The X-Man Goeth: Broncos fire GM Brian Xanders

The Broncos have fired Brian Xanders after four years with the organization and three seasons as their general manager. Although the story by Mike Klis portrays the decision as a mutual parting of ways, it doesn't take much reading between the lines - or of the DP's Breaking News email titled, Broncos fire GM Brian Xanders after three years in Denver - to discern that the choice was all John Elway's.

Xanders was originally hired by Mike Shanahan in 2008 as assistant GM before being elevated to the GM position following the hiring of Josh McDaniels. McDaniels and Xanders teamed up on a slew of controversial personnel moves, including the trade departures of Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, Tony Scheffler, and Peyton Hillis, the drafting of Knowshon Moreno, Robert Ayers, Alphonso Smith, Richard Quinn, Tim Tebow, Zane Beadles, and J.D. Walton, and the acquisitions of Laurence Maroney, Jarvis Green, and LeKevin Smith, among others.

The fan uproar over those decisions, coupled with an 11-17 record under McDaniels's stewardship, resulted in the coach's firing in December of 2010. Just weeks later, Xanders made a concerted effort to distance himself from the Hillis trade and Ayers selection (he wanted Clay Matthews Jr., so the story went), and the additions of Maroney and Green. Of course, the X-Man was likely auditioning for his soon-to-be new boss, and it apparently worked, as John Elway kept Xanders on as GM after taking over as head of football operations.

But then Xanders started talking. And talking. And talking. And then, he kept talking, and it wasn't pretty.

Clumsy with the spoken word, Xanders quickly became a frequent comedic target of this site, and his malapropisms had many of us wondering just how capable he was at his prescribed duties. Perhaps he was just nervous in front of a microphone, and was actually more than qualified for his job.

To wit, Xanders proved masterful with his dealings up and down the draft boards in 2010 and 2011, as the Broncos both added picks and improved positioning, even if the players selected left something to be desired. Of the 19 players drafted under Xanders's watch (or McDaniels's, depending upon whom you ask) in 2009 and 2010, only eight remain, although the 2011 crop brought the team three rookie starters (Von Miller, Orlando Franklin, Quinton Carter) who still sit atop the depth chart.

Yet after the team's magical playoff run, cracks started to appear in the relationship between Xanders and his boss Elway, and before the most recent draft had even concluded, word began to leak out of Dove Valley that the X-Man had mangled his latest draft trade machinations.

A week later, Brian Xanders is gone.

Why now? When the Duke took over, it seemed an odd choice to retain Xanders with the team's on-field product having failed, coupled with the decision to forego interviewing external candidates. But Elway has never been a man characterized by rash decisions, and he likely wanted to grow into his own new role of running an NFL franchise. Now that he's got a year under his belt, along with the replenished political reserve that comes with signing the biggest free agent in NFL history, Elway presumably considers himself ready to run the show his way.

As Klis notes, Elway recently promoted Matt Russell to director of player personnel and hired Mike Sullivan to manage the salary cap. Couple those moves with the selection of developmental QB Brock Osweiler, and you have a football executive who is clearly ready to fully remake the Denver Broncos in his image.

And, who better to pull that off than the man who is synonymous, if not bigger than, the franchise?

Make no mistake - if tonight's decision has one meaning above all, it is this:

These are John Elway's Broncos.


Brian Xanders, via the Denver Post:

John and I had a lengthy conversation today and we mutually decided to part ways for the best interest of my career aspirations. I appreciated everything that Pat Bowlen has done for the Broncos and for bringing me here in 2008. It was great working with Coach John Fox. I'm telling you, he's a great coach to work with. And it was great working with John Elway.

John Elway's statement via the official site:

Brian deserves a tremendous amount of credit and recognition for the contributions he made to the Broncos during his four years with the organization. His hard work and dedication played a major role in the recent success of our team, most notably last season’s division title and playoff win.

Brian and I had a very productive conversation earlier today. Although it was an extremely difficult decision, it became clear that it was best for both the Broncos and Brian to part ways. I believe a change to the structure of our football operations will be mutually beneficial, allowing the department to improve its efficiency while affording Brian the opportunity to continue his promising career with another NFL team.

My responsibility to the Broncos and our fans is to build a championship football team. The setup we have throughout every phase of our football operations will better position us for success going forward.

Making a change with someone of Brian’s caliber is not easy. I thank him for everything he did for the Broncos and wish him all the best as he continues his career.


  • Xanders timeline via Lindsay Jones
  • Bill Williamson says Elway is the de-facto GM, leaving Xanders few responsibilities to attend to
  • Gregg Rosenthal is surprised Xanders lasted in Denver as long as he did
  • As Arnie Stapleton tells it, Xanders never truly had final say regarding personnel decisions for the Broncos, but he was largely responsible for showing Elway the front office ropes

Doug is IAOFM’s resident newsman and spelling czar. Follow him on Twitter @IAOFM