KUSA – Confronted with a surprising, last-minute possibility of Mike Shanahan coming back to coach the Denver Broncos, Joe Ellis hours before the team’s 2017 finale against the Kansas City Chiefs, presented John Elway with two options.
Fire current coach Vance Joseph if Elway so desired, but come up with a comprehensive coaching search in which Shanahan would not be a candidate. Been there, done that was Ellis’ feelings on Shanahan, who was fired by owner Pat Bowlen after the 2008 season. Shanahan had just one playoff win in his final 10 seasons when he was dismissed after the team blew a three-game AFC West lead with three to play in 2008.
The second option, Ellis told Elway, was to keep Vance Joseph and give him a second season with a better quarterback. Either option did not involve the return of Shanahan, who was the Broncos’ head coach from 1995-2008 and led the franchise to its first two Super Bowl titles in back-to-back seasons of 1997-98 – Elway’s final two seasons as the team’s quarterback.
This was why Elway told 9NEWS following the Broncos loss to the Chiefs that he “was going to sleep on it.” On Monday morning, January 1 of this year, Elway informed Ellis that he wanted to keep Joseph. Elway then met with Joseph to tell the coach he was giving him another chance.
The Colorado Springs Gazette was the first to report on Elway's flirtation with Shanahan. 9NEWS spoke to multiple sources in and outside Broncos headquarters about the confusing events that took place near the end of last season. As the team was suffering through an eight-game losing streak that was the franchise’s worst in 50 years, Ellis, the Broncos’ chief executive officer, and Elway, the team’s general manager, held several discussions about how best to move forward in attempt to return the team to its usual prominence.
As the Broncos carried a 5-10 record into their December 31, 2017 home game against the Chiefs, Ellis and Elway agreed during the week that Joseph should get another chance with an upgrade at the quarterback position.
At the time, the speculation was two prominent quarterbacks would be available in free agency: Washington’s Kirk Cousins and Minnesota’s Case Keenum. Cousins had ties to Shanahan. Two years after Shanahan was dismissed from his Broncos’ job, he became Washington’s head coach from 2010-13.
Shanahan selected Cousins in the fourth round of the 2012 draft. Elway got the idea that Shanahan and Cousins could be a package deal.
Shanahan must have expressed enough interest. On Sunday morning, ESPN reporter Adam Schefter – who was a Broncos beat writer during the Shanahan-Elway heyday – reported Joseph “faces increasingly long odds at being retained and returning for his second season.’’
After the Schefter report, Elway presented the possibility of Shanahan to Ellis, who then asked for a couple hours to consider, according to sources.
Ellis then gave Elway his two options – dismiss Joseph if he so chose but conduct a thorough head coaching search or keep the coach for a second season. However, Ellis let it be known the franchise had moved on from Shanahan, who turned 66 in August and had been out of the coaching business since 2013.
After sleeping on it, Elway decided to keep Joseph and in free agency he wound up signing Keenum to a two-year, $36 million contract that included $25 million fully guaranteed, while Cousins took a three-year, $84 million contract from Minnesota in which all $84 million was fully guaranteed.
As for Cousins: A source said Cousins never met with Shanahan during the past offseason and never once once talked contract -- i.e. discount -- with him. Cousins and Shanahan did meet "a couple years ago" in the front patio of Shanahan's Denver restaurant to talk football. Cousins, according to the source, often meets with coaches to pick their brain.
After a 3-6 start this season and injuries mounting, Joseph led the Broncos on an unexpected run with a three-game winning streak that included wins against the heavily favored Los Angeles Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers.
However, after adding star cornerback Chris Harris Jr. and receiver Emmanuel Sanders to a long list of season-ending injuries within a four-day period entering week 14, the Broncos could not sustain momentum and lost to the 2-10 San Francisco 49ers and 5-7-1 Cleveland Browns. The 6-8 Broncos were officially eliminated from playoff contention Sunday. And it now appears Elway will be soon considering whether to conduct that comprehensive coaching search when the season ends in two weeks.