LOS ANGELES • If the Broncos don’t step up the rest of the season, John Elway should step down as general manager at the end of the season.
A fresh voice from the outside must be heard inside the Dove Valley executive offices.
The Broncos have changed players and coaches, but not administrators.
This isn’t a demand that the Broncos/Colorado icon should leave or stop leading. John should continue as president of football and hire a new general manager experienced in the position to assist him.
Although many external GM candidates would apply, my choices are Martin Mayhew, who was the Lions’ general manager from 2008-2015, and Rick Smith, who headed the Texans’ football operations from 2006-2017.
Smith, a former Broncos’ assistant, then director of pro personnel from 1996-2005, took a lengthy sabbatical in 2018 to care for his wife, who was diagnosed with and died from breast cancer. The Broncos won’t have an actual principal owner for five years, or longer, as Brittany Bowlen rejoins the franchise to be mentored in all departments before becoming her late father’s successor.
The Duke of Denver will be the face of the franchise forever, but he can’t allow his image of seven Super Bowls and three championships to be blemished by a team that will miss the playoffs for the fourth straight season. John would still be involved in, and give approval to, major draft and veteran free agent decisions, as Pat Bowlen always was before a debilitating disease forced him into decline and eventually to death. But someone else should be running the complex day-to-day matters of the GM post.
With a loss to the Chargers Sunday, the Broncos would start 0-5 for the first time in their 60-season history. This three-season stretch (2017-19), without a turnaround, could be the worst for the franchise since the Lou Saban-Jerry Smith-John Ralston 1970-72 years produced only nine victories (with 14-game schedules).
To Mr. B, Mike Shanahan was coach-for-life after winning back-to-back titles. However, after 9-7, 7-9 and 8-8 records (including 4-4, 5-3 and 4-4 marks at home) from 2006-08, Pat fired Mike. What would Bowlen do now about the Broncos? December 6, 2010 was a fascinating day in the state’s sports history. Jon Embree was announced as football coach at Colorado; Josh McDaniels was fired as Broncos coach, and Elway and Bowlen, and their wives, met at the restaurant named for Elway. (The dinner had been arranged two weeks earlier.)
In a private area, Bowlen and Elway agreed that John would return to the Broncos in an important position. They celebrated with a handshake and champagne. Pat had been feeling the effects of Alzheimer’s for more than a year and wanted his former quarterback to be The Man for one more heroic comeback.
Bowlen told Elway he could become a minority owner or work in an official capacity, but couldn’t have both roles. As an ownership partner, Pat said, John wouldn’t have a job with the Broncos, and as an administrator, Elway wouldn’t be making ownership decisions because he might have to be fired or quit to accept a position with another franchise.
John said he would prefer a pathway to the head of football operations. He formally was hired Jan. 5, 2011.
Brian Xanders, now a vice president for the Rams, became general manager, but was let go after a year, and John took over the dual role of vice president and GM. Elway also owns car dealerships in Colorado and California and serves as a spokesman for mortgage and pharmaceutical companies.
Rumors that he would try to buy a minority share or all of the Broncos were untrue. President and CEO Joe Ellis, who initially was opposed to Elway in Broncos management, became close to John and signed him to a five-year contract in July 2017, and promoted him to president.
Nevertheless, many in the masses and the media have turned on John in the past two years, and moreso lately.
When John took over in ’11, I asked him in his office how he would respond to negativity if the Broncos didn’t win and his reputation was tarnished. “I’m not worried. I’ve handled pressure my whole career.’’
The heat is on. If the Broncos are busted Sunday and the rest of the season, Elway must consider a step in another direction — and appoint a GM.