Big names, big opportunities await Broncos in search for next coach

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With apologies to interim head coach Eric Studesville, the Broncos need some established credibility to restore the glory to the franchise Josh McDaniels gutted in less than two years before being summarily dismissed from his head coaching job on Monday. We’ve already heard a few names, including that of Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun, mentioned as possible replacements. With all due respect to Calhoun, that’s not good enough for Bronco fans who’ve enjoyed exactly one post-season win since John Elway retired after the 1999 season.

The point? With each passing year, we’re growing more disconnected from the Broncos’ glory days–Elway can’t carry the franchise’s legacy on his broad shoulders forever. It’s time for a new steward to step in and rebuild this storied franchise, to restore its glimmer, to bring back the respect it lost under Owner Pat Bowlen’s failed experiment with Josh McDaniels. More importantly, for Bowlen, is the need to restore interest–those empty seats at Invesco Field are perhaps the most important barometer of the team’s fall from grace. Dipping into the NCAA for his next coach would amount to another gamble, just as plucking the young McDaniels from the Patriots assistant corps in hopes of recreating New England’s success (right down to the hoodie, unfortunately) was a gamble.

I think we can all admire the risk–had McDaniels kept winning beyond the sixth game last season, we’d be canonizing Pat Bowlen, not criticizing him for what amounts to a bad investment.

Bowlen should have a short list of established NFL coaches in mind–legends in their own right. The top two on the wish list:

Bill Cowher. The iron-jawed guru last coached the Steelers in 2006 and he led Pittsburgh to a Superbowl title after the 2005 season. His teams were spectacular on defense and tough as nails from top to bottom. He is a motivator and a proven winner who not only rallies players around his passion, but pulls fans into his vision. He could create significant excitement in a city that is desperate for something to cheer for. Cowher would certainly prioritize the defense, something that’s been missing since the Broncos’ Super Bowl years, and something that hasn’t been at a premium since the old Orange Crush days. Think Broncos fans would respond? You betcha.

Jon Gruden. An intense and incredibly competitive coach who had success in both Oakland and Tampa Bay (he was on the sideline when the Bucs–who essentially traded away the farm to the Raiders to get the coach in the first place–beat the Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII) would be an interesting addition in Denver, where passion is present but the ability to channel it is missing. Perhaps the most attractive asset Gruden would bring to Denver is his Oakland past. Raiders owner Al Davis actually traded Gruden to Tampa Bay in 2002 for a  host of draft picks, largely because Gruden wouldn’t cave to Davis’ demands for a more vertical passing attack. Having a coach on board who has a real desire to make Al Davis grimace (perhaps Mike Shanahan’s best asset) is something that makes old school Bronco fans smile. Additionally, the presence of Tim Tebow in Denver doesn’t scare Gruden a bit–prior to the 2010 season, Gruden spent time with Tebow and came away impressed with the young quarterback’s work ethic and his winning style. Tebow’s versatility, and Gruden’s experience with the short, efficient passing attack might be the perfect marriage.

Other possibilities:

Marty Schottenheimer: The long-time successful head coach of the Browns, Redskins, Chiefs and Chargers last coached in 2007, when he led the Bolts to a 14-2 record, but an early second-round loss (an unfortunate blemish on an otherwise stellar career–Schottenheimer never could get a team over the hump in the playoffs). Marty’s a little long in the tooth–he’s 67–but he’s a motivator and a winner.

Steve Marriuci: “Mooch” is a fan favorite and an emotional guy with a fine offensive mind. He had a good run in San Francisco, but couldn’t bring much help to a sorry Detroit  franchise from 2003-2005. He’s been away from the game for a while, but he has great perspective and he’s an excellent Xs and Os guy.

Bowlen’s next hire can’t be an experiment–his team’s heritage is at stake. He needs a coach who can not only inspire players, but inspire a city that loves its team and lives and dies with its fortunes on Sunday. The time for gambling and experimenting is over. Bowlen needs a winner.

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Tags: Al Davis Bat Bowlen Bill Cower Denver Broncos Eric Studesville Jon Gruden Josh Mcdaniels Marty Schottenheimer Mike Shanahan Steve Marriuci Tim Tebow Troy Calhoun

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