After losing at Kansas City 10-6 to drop their seventh game in their last eight and plunge to a grim 3-9 record, the Broncos gathered on Monday for what they usually did on Mondays under coach Josh McDaniels -- run gassers.
These grueling sprints were supposed to be performed in a set of 10. Some of the players and coaches counted eight. Others counted 10. Bickering ensued.
If you are a 9-3 team, everybody somehow counts the same. But if you are 3-9 and fraught and fragile like the Broncos were, the simplest tasks become jumbled.
Thus, McDaniels spent part of his last day as Broncos coach trying to sort through that mess. For an NFL coach, sometimes when it crumbles, it collapses.
The Broncos are no longer McDaniels' headache and he is no longer their annoyance. He was fired on Monday exactly one week after owner Pat Bowlen told me that McDaniels would not only finish this season but return next year.
Video: Rocky Run Comes to End
I listened to Broncos COO Joe Ellis say on Tuesday in a news conference that:
A) Bowlen did not make the decision to fire McDaniels based on Broncos fans' heated and disgusted reactions during and after the team's last home loss on Nov. 28, a 36-33 disaster to the St. Louis Rams and ...
B) When Bowlen told me in that interview that he was retaining McDaniels, it was as a "kindness'' to McDaniels and that afterward Bowlen realized he had a "constituency'' he had to be responsible to and "people invested in this team emotionally and otherwise.'' That is why, Bowlen, according to Ellis, soon after "tempered'' his remarks.
This is nonsense.
On one hand, his fan base has no influence? On the other, it has encompassing influence?
I have known Bowlen for 22 years of his 27 years of Broncos ownership and do not believe for an instant that he had any intention of firing McDaniels so suddenly, just like he said. Rather, in seven days (actually fewer since Ellis said Bowlen made the decision last Sunday night) all of his patience evaporated, the fan firestorm over McDaniels in Denver escalated, the Broncos were eliminated from the playoffs in Kansas City and the team, the franchise became further polarized.
With all of that swirling and more, Bowlen reacted.
McDaniels this season had to deal with the loss due to injury of the NFL sack leader a year ago, end Elvis Dumervil. He had to coach this team through the in-season tragedy and suicide of 23-year-old receiver Kenny McKinley.
Of course, over McDaniels' two seasons in Denver he ran off Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, Tony Scheffler and Peyton Hillis. That is a ton of talent that might have helped him avoid his 5-17 finish in his last 22 games. And the recent taping scandal certainly tainted him and the franchise.
Several Broncos players and coaches told me that this coach's in-game knowledge is superior. But his managing skills -- of players and people, of even practices -- was subpar. A Bill Belichick disciple, he sounds every bit like the young Belichick that was fired in Cleveland in 1996.
One Broncos player, requesting anonymity, said: "We became all business and less family-oriented as a team. Some coaches, you hear what they are saying but you don't take it all in. That began to happen. He was very hands on and did a lot of yelling. Guys prefer a coach who lets his assistants do more of that and he oversees things. He had a tough time really knowing how to reach players. We know as players you still have to go out there and play football and win. That's on us. But the way we were playing and the way we were responding, that wasn't a good combination."
Former Broncos running back coach Eric Studesville takes over now and becomes the third interim NFL coach this season. The Broncos say he has a four-game job audition -- at Arizona on Sunday followed by games at Oakland and home against Houston and San Diego.
Broncos players say Studesville has a passion for the game. He makes coming to work fun and enjoyable. Respected. Knowledgeable. Easy communicator. Not a coach whose opinions are readily questioned.
They know him as a position coach and they are eager to begin learning on Thursday morning what he will be like as a head coach. Studesville addresses the entire team for the first time on Thursday morning.
There is unmistakable change inside and outside the Broncos building. It is commonly embraced.
More from NFL.com: