by Taylor MacHenry
Several years ago, I watched a movie about the great golf legend, Bobby Jones. In one scene, Jones vied for a British Open championship at the Old Course at Saint Andrews, Scotland, and his ball had landed in a bunker with a high, green-side cliff. In several years past, when he had hit his ball into the bunker with the near-impossible green-side shot that required him chipping his ball straight up and landing it on the green, he lost the championship because he pressed himself to make the impossible shot. The multiple strokes he took each of the previous times had cost him the championship. This time, his caddy saw him about to take yet the same impossible shot once again and stopped him before he took the stroke.
The caddy said, “The definition of insanity is to keep repeating the same mistake, and each time expecting a different outcome.”
The Denver Broncos appear to be trapped in that same bunker with the high cliff on the green side, and they seem determined to repeat the same mistake over and over while expecting a different outcome.
San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator, DeMeco Ryans, is without question a brilliant football coach, and at 38 years old, with his brilliance and great opportunities laid before him, he should only get better. Should, being to operative word. No one has a crystal ball, and no one can say that as a brilliant defensive coordinator of a team packed with talent and having the best defense in the NFL, would DeMeco Ryans expand that brilliance on the next level as a head football coach? Yet all the football pundits on television, radio and Sirius XM tout him today as the second coming of Mike Shanahan, the last great head football coach that the Denver Broncos have had.
Yes, John Fox and Wade Phillips were pretty good too. But Mike Shanahan is one of 13 head coaches in Super Bowl history to have won at least two Super Bowls. He is the winningest coach in Broncos history with a record of 146 wins against 91 losses, a career winning percentage of .616.
Broncos head coaching candidate, Sean Payton, as a head football coach in the NFL has over a 15-year career as head coach amassed a winning percentage of .631, with 152 wins against 89 losses. Just a tad better than Mike Shanahan. And from 1988 through 2021, a 33-year coaching career beginning at San Diego State University, he has had only 11 losing seasons. In other words, in 33 years from quarterbacks coach and assistant coach to head coach, he has been part of or as head coach produced 22 winning seasons. Most of the losing seasons, 7 of them in 11, he was not head coach but an assistant or a specialties coach. As head football coach, Peyton has had only 4 losing seasons.
It has been 6 years since the Denver Broncos have had a winning season. In 2016, the year after the Super Bowl win, the Broncos finished 3rd in the AFC West with a 9 and 7 record. Gary Kubiak and Joe DeCamillis coached the team, and this was the year after Peyton Manning retired with the 2015 Super Bowl 50 victory.
In those Broncos losing seasons across the past 6 years, Denver has languished with head coaches with no head coaching experience before their jobs leading the Broncos. Since Mike Shanahan, and not counting Gary Kubiak, who stepped in to fill the game for John Fox when his heart trouble took him off the field, Denver has had Josh McDaniels, John Fox and Jack DelRio (a tandem), Joe DeCamillis (who filled the gap when Gary Kubiak’s health failed), Vance Joseph, Vic Fangio, Nathaniel Hackett, and Jerry Rosburg (who stepped in as interim coach when Hackett was fired).
What jumps off the page is that all these coaches who busted their humps trying, were all out of their depths as a head coach who could lead a team to the Super Bowl. And it is the Super Bowl that Denver Broncos fans expect. So do the owners in the Penner-Walton Group too.
So, why does the leadership of the Denver Broncos appear hell-bent to hire yet another head coach with no NFL head coaching experience? Why?
Especially when standing at the threshold is none other than Sean Payton who has an even more impressive career record as NFL head coach than Mike Shanahan?
It is like the Denver Broncos are back in that bunker with Bobby Jones at Saint Andrews, sitting in that deep bunker with the high cliff on the green side and can only see the top of the flagstick on the green, waving above the Super Bowl hole, and they contemplate chipping that impossible shot from the bunker. Yes, that instead of laying out an easy shot onto the fairway at the entrance of the green, and making a reasonable putt from there. One more stroke but still finishing Par instead of another bogey or double-bogey or even triple-bogey or more?
Going for another candidate with zero NFL head coaching experience instead of making the obvious, logical choice to hire a head coach with a solid NFL career and a Super Bowl under his belt, a head coach that even surpasses Mike Shanahan, the winningest coach in Broncos history?
For the Broncos to pass on Sean Payton and hire DeMeco Ryans is literally the definition of insanity!