John Elway: The Broncos were in the worst shape ever when I took over

John Elway joined the usually gruff Sandy Clough yesterday morning on 104.3 The Fan, Denver's local sports talk radio station.  He opened up quite a bit on his thinking over the last two years on the job. I was struck by one particular answer regarding Clough's glowing praise for Peyton Manning's intelligence:

There were a lot of good things that Peyton hadn't seen before that Mike McCoy and Gase were doing...Peyton saw something he hadn't seen in 14 years...so he got some new ideas from McCoy and Gase.  And to me it made that package that much better and I think that's why we had the year we had offensively.

This is a slightly different narrative than the one we're used to--you know, the one that paints the Broncos as an exact replica of the Peyton Manning Machine that existed in Indianapolis.  Perhaps this was true at the beginning of the year, when the Broncos utlized the fullback more often, but my guess here is that Elway doing what all good bosses do, which is to spread the credit around so that everyone feels ownership over the result.  Elway could be helping McCoy out as well, during a time when teams across the league want to know that McCoy has the chops to be a head coach.  Of course, the final explanation could be the most likely: McCoy knows his stuff, and in his time in Denver (and beyond), he picked up some additional offensive strategies from guys like boy genius Josh McDaniels (gasp!).

Elway also justified his decision to hire John Fox:

I think if you look back and look at where we were as an organization and where kind of the fan base was and the type of personality that John had...he was a perfect fit to get this thing turned around just as far as the type of person he was...to bring the joy back to football because football is a hard enough game anyway, and if you're not enjoying what you're doing, it makes it that much more difficult.  Plus, he had a defensive mindset, and we'd struggled on the defensive side of the ball for so long, and even this year, we're on our seventh defensive coordinator, but to me he brought a solid base on the defensive side were we could concentrate and be better.  And plus, I thought he had a chip on his shoulder...he had success in Carolina and then to go through what he went through, he wanted to prove that he was a much better coach than 2-14.  So I think with those three things combined we were getting a pretty good package.  And it turned out that it worked out that way.

This confirms again that Elway's primary motivation was Fox's defensive prowess and his stability (an indirect slap at the Josh McDaniels era).  Elway is either right (2000 Ravens) or wrong (2001 Rams) depending on the context and bias in which you cast your argument.  The part about Fox having a chip on his shoulder is somewhat new, but not hard to imagine after the way he was cast aside in Carolina.

Elway saved his most revealing quote, though, for his reasoning in re-signing Champ Bailey:

Going back to where we were. We were probably at the lowest point that the franchise had been...since I had been around the franchise, and really, since Pat owned the franchise, so we were at the lowest point we'd ever been. So we had to get some loyalty back, not only with our players, but also with our fans. And to me, Champ Bailey was that base.  He was going to be the guy we were going to build around. He had been here several years, was a great, great player. We still thought he could play. All those things come into play, so that's why it was important for us to start that build with a guy like Champ Bailey who had had that experience here, and the fan base knew, and getting that connection back with the fan base that this organization has had such a close connection with for so long...and we really, at that point in time, really felt like we lost. So that was a move, not only was he a great player, but also our fans identified with him as an important cog in this organization and why it was important for us to get him re-signed.

I find this quote interesting for two reasons, the first being that it's another not-so-subtle slap at the McDaniels era.  Elway couched it in no uncertain terms.  Remember, this is a guy who's been here since 1983.  That's a hell of a long time, and tells you everything you need to know about how McDaniels was viewed by Elway (and by extension, Bowlen, Ellis, and just about everyone at Dove Valley).  The second reason this quote is interestin is that it shows Elway's understanding of the fan base--that the only real human capital the Broncos had when he took over was their future Hall of Fame cornerback.  To have let Bailey walk away would have been a shortsighted strategic move based on money alone; it would have turned the fans off completely and screamed, in very clear terms, hey, look, Mom, we've become the Rockies!  They didn't, of course, and it worked out magically; further, when Bailey finally does go to the Hall of Fame, he'll be remember almost exclusively as a Denver Bronco.  

Elway's final quote, I thought, displayed some refreshing honesty.  Instead of gushing over the Broncos' choice of Von Miller, Elway admitted that the decision to draft Von was as hard as we all thought it was:

Anytime you pick second in the draft--you know Dareus was also there--so you know we had several options and discussed it a lot, but with the athletic ability and explosiveness that Von brought playing at the linebacker position, we knew it was going to be a transition from it. He was playing at the outside linebacker spot in a 3-4 defense, so obviously, the defensive staff has done a good job getting him into positions to make the plays because he's got that ability, so he was a guy--there was a lot of discussion about it--but we're thrilled he's done what he's done the last two years, and we just think he's going to continue to get better.

Elway could have said something to the effect of, "Oh, we knew all along Von Miller would be the greatest," but he didn't.  He basically told us what we've always thought about the draft--in short, that Dareus was right there with Miller, that it's hard to make the right decision on any player, and finally, that the Broncos are glad it worked out (suggesting that they weren't sure).  Can you imagine many GMs being this openly honest and candid?  We didn't think so either.

But that why he's John Freaking Elway, of course.   He doesn't need the strokes to figure out who he is when he wakes up in the morning.  It might not mean that he'll continue to knock every HR decision out of the park, but the good news is that he's not driven by the need to feel like he has to.

I’m glad we had this talk.  Now, vaya con Dios, Brah.

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