LONDON, UK — The Broncos, their fans and media observing the team don’t really know the team’s new owners.
They know of them because of all their well-known, multi-generational success with their Walmart discount retail chain. But after five Denver reporters met with Greg Penner, a Broncos owner and CEO, after he addressed a rowdy fan gathering at a central London pub fan event Friday evening, it was clear the Broncos are not just a fun diversion for the Walmart family. Penner was firm and honest about his disappointment in the current state of the team.
“It’s not the start we were looking for,’’ Penner said. “It’s been disappointing so far. We had really high expectations coming in. We still have high expectations. The fans have high expectations of us. And we’re not where we need to be. That’s the challenge as we go into the second half of the season.
“I’ve been really proud of our guys for battling. They’ve shown a lot of resiliency. Defense has played great. There’s places where things are going well, but overall we’re not where we need to be, and we’ve got to figure out how to win these close games.”
The Penner-Walton Broncos – the Denver Broncos – are 2-5 entering their Week 8 game here Sunday against the 2-5 Jacksonville Jaguars, a game that will be played at Wembley Stadium. What can Penner do as lord of the Broncos’ franchise to help improve the team?
“My role is to provide the support I can to George, to Nathaniel, the players,’’ Penner said. George is Broncos general manager George Paton. Nathaniel is head coach Nathaniel Hackett. “I’ve got to ask the right questions. When they want to make changes, I need to support them, and I’ll continue to do that. Rob (Walton) and Carrie (Walton Penner) have been involved. I get calls from other partners of ours, and they have a lot of interest in how they’re doing. We’ll continue that as we go into the back half of the season.”
Hackett, especially, has received heavy criticism from national and local media and the fan base.
“I support Nathaniel and really want to see him succeed,’’ Penner said. “He’s a first-time head coach. There’s a lot of new things to get in place. He and I talk every week, and I love talking with him about the game. He’s incredibly passionate. But he knows we’re not performing at the level we expect, but we’ve got high expectations for him in the second half.’’
Does this mean Penner can assure Hackett will be his head coach for the rest of the season?
“We’re never going to go into those kind of things,’’ Penner said. “I’m supportive of Nathaniel, and we really want him to succeed. As you guys know, this is a week-to-week sport. So we’re always evaluating things, and our goal is to win as many games in the second half as we can.”
When the Walton-Penner group bought the Broncos via auction for $4.65 billion, Paton, Hackett and quarterback Russell Wilson were already in place. One major football decision Penner did make, though, was signing off on Wilson’s five-year, $245 million contract extension that includes four years and $161 million guaranteed.
“Russell’s won a lot of games in the NFL,’’ Penner said before reciting Wilson’s NFL resume. “He’s been a 9-time Pro Bowler, he’s won a Super Bowl. Russell knows how to win. The specifics on the contract area, that’s a place where I do rely on George and his expertise. I think he is going to be a great quarterback for us. He hasn’t performed at his expectations. But he’s a fierce competitor. And I think he’ll be a great quarterback for us.”
As for the experience of watching the Broncos as a fan, as the Penners did from Aspen and a Denver-area home, compared to observing as the team’s owner, Penner said there’s no comparison.
“It’s completely different,’’ he said. “When you lose a game and you ride an elevator down (from the stadium owner’s box), it’s dead silence. Nobody wants to say anything to us, we don’t want to say anything. We get in the locker room – and this is a proud team, they want to win – and you get in the locker room and you see that in their eyes, and it’s tough because they’re working hard and haven’t put the pieces together.
“You wake up on Monday morning, and you wonder if that really happened yesterday," he said. "You kind of go through the first day or two of the week in a bit of a fog. This is ownership. And finally when you get to Wednesday or Thursday, you start looking forward to the next game.”
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