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Published on 09/12/2009 at Sat Sep 12 01:07.
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Josh McDaniels

How does a fan cope when his team heads in what he believes is the wrong direction?

Mike Shanahan: out.  Jay Cutler: out.  Seven defensive starters from 2008: out (OK, this one’s not so bad).

In: Josh McDaniels.  In: Kyle Orton.  In: Mike Nolan, Brian Dawkins, Ronald Fields and Andre Goodman.

And that really tells you everything about the Denver Broncos‘ 2009 offseason.  The times, and the team, they are a-changing. 50 years from its inception, the Broncos have never had an offseason with as much turnover as this one.

Whether the changes are for the better remains to be seen. But to answer the original question: there are many ways to cope. Anger. Resentment. Rationalization. Sadness. Blind faith.

All of them have their virtues and bring one to different conclusions. It’s taken me an entire offseason to come to mine: Hope for the best. Brace for the worst.


NOTE: This post is seven pages long. Be sure to click through after the poll.

Mike Shanahan

The decision to fire Mike Shanahan, the winningest coach in team history and deliverer of two Super Bowl trophies, will be a topic of heated discussion in Colorado for years to come. I have felt and maintain that this is the single-biggest mistake in Broncos history.

I still cannot justify the firing. Shanahan was moving in the right direction, and had begun drafting the type of talent the team needed to compete in the playoffs again. Bringing in the likes of Cutler, Elvis Dumervil, Brandon Marshall, Chris Kuper, Ryan Clady, Eddie Royal, and Peyton Hillis showed that “the Mastermind” had started to bring his on-field mastery to the personnel department. It was only a matter of time – and in my opinion, not much longer – before the Broncos were among the great teams again.

Granted, there might never again be as epic a collapse as the Broncos suffered in 2008, and Shanahan should have certainly been held accountable. But in my view, there are offenses, and then there are fireable offenses. Shanahan’s failure to win one-of-three doesn’t belong in the latter.

Josh McDaniels.  (AP Photo)

Josh McDaniels. (AP Photo)

Enter Josh McDaniels. Can you like Shanahan without hating McDaniels, and vice-versa? Separating the issues of firing Shanahan and hiring McDaniels can be difficult, but I choose to do so. I like them both. I said it at the time that Pat Bowlen was furiously exploring the coaching carousel: if it’s not Shanahan, McDaniels is the man for the job.

His experience with both the offense and defense is what really sold me, along with the records he set at a young age. I think McDaniels has the potential to be a special Head Coach in Denver.

Unfortunately, I think it will take some time.

2009 Outlook: There will be growing pains with Josh McDaniels. We’ve been so used to Shanahan’s ability to manage the clock, ice kickers, throw appropriate challenge flags, and keep defenses on their toes that seeing a rookie coach stumble at times will be frustrating. I saw McDaniels stumble in the preseason – there were situations he missed, most especially involving potential challenges, that have me concerned for his ability to manage the game as effectively. I think some of this will carry into the regular season.

I think McDaniels is prepared, confident, and has the right type of moxie, but struggles as a first year head coach on the world’s biggest stage are inevitable.

How many games will the Broncos win in 2009?

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  • Kyle

    Also: this is purely my opinion and does not necessarily reflect those of the other staff members.

  • Kelly in Carolina

    The organization as a whole was in need of regeneration, rebirth, and renewal. Things had gotten stagnant. McDaniels has the key inside him to the offenses of the future, which we will be graced with visions of this season. It could be a tough season, but it might be a great season if our defense plays the way they did in Pre-season. I’m saving my criticism until after I see at least the first five games, because one game could be a fluke, three easy games might not tell us enough, but after we face the Patriots we will know what this team is about. McD will pull out all the stops to beat his mentor. Should be an exciting season even if we only win 7 games. If we do start losing I’d like to see McD commit to the rookie Brandstater sooner rather than later to let him mature and blossom through error. Go Broncos! Let’s humble Ocho with a nice Dawkins-Bailey double team from hell!

  • Joey

    Good level headed thoughts all the way around. I don’t necessarily agree with your Super Bowl predictions, but I agree that Houston takes the AFC South away from Indy this year. Good read.

  • Ladd

    Really well thought out assessment Kyle. A little depressing, but probably a good dose of reality.

  • robtink242

    remember that this is a 17 week season and injuries come to both teams. thats why it’s any given sunday.

  • Snizzle

    I agree with your assessment for the most part. However, the firing of Mike Shanahan was deserved. I dont think it was the loss of the 3 games at the end of last season that led to his departure – it was the way we lost. Denver played with no heart and was embarrased in SD. That is inexcusable in what amounted to a playoff game and responsibility must fall directly on Shanahan. The level of effort on display in that game became too common a site in Denver and it was time for a change. That said I think Mike will resurface and be a very good coach again for another organization and I wish him luck.

    It’s too bad Denver has had to endure some rookie mistakes by McDaniels. Whats done is done. I am 100% behind him and hope he has tremendous success with the Broncos. I think the team is going to improve throughout the season and be competitive – I just dont know if that will correlate to wins this year.

    Lets see what the season brings and not read to much into the exhibition games.

    Denver 27 Cin 17

    Broncos 4 ever!

  • Lee in Tennessee

    I respectfully disagree. I predict a 20-14 Denver win tomorrow at
    Cincinnati. I firmly believe we will take 2nd Place in the AFC West
    and finish the 2009 Season with a 9-7 Record. However, I also believe
    that we will miss the Playoffs. As much as I can’t stand Phillip Rivers
    and his 8th Grade maturity level, I believe the Chargers will (barring
    injury) go to and win the Super Bowl. As for the Bears (and this is no
    Sour Grapes either), they will finish 3rd in their Division behind the
    Packers and the Vikings. And yes, Chicago will also miss the Playoffs
    as well. And THAT is how the 2009 Season will end. No Kool-Aid.
    Just Reality.

  • NM Bronco

    Firing Shanahan was the right decision. This team needed a change. Shanahan the GM was not cutting it on the Def side.

    I liked the McDaniels pick. He will be good, but needs at least 2-3 years. Not sure he will get it.

    I despise McAdjective for trading Cutler. Orton is a mediocre backup, I hate that I have to watch him play. My friends who are Chicago fans are smiling ear to ear. I am not. Picture painted.

    We have a good offense. I really like what I saw out of Brandstater. If he develops this offense could be really good as soon as next year. SIGN Marshall. Brand will need him. And..Hillis is still the funnest big back to watch since Earl Campbell. Love that guy!

    The Def looks better already. Nolan is the best decision McD has made thus far. That and keeping Hillis. This Def could be really good by season’s end. I do predict Top 15 over the last 6 games.

    I see 4 Wins and figure we can pick up 1 more. So 5-11 for me as well.

    Superbowl: Pitt 24 Minn 13

  • coskibum

    — NM Bronco– Couldn’t have said it better myself. My brother-law from Chicago is giddy about his man-crush on Cutler.

    I hope for the best but expect reality…

    Go Broncos!

  • E. Halsey Miles

    Spot on, Kyle. I do agree Shanahan needed a kick in the pants, but Bowlen did what he did.

    I particularly agree about Cutler. That still burns me, and the only way that McJosh is going to get any forgiveness at all out of me is if he comes away with a truly winning season. I feel like a revamped defense plus essentially the same offense we had could’ve put this team on the map. What I’ve seen from Kyle Orton so far makes me rather we have Brandstater in there.

    I actually personally predicted 6 wins, but the difference between 5 and 6 is mostly academic (and probably a key draft pick) and that’s because I think the Chiefs will be awful this year. I think Cassel is overrated for having been on a team that was way, way, way better than that. Figuring a couple wins from a weak division, and one really lucky win somewhere from a team that thinks the Broncos are worse than they are and lets them win by not giving it all…I think 6 wins are feasible.

    Amusingly, Peter King predicted Chicago to lose to the Patriots in the Superbowl, so you’re not alone in picking Chi-town to go to the ‘bowl.

  • AtomicLeo

    Great write up, Kyle.

    I think Shanahan deserved one more season with the offensive unit to see if the team could get over the Chargers and make the playoffs. What really killed his chances was the 2007 draft (Moss and Chowder). If either one of those had panned out…..also folks forget we tried to trade Al Wilson for Justin Tuck of the Giants. Tuck is awesome. Another ‘What-if’……..

    The QB situation is awful. I am not impressed with Orton in the red zone. The nice TD pass to Stokley in Seattle game was preceded by a wide open RB on 1st down and a dropped INT on 2nd down. And that was the only Red Zone score he looked good. Very concerned.

    Also, Orton is injury prone because he has ZERO mobility in the pocket and a slow release. Cutler is one of those slip-slide-set QBs that move 3-5 yards to his right-left and still deliver the ball. The Forte TD pass in preseason was a clinic on this maneuver. That little motion prevents sacks and keeps plays alive. Do not be surprised if the sack totals (assuming Orton starts all year) in Denver are close to 20 this year, double from 2008.

    And speaking of sacks….The O-line doesn’t look right. I don’t know what is going on. Clady had more holding calls in the Chicago game than he had all 2008. If we can’t get a run game going, like the preseason, this isn’t a 5-6 win team; it’s a 2-3 win team.

    The defense looks better in preseason and it would not be hard to improve over last year. I think the entire defense is relying on the secondary. I would have preferred more focus on the line and LBs. Given the age in the secondary, the Broncos could be in a hole if either Bailey or Hawkins goes down fo a couple games. Could happen, since Bailey hasn’t had a full-injury free season in two years.

    What bugs me is the decisions coming from the front office. It’s been bizarre. Prompting the Goodman to VP then firing him two weeks later. Bowlen silent for over a month while the high school drama between the coach and QB played out on ESPN everyday, only to suddenly declare missed phone calls were enough to get shipped out of town when the coach claimed Cutler wasn’t going to get traded. Persistent rumors that Sheffler and Hillis were also on their way out. Picking a 5th round TE in the second round and said TE now is trouble with a crazy girlfriend. Not cutting Jordan after a bad preseason. Offering a horrible contract to your best offensive player and acting surprised he was pi$$ed about the offer. Suspending the player AFTER TV cameras showed what an ass he was. Now talking new contract with new player…..and that’s just this season. It looks like an insane asylum with the inmates in charge.

    Then I read the DP Bowlen interview and I’m even more concerned. I think the front office has much bigger problems than a young coach with an ego. Bowlen said Joe Ellis, the CFO F as in Financial, is now the go-between the football operations and Bowlen. WTF?!?! Why is a man with no football experience involved with football decisions? Bowlen explained the new structure for decisions and it sounds like a committee approach. That’s not going to work. I’d feel better knowing McDaniels had final say.

    I think this is 4-6 win team, a couple of breaks and maybe it’s 5-8 win team.

    My prediction: 6-10 with a 3rd place finish behind SD and KC in the AFC West

  • Kyle

    E. and Leo – your comments bring me to something else.

    I really don’t blame McDaniels for Cutler’s departure. I blame Bowlen. The owner said so himself – he and he alone made the decision to trade JC.

    Yes, the turmoil started because McD took a phone call and then didn’t nip it in the bud. But Jay Cutler is still a Bronco at the point where McD’s decision-making ends.

  • mikebirty

    “Chicago beats Baltimore in the Super Bowl.” Well that’s damned both of them Seahawks vs Chargers last year wasn’t it? Promise that’s the last time I bring that up.

    I’ve got the Broncos to win 4 and lose 4 – the other 8. Well lets hope on any given Sunday…..

  • broncoNM

    I agree that there will be growing pains with McDaniels… but I believe he will be a great coach here. Im worried about the Offense getting points on the board this year but im hoping for an O that controls the ball and controls the clock. With Orton at QB play calling will be crucial and i think that is one of McDs strongest asset. I am nervous about Orton… i think he is capable of getting the job done but i do not see him complimenting the Oline and WR’s as well as he should. For this reason im hoping that this is Ortons only starting season here (unless he just kills it this year and exceeds all expectations). At this point im going to assume that next years QB will be brandstater or we go out and get a guy. Our defense is much improved. Half our defense last year is no longer in the NFL (robertson, boss, engelberger, mcree, winborn, webster). None of these guys got picked up by another team… and marquel manuel barely got picked up by the lions. Our defense last year was a B squad at best. The D this year will be more agressive with veteran leadership and youthful talent. I could see our defense this year ranking in the top 15. I have a very similar prediction as Lee in Tenn… I see us grabbing 8 or 9 wins and taking 2nd in the AFCW and missing the playoffs. I do consider this an optamistic outlook but I do think we will surprise some people and our weak division wont hurt anything.

  • Kyle

    mikebirty – I had Seattle two years ago, Chargers last year. LOL but it’s ok.

    New BT readers, let your hope take flight. I am always wrong. So is Peter King (didn’t know he picked CHI too).

  • WhidbeyBronco

    Wow what a great article Kyle! I just finished another angry MHR read and then came here to find viewpoints I actually understand and agree with. 100% on your assessment of the off season!” Hope for the best. Brace for the worst. ” I’ve been on that train for a couple weeks now. It solidified it’self as I drove to the Denver v Seattle game and wondered jokingly if I could hit McD with my flask from my seats… I don’t want to spend my TREASURED Broncos season …hating. I’ve picked out the points of hope, braced myself for some growing pains (been there for a few years anyway) and tried my best to shelve the anger.

    BTW How cool to read the intelligent comments above as well. I disagree with the Shanny firing comments but I understand where they’re mistaken (lol). I’m sure the Idiots will wander in any minute now but I sure appreciate the ones here now.

    Go Broncos!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I predict 8-8 with a lean towards 7-9 or even 6-10
    I predict (without a real clue) Indy over the Vikes

    BTW2 I’d still trade 0-16 for Cowher, Holmgren, Gruden or …Shanny next year.

  • T-Money

    Good stuff Kyle. But I disagree. First and foremost I don’t see Chaigo or San Diego wining the super bowl ESPECIALLY if they have to face a Pittsburgh or Tennessee defense in the playoffs. I also think that this team has something coming that nobody is expecting. We never saw Brandon or Knowson (well his 3 carries), plus i watched 2 of the patriots games and they look like they are only calling 50% of the play book. Just the simple basics. I don’t make predictions just because I’m superstitious like that but I think everybody has the broncos EXTREMELY UNDERRATED.

  • Roy

    There will be growing pains, we have already seen them, and kudos to Kyle for pointing them out so well. I would like to hope that we will stun people and go 8-8, but I would not be surprised if we are worse. The fact is, given some time, these coaches could do something special. As early as next season even. Our primary offensive and defensive coaches are really good.

  • Joe

    I say green bay owns Chicago. And I think Philly would kick some bear ass as well as the Vikings. So I predict chicago comes in third place in their division.

  • WhidbeyBronco

    Check out the discussion of this article over at MHR, some pretty good stuff.

  • Bob

    Now that it’s the start of the regular season and with it the regular season predictions. It seems that there is once again much talk and rehash of the Jay Cutler/Kyle Orton trade. Now first off this was not a trade of Cutler for Orton it was Cutler for draft picks plus Orton. Also much has been made that the Broncos are now downgraded from last year at the quarterback position, heck almost everyone seems to agree on this “fact”. I have a much different view of this.
    Now I will say right off that Jay Cutler has a great arm, and yes, his physical skills are indeed superior to Kyle Orton’s, but that is not what makes a great or even good quarterback in the NFL.
    What Kyle Orton has over Jay Cutler in spades is Heart and Leadership. Jay never showed the willingness or ability to be the heart and soul of his team; he certainly wasn’t a leader in the final 3 games of last year. No matter how bad the defense played, having your “franchise” quarterback sitting by himself on the sidelines not engaged does not inspire your teammates to believe in you, or to believe in themselves for that matter. When Jay needed to step up the most last season he sat down and pouted. I would rather have a guy that Brian Urlacher, the Chicago Bears “heart and soul” called a great leader any day over a guy who thinks of himself over his team and teammates. I figure that is good for at least 2 wins in close games per season. Like the types of close games that we had not been able to win much the past few years.
    My brother in-laws wife is originally from Chicago and I have watched many Bears games over at their home and can say Orton is not going to wow anyone with mad football skills but he is a leader, he has no quit in him and seems to have a knack for getting his team in position to win. That in IMHO is an upgrade my friends.

  • RCT930

    Solid review, with a couple exceptions: Chicago will come in 3rd in their division behind the Packers and Vikings. And I beg to differ that Jay Cutler is the most exciting player in the NFL. C’mon.

    The Broncos go 6-10 in this rebuilding year.

  • anthony33

    Thought your assesment was spot on and enjoyed reading it. The only part I would challenge is the firing of Shanahan. Loved the guy, tremendous offensive mind and terrific organizational skills. While many of his draft picks were suspect, he nailed some too. The thing that bothered me was the teams recent history of playing poorly down the stretch, which really came to fruition last year. What bothered me even more was he said right after the season that he had no intention of changing Slowik of the defensive staff. So, while I would have preferred Bowlen demanded he change or at least given him a ‘one more year’ ultimatium, I can see why it came to what it did.

    I just finished my picks for an annual football pool where you pick every game, win or loss, for the entire season. I too have Denver going 5-11 although I do think 7 wins is not out of the question.

    Agree with on the Cutler thing that it was more Bowlen, but I do think McD could have made it work had he wanted to. Still not sure on that whole mess. I will say I like how he has handled the Marshall situation. Why oh why did his first rookie mistake have to come at the expense of a pro bowl QB????? Still hurts.

  • Robert

    Shanahan was a screw up who let his ego get in the way 1st and then let the game get away from him as he grew more obsessive with stats that didn’t matter.

    He couldn’t put any kind of defense together for years and instead of taking the blame and getting it fixed he continued to hire and fire other people and put the blame on them year after year.

    He pampered Cutler and talked about how he could do no wrong even in the games where he made really poor decisions that put our defense in some very bad situations that may have cost us a game or two. Then he blamed the defense for the loss by saying things like “it’s kind of hard to win a game when you give up 32 points”.

    Well it is also kind of hard to win a game when your qb throws and int inside of his own 20 yard line and then throws a td in the redzone in one half.

    Then we have to hear about how well they moved the ball and for some reason everyone buys into that load of crap. We scored 20 points that game and failed to get a TD on 3 of 4 red zone appearances but are offense was perfectly fine because we racked up 450 yards between the 20’s?

    Did you also notice that all the good draft decisions he made were on offense? Other than Doom name one good defender we drafted in the last 8 years. Hell name 1 good defense acquisition! We brought Dre Bly in but put him in a system that went completely against his skill set. He absolutely refused to put Champ on the WR the other team had, instead secluding Champ only to the left side of the field. Since we all know exactly where Champ is going to be on every play and where he is covering, how hard is it to line your star wr up on the other side? That is just stupid.

    We switched from 4-3 to 3-4 mid-season only to switch back the next week.

    We blamed all the losses on Jake Plumber instead of considering it might have been the coaching and scheme.

    We scored less points on offense than half of the league last year and gave up more than all but 2 other teams.

    We haven’t won a playoff game for what 8 years or so.

    We punked Bubby Brister out of a role that should have been his, completely divided the locker room and ended up with a losing season following our 2nd super bowl win.

    Maybe McD isn’t the answer. Maybe he screwed up the world when he traded Cutler. Maybe we won’t win a game for the next 3 years.

    What I do know though is that Shanahan was a WAY overrated coach that should have been axed a long time ago. Anyone who thinks his #2 offense that couldn’t score points and crap ass go nowhere defense that he was going to blame once again on the coordinator and bring in some other nobody he could blame while he focused his attention on some abstract stat and sold that load of horse $%!@ to the media is better off else where.

  • WhidbeyBronco

    bob? robert? are you the same guy? seems like it.

  • areferee

    Excellent article. Very comprehensive and well thought out. I don’t agree with you on each and every point, but on most, and certainly on your prediction of their finishing record, unfortunately. Nice job. If the Broncos do better than 5-11, you’ll have plenty of company at the banquet table carving on the ol’ blackbird. Thanks for the look ahead.

  • Robert

    We are not

  • Jon Krause

    Get’s me pumped every week every year, love previews…

  • Jon Krause

    Wow 9-10 gets most votes! Broncos fans are hopeful, I voted 6-8 tho it makes me sad :/

  • MiamiMike


    I had to respond to this article. I always enjoy reading your articles and think you do a great job. I have to disagree ( with respect to you) on this one.

    Shanahan made some strong picks as you mentioned. The problem is all these picks are on the offense. You all most make the point of Shanahan is a offensive coach at best. He was a poor judge of talent on Special teams and defense. For these picks you mention there are so many poor free agent picks and draft failures. It was his G.M. miss-cues that cost him his job. Shanahan picked these players (of late) but what happened the years prior. A good G.M. does not allow this to happen. Denver seemed to always play band-aid roster staffing. We tried to fill holes with so called big named players that had many off field issues or health issues. Teams like the Steelers for the most part never sign big name free agents. They develop though the draft. They are not afraid to send a star player packing if they need to. Shanahan should have had this team turned around long before the past year or two. He was the Coach G.M. and V.P. Of Operations. With that he ahd all the power and all the experience. Past 2 years our defense and special teams were headed in the wrong direction. I just hope fans so not judge McDaniels on this one year as a coach.
    With our schedule and a new defense we will have a rough season but did we not just have 2 bad seasons prior with Shanahan?

  • Steeplebomb

    Good Article! As much as I don’t like it, I have trouble not agreeing with your overall point. The team certainly wasn’t perfect, or even good, but the pieces were starting to fall into place. We had a fantastic nucleus of young players on offense to build a team around, and the time to build a respectable defense.

    I think that this entire situation has set the Broncos back at least a year, but more likely 2 or 3. Jay Cutler had faults, but he also had more than enough raw ability to compensate.

    I like McD and really want him to succeed but realistically… ruh roh

  • bw53

    All Cutler will prove to be is the Jeff George of the current era–all arm, no heart.

  • MIAbronco

    why do some of you think that san diego will be so good this year and win the super bowl and dominate the division and all this crap. they are basically the same team, LT’s older and about to be replaced, and they lost some good players to free agency. I believe the broncos can compete with san diego this year. Hey, if we knew how the season would go, we wouldn’t have to play the games, but we don’t, so lets get it.

  • Josh Temple

    Wow, finally got to read through this writeup Kyle. Great job as always. I completely agree with this article expect two things. One, after seeing the defense in pre-seaon, I think Mike Nolan could help them become something special quickly. I’m predicting the d helps steal and handful of games.

    2nd, there is no way Chicago is winning the Super Bowl this year. Cutler will help their offense immensely, but if you watch all of his preseason games, he has not been able to overcome a patchwork OL and lack of good receivers. That’s not to say they could draft there way to victory in a year or two. The Viking defense is going to rip him apart two games this year, and the Pack will not be pushovers. I expect Pittsburgh or Tennessee to take the whole thing again this year after watching Thursday nights games.

  • BroncoRon

    Great article Kyle. I was disappointed about all of this junk, but not anymore. McDaniel’s is the coach and Orton is the QB. I’m drinking the Kool-Aid. Where the Broncos go, I’m going with them. I hate Cutler. I hate Chicago. By the way Marshall, if you leave I’m going to hate you too. I BELIEVE we will get the last laugh and it starts today when we win in Cincy.

  • Rod

    09/13/2009 11:30 AM
    So far McDaniels debut of the Possum Defense and the Sputter offence seems to be going as planned:-)