With the stern look in his eyes of a man determined to take a broom to this mess, franchise co-owner Greg Penner marched Sunday toward the Denver locker room, where clueless coach Nathaniel Hackett would embarrass Broncos Country for the last time.
Less than 16 hours later, following a long plane ride back to Colorado after a humiliating 51-14 defeat to the Rams in which the only fight exhibited by the Broncos was a sideline argument between teammates and cheap shots thrown by linebacker Randy Gregory, new ownership sent a clear message by firing Hackett.
This stuff has got to stop.
As odd as it might seem, one day we’ll look back on this Christmas Day massacre as a gift that allowed the healing of an ailing football franchise to begin.
The pressure now squarely falls on general manager George Paton to find a new coach who actually embraces the adult responsibility of coaching up finicky quarterback Russell Wilson and holding players accountable for their mistakes, rather than being obsessed with befriending everybody in the locker room. The easy way forward for Paton would be to hire current Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who not only was a finalist for the vacancy filled by Hackett but offers the experience of 90 regular season and playoff games as the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, including an appearance in the Super Bowl during the 2016 season.
With all due respect, please let this hire be anybody other than Quinn. His 46-44 record with the Falcons is the definition of mediocrity. Mediocrity would be an insult to the championship legacy established by the late Pat Bowlen.
I would much prefer somebody with a proven track record of maximizing the ability of his quarterbacks, whether that be former New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton or current Southern California coach Lincoln Riley.
But in addition to the hindrance of providing draft compensation to the Saints in return for the services of Payton, I strongly suspect he doesn’t see as much upside in Wilson as Baker Mayfield, the much-maligned No. 1 overall choice in the 2018 draft who completed 24 of 28 passes for 230 yards and two touchdowns in the Rams’ romp against Denver.
And how far have the Broncos fallen? Riley, who has developed three quarterbacks who have won the Heisman Trophy, already has a better job at USC than anything this dusty old cowtown has to offer him.
What’s so very painful to Broncos Country goes beyond the sad fact a once-proud franchise now has endured a seven-year playoff drought, with no end to the suffering in sight.
I suspect what hurts the most loyal fans in the NFL, even more, is how their Broncos have been reduced to being the butt of jokes, directed at everything from Wilson’s burnt cooking to Huggy Bear Hackett’s inept decisions on the sideline.
“We recognize and appreciate this organization’s championship history, and we understand we have not met that standard. Our fans deserve much better, and I can’t say enough about their loyalty during such a challenging stretch for our team,” Penner said in a statement released Monday after Hackett was relieved of his duties.
“Moving forward, we will carefully evaluate every aspect of our football operations and make whatever changes are necessary to restore this franchise’s winning tradition.”
How do the Broncos get out of this mess? It all begins with the quarterback. If Russ is cooked and done like dinner, it won’t really matter who is tabbed as the next coach.
“No. 1, I have to play to the standards that I know how to play to and I’ve been playing to my whole career,” said Wilson after his horrendous, three-interception performance against the Rams dropped his quarterback rating to 82.6, which not only ranks 29th in the league but is the lowest of his 11-year pro career.
“We’re at a low moment right now. I don’t fear low moments, because I know every time I’ve always come out the other side.”
After seven years of embarrassment, we’re all sick of losing and won’t take anybody’s vow of improvement on faith alone.
Wilson’s resume now means nothing. He must earn our trust. If Paton can’t demonstrate that building a winning culture is more complicated than throwing money at holes in the roster, he will be on the hot seat at this time next year.
So what’s the best reason to believe there’s hope?
New ownership seems to realize that $4.65 billion bought a football franchise, but the real investment is doing everything possible to win back the faith of Broncos Country.