|Ed Andrieski / Associated Press|
|Does John Elway have the chops to make the tough decisions as an executive for the Broncos?|
A few years ago I was asked by a production company about the possibility of a reality show in which 10 contestants would compete for a chance to become an NFL general manager. Kind of like "Top Chef" meets the NFL. I told them there was no way that would happen.
Now, though, what I see happening in Denver reminds me of a reality show, and I realize how wrong I was about this idea. Stupid me.
Please understand, I have great respect for John Elway the player, but John Elway the NFL team executive? The NFL is not the place to learn on the job. One bad decision can affect an organization for a long time.
I understand that general manager Brian Xanders is there to help Elway. But with all due respect to Xanders, he needs someone to help him. Xanders has never really functioned in the big job, nor has he ever been viewed as a football man by many in the league.
However, Xanders has seen coaching changes and survived. From Jim Mora to Bobby Petrino while in Atlanta, from Mike Shanahan to Josh McDaniels in Denver, Xanders has been a part of change. But can he be a part of success? Does he have the experience to help Elway avoid the dangers of the job?
The Broncos have become the friendliest organization in the league. They are willing to share their secrets via Twitter (announced their head coach via Twitter, more later) and other outlets as they let the fans have a peek behind the curtain. However, becoming a transparent organization allows everyone to see your successes along with your mistakes. And with so much rebuilding to be done in Denver, mistakes will be plentiful.
The Broncos wanted to get back to their old ways of doing business. So they fired McDaniels in-season and revamped the organization. They regret giving McDaniels too much power in personnel matters, feeling he did not have the experience to handle the expanded role. So how does it make sense to transfer that power over to someone with even less experience than McDaniels?
Xanders was also there to help McDaniels avoid pitfalls, utilizing his own experience to assist McDaniels. Yet Xanders chose to remain silent and now has divorced himself from all decisions of the McDaniels era. In the new front-office setup, Xanders is there to help Elway and make sure he does not make rookie mistakes, much like McDaniels. This newly-designed Broncos front office has me confused.
What set me over the edge this week was learning the Broncos were interviewing two head-coaching candidates in one day. Are you kidding me? It would take me two days to interview one coach (My notes would run at least seven pages). How can this be considered thorough? They should be called "social gatherings" and "get-togethers," not interviews. And who from the Broncos would know the right questions to ask?
We have seen this before in San Francisco with Mike Singletary, that a Hall of Fame player moving from the field to the sidelines/front office does not mean instant success. But there are some similar stories of success.
Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome is one of the best in the league, and he is also in the Hall of Fame. Yet Newsome didn't begin at the top of the food chain. He worked side by side with me, along with everyone else in Cleveland, learning the nuances of the job. He was surrounded by people who could prepare him to be successful. Newsome was willing to work hard, learn and admit that a Hall of Fame playing career didn't serve him well in the front office.
On Thursday, after spending a brief time socializing with candidates, the Broncos decided to hire John Fox as their new head coach. Fox had been successful in Carolina, but last year with a team in rebuilding mode, he failed miserably with a 2-14 record. Now he joins a team with as many issues, in terms of talent, as the team he left behind.
Blending the coach's philosophy into the organization's philosophy is difficult, and often the reason most teams fail to turn things around is simply by making the wrong hire. Fox's formula for winning is consistent with playing great defense, having an offense that plays mistake free and running the ball. For Fox, third-and-8 is still a running down. How this will blend with Tim Tebow as the Broncos' quarterback is hard to evaluate. Better yet, how this blends with the new regime in Denver will be interesting to watch.
The Broncos needed an experienced coach, and Fox will provide this inexperienced front office with a veteran presence. This will prove to be an enormous help and keep them from making a huge mistake. However, the best thing Fox can provide -- besides coaching the team well -- will be to show the organization what it takes to be a winner.
The Broncos needed someone like Fox to help them navigate through the next few years. Fox left one mess and inherited another. I hope he is ready for the challenge, and I really hope he can help Elway learn his craft.
Both teams are tough, determined to play hard and are well prepared. This will be a war, and I'm not sure either team will have anything left if they have to play next week. For the Ravens to win, they must contain Ben Roethlisberger in the pocket and not allow a big play to Mike Wallace, and they can't make mistakes in pass protection. For the Steelers to win, they must make a few big plays in the passing game, they must not breakdown along their offensive line, and they must contain Ray Rice whenever and wherever he touches the ball. This will be a close game, and I'm going with the Steelers because I have a feeling Wallace is going to be hard to contain.
Well, now, this should be interesting, as the Jets have once again done all the talking. For the Jets to win, they must reduce the game by limiting New England's possessions to fewer than 10, win the battle on first down, and try to get to as many third-and-shorts as possible. They must keep the Patriots close early in the game and not let things get out of hand. For the Patriots to win, they must force Mark Sanchez to play fast, stop the run, and handle the new look from the Jets' defense. This will be a closer game than the last one, but the Jets have not played well in New England, and I don't think they can beat the Patriots.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers fumbled on the 1-yard line, allowing the Falcons to win on a last-second field goal in Week 13. For the Packers to win this time, they must get the lead early and force the Falcons to become all-run, they must tackle well, and they must handle the speed of the Falcons' defense. For the Falcons to win, they must tackle well in their secondary, they must have balance on offense, and they must pressure Rodgers. I think this will be a great game, but I favor the Packers slightly because I like their defense and quarterback a little more than I do the Falcons.
Another rematch game, and now the Seahawks won't play in front of the home fans and have to deal with the slow, soggy field in Chicago. For the Seahawks to win, they must pressure Cutler, forcing him into mistakes. They must pass protect, and they cannot play from behind. For the Bears to win, they must pressure Matt Hasselbeck, be balanced on offense, and they must play mistake-free. I don't believe Seattle can beat the Bears twice, and even though I think it will be a tight game, the Bears will prevail.
Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi