Time for a head to roll at Dove Valley

When a team’s season comes to an end without the ultimate goal being reached, there’s a tendency for knee-jerk reactions to ensue. Emotions are high. Disappointment runs deep. And bitterness sets in.

As a result, the days and weeks after a tough loss are usually a time to step away from things, letting cooler heads prevail. Big decisions are best made with the benefit of perspective, as opposed to in the heat of the moment.

John Elway subscribed to this theory in 2012, when his Broncos were unceremoniously bounced from the playoffs by the Ravens in the Divisional Playoffs; he didn’t ax his head coach, even though John Fox’s late-game blunders played a huge part in Denver’s shocking home loss to Baltimore.

And he subscribed to it a year ago, when the orange and blue were drubbed by the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII; Elway didn’t boot Fox out the door, even though the head coach didn’t have his team ready to play and were embarrassed on the biggest stage in sports.

In each instance, Elway took a breath, let some time pass and didn’t make a decision that was out of anger, frustration or a combination of both. Instead, he decided to stick with his head coach.

In hindsight, the Broncos general manager and executive vice president of football operations made a mistake. Because now, on the heels of another disastrous end to a once-promising season, Denver has burned through two more years of Peyton Manning’s career; their window of opportunity with a Hall of Fame quarterback behind center has all but closed without a championship, squandered in part because of a loyalty to Fox.

Would it have been tough to can a coach who had gone 13-3 and won the AFC West? Yep. Would it have been unprecedented to fire a guy after three straight division titles and a trip to the Super Bowl? No doubt. But that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t have been the right thing to do.

After all, it’s no secret that Fox is a bad fit for the Broncos as they are currently constructed; he’s a conservative coach leading a team built for rolling the dice. He’s a little old lady at the wheel or a Ferrari, a recipe that seems destined for disappointment at best and disaster at worst.

Yesterday, the Broncos were reminded of this fact in painful fashion. They were dominated on their home field, seeing their season end at the hands of the Colts in a 24-13 loss that seemed a lot more lopsided than the final score would indicate.

It was a classic Fox performance. Denver seemed ill-prepared for the game, eerily reminiscent of Feb. 2 in the Meadowlands, and they failed to make any adjustments throughout the game, getting outmaneuvered by the coaches on the other sideline.

From the outset, Denver seemed convinced that they could generate a pass rush on Andrew Luck with just four defenders. Time after time after time, the Broncos were picked apart when the Colts quarterback had all day to find an open receiver. It’s a Fox-led strategy, a plan derived from being scared of giving up the big play.

Instead, Denver suffered a slow death. Nothing was a better example of this than the 8:14 drive they surrendered in the fourth quarter. Trailing by eight, the Broncos needed to get the ball back; instead, they let Indianapolis burn more than half of the remaining time on the clock and get a field goal that made it a two-score game.

And on offense, Denver was even worse. All day, the Broncos seemed out of sync, unable to come up with a way to decode the Colts defensive scheme. Time after time after time, Manning was forced to dump the ball to a safety-valve receiver, unable to find an open man down field.

In part, this was because Denver never adapted to the press coverage that Indianapolis was using; that’s the same tactic that the Seahawks used to rattle the Broncos in the Super Bowl. Despite having a year to figure out a countermeasure – such as running a receiver in motion, which is Football 101 – Manning and Company looked as befuddled as they did last February.

It was painful to watch, a mind-numbing example of a stubborn coach sticking to his guns despite a mountain of evidence suggesting that a different tactic was in order. And it needs to be the last straw for Elway.

The 45-10 loss in the Divisional Playoffs after the 2011 season was one thing; the Broncos were playing on house money with Tim Tebow. The shocker against the Ravens was defendable; it was the first year of Manning in Denver. And even the Super Bowl was understandable; sometimes, a team just runs into a buzz saw.

But enough is enough. Four trips to the playoffs and four colossal failures in the final game of the season is all that any head coach should get.

And that’s not anger talking. That wouldn’t be a rash decision. It would be the most prudent plan of attack for the Broncos future.

If Manning doesn’t retire – a threat that reeks of a power play to force a much-needed coaching coach – why bring Fox back? Hasn’t he already proven that he can’t get the job done with No. 18 as his quarterback?

And if Manning walks away, does anyone think that Fox is the right guy to lead a rebuilding program? Heck, even the coach himself knows that isn’t the case, which is why he’s hinted interest in other available coaching jobs.

In the coming days, the Broncos could very well be losing both of their coordinators, as Jack Del Rio and Adam Gase seem poised to land jobs as head coaches with other teams. That would provide the perfect opportunity to wipe the slate clean.

Then, it’s a matter of finding the right man for the job moving forward. It’s an interesting hire, as the head coach would be walking into a situation that could drastically change at any minute with Manning’s decision on retirement; and it’s one that will eventually do a 180 whenever the quarterback finally does walk away.

Thus, Elway needs to find a guy who can do two things: A new head coach needs to reinvigorate Manning, finding a way to coax another great season or two out of a legend by putting him in a position to succeed, and he needs to develop Brock Osweiler as the quarterback of the future, given that another draft choice would mean a multi-year rebuilding plan and another free agent gem isn’t going to fall into their laps again.

Who fits that bill?

Maybe it’s Gary Kubiak, Elway’s old backup quarterback who did a great job this season in Baltimore, helping Joe Flacco post the best statistical season of his career. Maybe it’s Mike Shanahan, the man who teamed with Elway to win back-to-back Super Bowls in the 1990s and seems resigned to the fact that he’s best suited as a coach and not a GM. Maybe it’s Gase, a guy who was handcuffed when Fox decided to revert to his conservative roots after a bad loss to the Rams.

Any of them would be an improvement. Any of them would be a step in the right direction. Any of them would provide a ray of hope that next season will end differently.

There’s no time like the present on making this move, before John Fox’s presence causes Peyton Manning to hang up his cleats. Because for all of the aging quarterback’s shortcomings, he’s still Denver’s only hope of being competitive in 2015. Now, he just needs a head coach that gives the Broncos that same chance.

John Elway made a mistake when he didn’t make a coaching change prior to this season. It’s time to right that wrong. It’s time for John Fox to be shown the door.