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News for Norther Colorado and the world

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Elway’s Broncos Must Build a Foundation with their New Head Coach

Former-Bronco Player and Coach Rick Dennison is the Ideal Candidate

By Dan Karpiel
Sports Writer

Last Wednesday, as many expected, the Denver Broncos named John Elway as the team’s Executive Vice President of Football Operations. Somewhat more surprisingly, the Broncos also announced COO Joe Ellis would become Team President and General Manager Brian Xanders would be retained. As EVP of Football Operations Elway will have final-say authority on player personnel decisions, will play a leading role in the selection of a coaching staff and will be in charge of the college scouting and football administration departments.

Despite his fancy new title, Ellis’ role with the organization will be mostly unchanged as he will stick to his strengths as businessman and allow Elway, Xanders and the soon-to-be-chosen head coach to handle all things football. Xanders did not get a new title (he probably didn’t get a raise, either) with the organizational shake-up, but he will have expanded powers. As those in Broncos Country are so painfully aware, Josh McDaniels, like Mike Shanahan before him, had final say on player personnel. That will now change, as Elway said he, Xanders and the new head coach would work to reach a “consensus” on football decisions. That sounds good, but time will tell how feasible it is.


rickdennison 300x196 Elway’s Broncos Must Build a Foundation with their New Head Coach
Rick Dennison talking with Bronco guard, Chris Kuper

The first decision on which the Broncos new, two-headed football decision-making monster will reach a consensus, is selecting Denver’s thirteenth head coach. As of Monday night the Broncos have either interviewed or scheduled interviews with six candidates: Broncos interim Head Coach Eric Studesville; New York Giants Defensive Coordinator Perry Fewell; Saints Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams; Jaguars Offensive Coordinator Dirk Koetter; Texans Offensive Coordinator Rick Dennison and former-Panthers Head Coach John Fox. Of those six, Dennison stands out as the best choice.

Denver’s recent moves have lent credence to the belief among some Bronco-watchers that the leadership of the franchise longs for a return to the glory days of seasons past. In and of itself that would not be a compelling reason to choose one candidate over another. However, Dennison’s ties to the Broncos would not be the sole rationale for giving him the job.

Dennison, who earned Bachelors and Masters Degrees in civil engineering from Colorado State, has learned what it takes to construct a winning football team. He spent the whole of his NFL playing career as a linebacker (1982-90) with the Broncos, playing alongside team greats Karl Mecklenburg, Randy Gradishar, Tom Jackson and Simon Fletcher. Of the Broncos six current candidates for head coach, Dennison is the only one to have played in the NFL; such experience no doubt gives him an ability to relate to his players that the other five contenders lack.

“Rico,” as he is known, coached as an offensive assistant (’95-’96), special teams coordinator (’97-2000), offensive line coach (’01-’05) and offensive coordinator (’06-’08) for the Broncos under Shanahan and, for one season (’09), under McDaniels. In his 24 seasons with Denver, he was a member of five of the six Broncos teams to appear in the Super Bowl. He was a key staff member under Shanahan for both Broncos teams that took home the Lombardi Trophy. With two rings, five Super Bowl appearances and seven appearances in the AFC Championship game as a player or coach, Dennison has tons more big-game experience than any of the other five candidates.

Dennison has played or coached in more seasons in which his team went to the Super Bowl (five) than Koetter has coached in the NFL (four). Koetter was a college coach for 24 years before joining Jack Del Rio’s staff in Jacksonville in 2007.

Dennison has learned NFL football from several successful coaches including Dan Reeves, Alex Gibbs, Gary Kubiak and Shanahan. He played and learned defense from two of the better defensive coordinators of the last thirty years, Joe Collier and Wade Phillips. He is the only one of the six candidates to have experience in all three facets of the game – offense, defense and special teams. In his 26 years in NFL Dennison has been a part of only five teams that finished the season with a losing record. In contrast, in his nine years as Head Coach, Fox’s Carolina Panthers had four losing seasons.

Rico as the Broncos Head Coach would mean a return to the successful zone-blocking scheme. In 2010, with Dennison coordinating the offense, un-drafted Houston running back Arian Foster rushed for a league-leading 1616 yards, more than double the 779 yards Broncos first-round pick Knowshon Moreno tallied. Unlike McDaniels, or any of the current defensive coordinators the Broncos are interviewing, Dennison understands how critical a strong running game is to building an effective offense, especially an offense that will feature the very raw Tim Tebow at QB. More importantly, Dennison knows how to coach a running game and design game plans that make use of it.

Will Elway, Xanders and the other decision-makers in Dove Valley recognize how well Dennison fits the model of a successful head coach? We will find out in less than a week.

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