The Broncos need to tap into their history when hiring a head coach
This past week, I saw the movie “Scream.” The movie is the latest installment in the horror movie franchise. The movie is a self-described “re-quel;” it’s a reboot and a sequel at the same time.
“Scream” has new characters, but also brings back fan favorites. This is a growing trend in Hollywood. The movie industry likes to lean on past success and nostalgia to guide the future.
Much like Hollywood, The Broncos love their history. They’ve spent the last six seasons trying to recreate the 2015 season. Anytime the Broncos need to return to glory, they dip in their history. The Broncos never rebuild; they reboot.
In 1995, the Broncos fired Wade Phillips. Phillips had been a defensive coordinator with the Broncos, but he wasn’t quite what the team needed as a head coach.
Phillips was fired after two seasons and the Broncos hired previous offensive coordinator Mike Shanahan. Shanahan had a close relationship with quarterback John Elway and was fresh off a Super Bowl championship as the 49ers offensive coordinator.
Shanahan didn’t return to Denver alone, he brought Gary Kubiak with him to be the offensive coordinator. As a career backup to Elway, Kubiak was quietly part of three Broncos’ Super Bowl appearances and almost took the team to a fourth Super Bowl in relief of an injured Elway in the 1991 AFC Championship Game.
Under Shanahan and Kubiak, the Broncos were regularly in the playoffs, played in three AFC Championship Games and won back-to-back Super Bowls. Bringing back Shanahan and Kubiak was an overwhelming success.
In 2011, the Broncos were recovering from the disaster that was the post-Shanahan, Josh McDaniels era. Among McDaniels greatest hits, he traded a franchise quarterback, traded a first-round pick for a second-round pick, and was caught filming his opponents’ practices (and still lost). McDaniels embarrassed the Broncos.
McDaniels was kicked out of the building during the 2010 season. The Broncos were once again looking to rebuild (or reboot) the organization.
In steps John Elway. Elway returned to the Broncos as an executive.
Elway hired John Fox to be the head coach. This was a solid move as Fox was a calming voice to lead a young roster. With Elway in charge (along with help from others), the Broncos were back in the playoffs in 2011 and won their first playoff game since 2005.
Elway would sign Peyton Manning in 2012, leading to a successful four season run from 2012-15.
Despite winning a lot of games, from 2012-14, the Broncos were disappointing. Under Fox, they were bounced from the playoffs twice at home in the divisional round. They reached the Super Bowl in 2013, but were blown out by the Seahawks.
Based on its roster, the Broncos were underachieving.
It had become clear that Fox was the right coach to replace McDaniels. But he was the wrong coach to take the Broncos all the way.
After “parting ways” with Fox, the Broncos looked to their past. Elway hired Kubiak as the head coach of the Broncos in 2015.
Under Kubiak, the Broncos won Super Bowl 50. What Fox was unable to do with Manning in three seasons, Kubiak accomplished in one. Once again, the Broncos history came back to save the day.
Since Kubiak left in 2016, the Broncos have hired Vance Joseph and Vic Fangio. Neither coach was able to lead the team to the playoffs and the Broncos are once again looking to reboot.
Looking at George Paton’s list of potential head coaches, only one candidate has previous experience with the Broncos – Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan.
Callahan worked for the Broncos from 2010-15 in various coaching assistant roles. Callahan was in Denver with McDaniels, Fox and Kubiak. In his time in Denver, Callahan watched the grow from their lowest point back into a Super Bowl contender.
Most importantly, Callahan was in Denver with Elway, Manning and Kubiak. Manning and Kubiak, along with Shanahan, are two of the most brilliant football minds in Broncos history and Callahan had a front row seat to watch them operate. In 2013, Callahan witnessed the Broncos become the highest-scoring offense in NFL history.
Callahan watched Fox leave Denver despite four straight AFC West titles and a Super Bowl appearance, only to watch his replacement, Kubiak, win a Super Bowl. The expectations are high in Denver, and Callahan understands that.
Joe Burrow would probably be amazing with a trash can as his offensive coordinator, but Callahan has been there to help the young quarterback grow. Much like a young Mike Shanahan helped John Elway grow.
Eventually, the Broncos will have to bring in a young quarterback. The continual failures at quarterback have made the Broncos irrelevant. A stop-gap like Jimmy Garoppolo is only going to kick the can down the road. At some point, a young quarterback will be drafted and the Broncos will need a coach that can developed that player.
Dan Quinn is safe. He’s John Fox.
Quinn has previous head coaching experience and lead a team to the Super Bowl. Hiring Quinn would be a good move. The Broncos would be much better under Quinn, but for whatever reason, in the past 40 years, the Broncos most-successful seasons are when they bring back figures that have experience in the Broncos organization.
It’s not a coincidence that Broncos fans are excited at the possibility of Manning coming back to the Broncos in an ownership role. We love our history because it is full of Super Bowl appearances.
Callahan has helped the Bengals go from worst team in the NFL to the divisional round of the playoffs. He’s been part of a team rebuilding and rising to prominence. Recently, the Broncos have attempted to create the illusion of success versus obtaining actual success.
The Broncos never rebuild; they reboot. Brian Callahan earned a Super Bowl ring as an assistant for the Broncos in 2015. Callahan understands the city of Denver’s love for the Broncos and has experience with some of the most important figures in Broncos history.
If the Broncos are going to reboot the franchise, they must hire a familiar face as head coach. That person is Brian Callahan.