ENGLEWOOD – Sitting across from John Elway, I played devil’s advocate.
A head coaching candidate looking in at the Denver Broncos is going to stare at Patrick Mahomes II playing for the AFC West-rival Kansas City Chiefs and think he’s going to playing for the wild card every year for the next 10 or so years.
“That’s a reporter’s comment," Elway said. “I’m going to stop you right there. That’s a reporter’s mindset. We look at everything and we have a great deal of respect for Patrick Mahomes. Andy Reid’s a tremendous coach, they’ve done a great job. And with the Chargers and you’ve got (Jon) Gruden in Oakland and they’re going to continue to get better so that’s the scary part.
“We’ve got to get better as a football team. We know we can go in and compete and make it difficult. Because Mahomes and all they have going on in Kansas City is tough, but we’re not going to shy away from that."
Reporters. From time to time, they were tough on Elway even when he was the Duke of Denver, a sacred icon to the masses, a quarterback so great he became a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Later in life, as a general manager, Elway was on his way to getting a second bust bronzed after his Broncos won five division titles in his first five seasons, plus played in two Super Bowls and won Super Bowl 50.
These last three Broncos’ seasons, though, have exposed some of Elway’s evaluation miscalculations. And now that he’s fired head coach Vance Joseph, the target for criticism is full on pointed in Elway’s direction.
“It’s part of the job," Elway said in his sit-down interview with 9News on Monday. “I get that. That’s my job. If we don’t win, I’m as much a target as anybody else. I don’t have any expectations that I should be held to any other standard than anybody else in this position and has my role.
“My path, my history here in Denver does not have anything to do with what’s going to happen going forward. I get that. We won five and six games the last two years and it’s my job to get that fixed."
Wait a minute. Elway doesn’t get a little more benefit of the doubt because he’s, well, John Elway?
“I’m just like everybody else and I have been my whole life," he said. “You (reporters) put me on a pedestal. My mindset has always been the same in the fact that I’m only as good as the people around me and people that I hire and that work together and try to get the best solution for problems that we do have. It’s a great challenge for us. Disappointed about it, but it’s also a new start for us.
“Vance did a nice job for us. He worked his tail off but ultimately, he didn’t win enough games. Our job is to find that next guy who can get us back to the playoffs and get us competitive."
Elway and his boss, Joe Ellis, each have three years left on their contracts. They will oversee the Broncos through 2021, as they have been since January 2011, when owner Pat Bowlen fired Joseph McDaniels as head of football operations, hired Elway, promoted Ellis to president, and then stepped aside from day-to-day operations.
While Ellis and Elway have brought stability at the top, their coaching staff has fallen into a state of flux. The next search will bring the fourth head coach in five years.
That alarming turnover, coupled with the strained relationship between Elway and John Fox that led to Fox’s exodus to Chicago following the 2014 season, left an impression Elway does not work well with his head coaches.
This may not fair as Elway and the Broncos got a tough break when Kubiak stepped away for medical reasons after the 2016 season. Kubiak is still around and will be in 2019 whether in his current job as a personnel adviser, or, more likely, as an offensive coordinator.
Will Elway empower his new head coach to hire his own staff, to have input on personnel decisions?
“I know what the perception is, but I will tell you this, they’re all empowered," Elway said. “I allow them to do their jobs. Otherwise, I can’t evaluate them if I don’t allow them to do their jobs. We’re not going to agree on everything, but ultimately it goes to the coach because he’s got to make those decisions.
“I’ve got to make him responsible for that. I will empower. I empower all the people I work for, even though I understand that perception. But if you look at John (Fox), John decided he wanted to go to Chicago. He felt it was better for him to go to Chicago. Gary, we had a plan with Gary. Gary got sick and couldn’t do it anymore and the plan had to change again.
“So, we’ll have a plan on this next one and hopefully this next plan works for five, six, seven, eight years. Obviously, the decision to hire Vance didn’t work out. I know Vance got a lot better in his second year compared to his first year. And he’s going to get more opportunities. But I just felt that where we are as an organization it was time for us to have a clean slate."