Many around the NFL were stunned to learn Tuesday of Mike Shanahan getting fired in Denver. Shanahan, after all, had a long, successful tenure with the Broncos, winning two Super Bowls and 138 games in 14 years as head coach.
In the end, however, Shanahan paid for the success he had with John Elway as his quarterback. The Broncos won both of their Super Bowls under Shanahan while Elway was still playing, and while they have achieved success, nothing they have done has come close to matching what Elway was able to help them achieve.
His 138-86 overall record leads to a winning percentage over .600. That's awfully impressive for a 14-year head coach in a league full of parity. However, a 91-69 record since Elway retired translates to an average record of 9-7.
Add into that the fact that Denver has won just one playoff game since Elway left, and you have a recipe for persistent mediocrity. Persistent mediocrity doesn't win championships, and even the most patient or loyal owners will eventually tire of it.
It's the path Denver was on. Shanahan didn't help matters with his blind loyalty.
Reports are that Shanahan took a bullet for his coaching staff.
Three league sources said Tuesday afternoon that in a short meeting, Bowlen had wanted Shanahan to make changes on the team's coaching staff, particularly with defensive coordinator Bob Slowik, and that Shanahan had refused.I remember Slowik from his time in Green Bay. I wasn't impressed then, and it doesn't sound like much has changed. The Broncos were absolutely atrocious on defense this season. They allowed a franchise-record 448 points, got completely dismantled by San Diego in a win-or-go-home season finale on national television, and had far too many moments where they looked completely lost.
Slowik is considered one of Shanahan's closest friends in the league - the two have known each other since being on the University of Florida's coaching staff from 1980 to 1982.
Shanahan had said immediately after the Broncos' season-ending loss in San Diego on Sunday night that there would be no change at defensive coordinator.
Slowik joined the staff in 2005 and called the defense for the first time this season. They actually managed to regress from their terrible numbers last year, ranking 30th in the NFL in points allowed, 29th in yards allowed, and a sparkling 32nd in takeaways.
While Shanahan's loyalty to his assistants is totally appreciated (assistant coaches are generally overworked, underpaid, and get way too much blame when things go south), I fully understand how this could have become the tipping point for Broncos owner Pat Bowlen.
With full authority over all the personnel matters and full authority over his staff, Shanahan simply ran out of places to hide. You can only blame so many assistant coaches for your problems before everything starts to track back to you.
Shanahan is a brilliant offensive mind, and he will undoubtedly get serious looks from the teams that are looking for new coaches this offseason. Buyers must be aware of Shanahan's flaws. He can't be given the keys to the organization. Let him coach, and let a manager manage. Allowing him to do both could be a huge mistake.