That’s the only question anyone holding a position of authority within the Denver Broncos organization should be asking themselves right about now. If Pat Bowlen, one of the greatest owners in sports history, were still running the show, what would be his next move?
What? Who? When? Why?
Here’s the scenario (in case it needs to be spelled out): The Broncos aren’t going to the playoffs. In fact, the Broncos won’t be playing in the postseason for the third consecutive season. The Broncos are running the risk of turning in their second consecutive losing season for the first time since 1972.
Also for consideration: The Broncos’ fans are angry – maybe as angry as they’ve ever been. The boos that rained down from high atop the stadium that’s been unnamed for two seasons on Saturday night were as loud and mad as ever. Denver has good fans; they know a mess when they see one. They know when a coach shouldn’t be a coach, when a quarterback isn’t John Elway or Peyton Manning or even Jake Plummer. They know. And on Saturday, they let the Broncos know.
How far has the value of the stadium naming rights dipped in just a few months? What are the playoffs worth to a potential sponsor? How does the reputation of a coach, or the organization that has thus far chosen not to fire him, hurt the brand?
The Denver Broncos have one of the greatest brands in all of sports – maybe in all of business. It’s a powerful brand, a proud brand, a winning brand. A lot of exceptional folks put in a lot of hard work to make it that way.
At this exact moment, though, the brand deserves better. A fan base that can claim a consecutive sellout streak of 402 games and counting (the longest in the NFL), a waiting list of potential season ticket holders that would spill from Gate 7 to LoDo, and a taxpayer-built stadium – they deserve better, too.
It’s not about winning every single year. This is sports and that would be impossible. It’s about upholding a standard.
This isn’t the standard. Sorry, it just isn’t.
You know who would understand that better than anyone? Pat Bowlen. You know who would do something about it? That’s right, Pat Bowlen.
In the ’94 season, when Wade Phillips was the head coach, the Broncos went 7-9 and missed the playoffs. The year before – also under Phillips – the Broncos were 9-7 and lost in the Wild Card. Broncos fans booed Phillips off the field at Mile High following a season capping 30-28 lost to the Saints at home. His head coach had ultimately posted a .500 record over two season, but Mr. B. had seen enough. With a guy like Elway as the team’s quarterback and going 7-9? Out went Phillips.
Following the 2008 season, the third straight time the Broncos missed the playoffs under two-time Super Bowl winner Mike Shanahan – the greatest coach in franchise history, a “lifer” everyone thought – Bowlen told his longtime friend goodbye. That news shocked Broncos Country, but it confirmed one thing: The standard was far more important than any single person, regardless of their past achievements within the organization.
Twelve games into the 2010 season, Mr. B. didn’t even let his head coach – Josh McDaniels, a whiz kid that the owner himself had hired – finish out. It wasn’t just the record; it was the coach’s reception amongst fans, the way he was despised, the boos, the empty seats.
The 2018 Broncos have one home game remaining. You think there will be a few seats available? A few booing fans who decided to come anyway?
Vance Joseph represents more than a coach who likely won’t be here next season. He’s a coach who’s currently embarrassing a very proud franchise. Regardless of whether he stays or goes, the Broncos aren’t making the playoffs. The argument that consistency matters, that there’s a risk to making a switch to an interim head coach – that’s all out the window at this point. Letting Joseph go – or not – won’t change the Broncos’ fortunes this season.
Letting him go now, however, will send a message: This (and he) is not the standard, and anything less than the standard will not be tolerated. Not even for another week or two.
Saying goodbye to a terrible hire won’t matter in the standings; it will matter in the eyes of the fans, perhaps even the players. Saying goodbye to Vance Joseph simply says, “Hey, we’re the Broncos; this isn’t okay here.”
Or something like that.
If things were still on his watch, if Mr. B hadn’t sent that message already, you can rest assured he’d have sent it Monday morning.
As it sits, Vance Joseph is scheduled to meet the press – per usual – at 1:10 p.m. today.
Enough already. It’s time to do what Pat Bowlen would do.