Bowlen takes great pride in the reputation of the Broncos -- in running a professional, respected organization. The revolving door of players, Spygate II, and the losing all damaged the organization’s credibility with fans. That has to have stung Bowlen. As I write at the end of the book, when Bowlen fired Shanahan, he wanted to energize the franchise and establish a new era of long-term stability that would outlast him as owner. So this past year has to have been incredibly painful, and embarrassing.

There’s also the matter of Bowlen’s health, which the Denver Post recently noted has been in decline. It was evident when Bowlen gave McDaniels a vote of confidence a week ago before reversing and issuing a far more noncommittal statement.

It makes you wonder exactly who is in charge in Denver. Is it Bowlen? Is it GM Brian Xanders, who came in with McDaniels? Is it team CEO Joe Ellis? Is Bowlen able to make it clear in his current condition? While McDaniels clearly was a failure as a leader, his firing suggests a flaw in organizational structure that still hasn’t been fixed yet. The truth is that a 3-9 record isn’t even close to being this team’s biggest problem.

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