Eric Studesville Interim Head Coach
Where do the Broncos go from here?
By Dan Karpiel
It wasn’t the decision that was the big surprise, but rather the timing. In case you have not heard the news, on Monday afternoon Denver Broncos President and CEO Pat Bowlen announced his decision to relive embattled Head Coach Josh McDaniels.
McDaniels’ firing was not surprising given the nearly constant turmoil that has surrounded the 34 year old head coach, and de facto Football Czar, during his nearly 23-month tenure at Dove Valley. However, Bowlen’s timing of the decision did come as a surprise to many. Most expected that if Coach McD was fired, that the decision would not come until season’s end. Thus, much like his decision to fire long-time Head Coach Mike Shanahan, Mr. Bowlen once again caught Broncos Country off-guard. The reasons why McDaniels was relieved are simple and obvious to anyone following the Broncos, a 5-17 record after the 6-0 start, seemingly constant run-ins with star players, questionable personnel moves and finally the most infamous of all, the New England-esque videotaping scandal now dubbed “McSpygate.”
Shortly after announcing the decision to terminate McDaniels, Bowlen & Co. announced that current Broncos Running Backs Coach, Eric Studesville, would take over as interim head coach in McDaniels’ stead. Studesville, who played defensive back at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, has been coaching football since 1991. He began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at the University of Arizona under then-head coach Dick Tomey. Studesville’s football resume includes stints with college programs in afore mentioned Arizona, North Carolina, Division II Wingate, Kent State and in the NFL with the Chicago Bears, New York Giants and Buffalo Bills. Studesville joined McDaniels’ staff as running backs coach and running game coordinator last January, replacing long-time Broncos’ running game guru Bobby Turner.
Studesville, regarded as affable and well liked by his players, is not the Broncos long-term solution at head coach. Considering that, the question remains who should coach the Denver Broncos going forward? Household names like Tony Dungy, Bill Cowher and Jon Gruden will be the first names to roll off the collective tongues of Broncos Country. But there exist inherent difficulties for each to become the Broncos future head coach; Cowher likely prefers to stay on the East Coast with his children who just recently lost their mother to skin cancer, Dungy has expressed no desire to return to coaching and Gruden seemingly enjoys his job as a color commentator with ESPN’s Monday Night Football. The inhabitants of Broncos Country should not lay awake at night waiting for one of these men to ride into Dove Valley on an orange and blue stallion to save the now-beleaguered Broncos franchise.
Thus, the Denver Broncos will, for the second time in two years, be in the market for a new head coach. What is most critical for Pat Bowlen and Broncos COO Joe Ellis, who has assumed effective control of the day-to-day operation of the franchise and was a leading proponent of hiring McDaniels, is to uncover the attributes most likely to produce a winning formula.
Good NFL coaches must be intelligent. They have to be hard-working, creative and posses the charisma to inspire their players. Nevertheless, perhaps the most important attribute of an ideal NFL head coach is having exposure to different systems and different football philosophies. One reason why many believe McDaniels crashed and burned in Denver was because he spent his entire NFL coaching career, all eight years of it, under Bill Belichick in New England. Thus McDaniels knew only one way of doing things, the “Patriot Way” as it’s known. Such a model is difficult, if not impossible, to recreate as evidenced by the failed head coaching stints of former-Belichick assistants Charlie Weis, Romeo Crennel and Eric Mangini. Bill Belichick himself had experience working under several different head coaches, including Denver’s Red Miller, Ted Marchibroda and the legendary Bill Parcells. Over the years Belichick was able to develop his own model for success, drawing upon inspiration from others over nearly a quarter century in the NFL. Mike Shanahan followed a similar path. McDaniels was not setup for success in this job, largely as a result of his circumstances rather than because of any personal failing.
In making the decision on whom to hire, Bowlen and Ellis must consider these experience and exposure factors. Some names to consider who meet the criteria include current NFL assistants Russ Grimm, Mike Nolan, Marty Mornhinweg, Ron Rivera, Dom Capers and Perry Fewell. Air Force Head Coach Troy Calhoun, who coached in Denver under Mike Shanahan from 2003 to 2005, also figures to be candidate. Finally former-NFL quarterback and current Stanford Head Coach Jim Harbaugh will draw a lot interest from NFL teams.
The Broncos’ powers that be must also decide whether they are going to grant final-say authority on player personnel to the new coach. Both McDaniels and Shanahan were given the responsibility of signing, trading and drafting players; a role reserved for the general manager on most NFL teams. It has often been said Mike Shanahan the coach was able to overcome the failings of Mike Shanahan the GM. Josh McDaniels was equally inept in both roles. The decision as to whether to hire a strong general manager will have to be made first. Some have suggested Broncos legend John Elway for this role. The thought of Elway is without a doubt intriguing, but would it be ideal?
For a franchise that was among the most stable in the NFL for more than a quarter century the only thing that is guaranteed now is more upheaval at Dove Valley. As fans, all we have to hope the new coach, the new GM, the regime however it is structured, can return the success, stability and credibility for which the Broncos were once known.