NFL Nation: John Elway

PHOENIX – Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning has been out of sight, at least in terms of public appearances. But the team’s coaching change, with John Fox out and Gary Kubiak in, has not been out of Manning's mind.

Manning is aware of the public conversation following Kubiak’s hire has been about whether Manning could fit into his new coach's offense. On Friday, Manning said the subject isn't worth debate.

“I know that’s been a hot topic of discussion," Manning said following a breakfast where he received the Bart Starr Award for his off-the-field efforts. “ ... But if I choose to come back, I feel pretty comfortable, aside maybe from Tubby Raymond’s Delaware Wing-T offense, I feel pretty comfortable playing in any offense. I really do. I don’t see that as really being a factor."

Manning’s affirmation of his ability to work within Kubiak’s playbook confirms what former Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer said shortly after Kubiak’s hiring that the two would be able to work together.

“There's no doubt in my mind," Plummer said earlier this month. "Man, look, Gary is a great coach and great coaches change their systems up -- they extend it or tweak it to maximize their players' abilities. But they would both have to work at it, they both would have to find what was best for them on each side. They could do it, but they would have to put in the time to make it right. It’s not an exact fit, but Kubes is a great, great coach and Peyton is one of the best ever. If they want to get it done, need to get it done, they'll get it done."

Manning has not yet decided if he will return for the 2015 season, but said Friday he doesn’t want the process “to linger." He said Kubiak’s offense and any fallout from the Broncos’ 24-13 loss to the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC’s divisional round would not be factors. Kubiak has run a version of the West Coast offense almost exclusively in his career as an NFL play-caller. It requires the quarterback to be on the move plenty, to throw on the run, rolling left or right to both sides of the formation at various times.

Manning has played almost exclusively in the pocket in his Hall of Fame career with a far different playbook with far different verbiage in the play calls. Kubiak, on the day he was introduced as Broncos coach, said it would be “easy to work with Peyton," and that should Manning return: "We would make an offense that fits what our players do. This will be a Denver Broncos offense, not Gary Kubiak's offense. ... We would work to Peyton's strengths when the time comes and he makes his decision either way."

Manning also reaffirmed Friday his decision to return will be based largely on his physical health as well as the team's plans for himself and the roster.

“I’m kind of still determining that," Manning said. “That’s a little bit of the time. I’m taking some time to assess some things and to see. That’s something that’s important to me is not whether I can physically do it for myself, but can I physically do it to help the team? I’ve always wanted to be part of the solution to helping and never a problem or a limiting factor for the team. I want to be able to look Coach Kubiak and John Elway and Joe Ellis in the eye and say, ‘Yeah, physically, I honestly feel I can contribute and help.'

“It’s one thing to play and have a uniform and be on the roster. It’s another to truly contribute and help. And that’s the only thing I’ve known in football."
Former Denver Broncos running back Terrell Davis' Hall of Fame candidacy is one of quality. He did as much as possible in the time he had in the NFL.

Davis played just seven NFL seasons -- all with the Broncos -- before knee injuries ended his career, but his résumé continues to be unique. To those who played alongside him, Davis is deserving of a spot in the Hall of Fame. He was a Super Bowl MVP (XXXII) to close out the 1997 season and won an NFL MVP award in 1998.

Davis led the league in rushing in ’98 with 2,008 yards and has three of the top five rushing seasons in Broncos history. His career mark of 97.5 rushing yards per game (regular season) is the fourth-best total in NFL history.

Davis rushed for 100 or more yards in seven of his eight career playoff games, and the Broncos won all seven. Those were Denver's consecutive postseason wins on the way to back-to-back Super Bowl wins to close out the 1997 and 1998 seasons. Davis has been a semifinalist for the Hall of Fame seven times, including this year, but this is the first time he has been a finalist.

He is just one of two backs in the Super Bowl era to have won the league’s rushing title and the Super Bowl in the same season. Davis did it to close out the 1998 season, while Emmitt Smith did it three times.

And there is precedent for a back with a career as short as Davis’ to reach Canton. Six running backs who are already enshrined played in fewer regular-season games than Davis’ 78.

“I’ve always said, I would not have two Super Bowl rings if it were not for TD,’’ said John Elway, the franchise's legendary QB who is now the Broncos' executive vice president of football operations/general manager. “I believe that.’’

PHOENIX – Former NFL quarterback Archie Manning said Thursday that he expects Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, one of his three sons, to decide on whether he plays in 2015 “maybe in the next week or two."

Archie Manning made his comments during an appearance from the Super Bowl media center, aired by a Nashville, Tennessee, radio station, and touched on Peyton Manning’s impending decision as well as the quarterback’s right thigh injury he suffered in December.

“He’s given a lot of thought to it," Archie Manning said. “My advice for him is to go through the process, get away a little bit, let your leg heal, give it a lot of throught and decide what you’re going to do … [I] think he’s taken a good evaluation of where he is physically."

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY SportsPeyton Manning missed the Pro Bowl because of a lingering thigh injury.
Peyton Manning skipped last week's Pro Bowl because of the injury. At the time, Manning issued a statement that he was “disappointed that I'm just not healthy enough this year to be part of it."

Manning suffered the injury just before halftime of the Broncos' Dec. 14 victory over the San Diego Chargers. Manning had suffered flu-like symptoms the night before the game and had four bags of fluids administered by IV in the night before the game and the morning of the game.

He has said he believed dehydration contributed to the leg injury, which he suffered trying to roll out to throw to Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders.

After missing some practice time the week following the injury, Manning had his first four-interception game of the season against the Cincinnati Bengals and he did not throw for a touchdown pass in the regular-season finale against the Oakland Raiders.

Manning had said on Christmas Eve that he intended to return for the 2015 season, but then backtracked Jan. 11 following the Broncos’ 24-13 loss to the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC’s divisional round. Manning finished 26-of-46 passing for 211 yards and a touchdown in the playoff loss as several Colts defenders said they wanted to put the game’s in Manning’s hands and force him to throw the ball toward the sidelines.

Following the game, Manning said he could not say with any certainty if he would be back for the 2015 season. Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway met with Manning the day after the season-ending loss and Elway said he told Manning to take at least four weeks to make a decision.

Manning’s salary for the 2015 season -- $19 million – is guaranteed on March 9, which is the last day of the league year, if Manning is on the roster. Manning was signed to a five-year, $96 million deal in 2012 that has been tweaked since he signed it.

If he returns to play in 2015, his cap charge is scheduled to be $21.5 million -- his base salary and a pro-rated charge for bonuses.

Asked Thursday if he expected Manning to return for the 2015 season, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said: “What a great player he’s been for this league? He’s a great competitor, and I’ve been fortunate to play against him a bunch of times. I certainly hope he comes back because the league will miss him if he doesn’t. Those decisions are up to him. I’m sure it’s up to him whether he’s [ready] mentally and physically, if that’s what he wants to do. I certainly hope he’s back."
PHOENIX -- Occasionally, in walking around the events that surround the Super Bowl, you’ll spot a forlorn-looking soul in a Broncos jersey. A No. 18 here, a No. 58 there, a No. 10, maybe a No. 88 or two.

The Broncos opened their offseason workouts last April with the idea they would be one of the two teams in Super Bowl XLIX, that they would be the AFC team working out of a snazzy resort hotel. They said it, stood up for it and lived with that thought for most of the season that unfolded.

“That was the goal all year long," said cornerback Chris Harris Jr. after his first Pro Bowl appearance earlier this week. “We didn’t step back from that. That was our goal; we believed we had that kind of team. We still believe we have that kind of team. We’ll take some time and come back to work. But when you’re here and see all the Super Bowl stuff, it’s right there in front of you, most anywhere you look you see something that has the Super Bowl on it with those Roman numerals, right there. Of course, you want that to be you, you want to be playing for the championship."

[+] EnlargeEmmanuel Sanders
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesEmmanuel Sanders is among the Broncos players participating in Super Bowl festivities this week.
These Broncos have felt the sting in each of the last three seasons. They have exited the divisional round as the AFC’s No. 1 seed (2012). They have exited the divisional round as the AFC’s No. 2 seed (earlier this month). And they have lost a Super Bowl, by 35 points last February as the AFC’s top seed. It was the team's first title game appearance since it closed out the 1998 season as the champion.

As the eight Broncos players went through the Pro Bowl practices last week, they were surrounded by communities doing a Super Bowl countdown, with Super Bowl banners hanging over calendars of Super Bowl events. They continue to be a part of things, as Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders was on the autograph schedule at the NFL Experience Tuesday and Wednesday, and linebacker Von Miller was on the docket Wednesday.

That, too, is a Super Bowl phenomenon. For players good enough to draw a crowd in the Super Bowl mayhem, it is an odd existence. You’re at the Super Bowl, just not in the Super Bowl.

“You know you had a good season; you were in the playoffs and it’s hard to get in the playoffs," said Broncos defensive end DeMarcus Ware, who played in this past Sunday’s Pro Bowl. “But the goal was to get to where we wanted to go all season and that’s the Super Bowl … It’s why it’s a little different to play [the Pro Bowl] where the Super Bowl is. You see Super Bowl stuff everywhere, kind of reminds you a little every time."

The Broncos have continued to go about their business in the last week as Gary Kubiak fills out his coaching staff. But there may be no bigger crossing of paths between the Broncos and the Super Bowl than Friday when quarterback Peyton Manning is scheduled to be in Phoenix to accept the Bart Starr Award for his community work.

It will be Manning’s most public appearance since the Broncos’ Jan. 11 loss to the Indianapolis Colts. Manning said following that game he was uncertain if he would return for the 2015 season.

Executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway met with Manning the day after the loss and told Manning to take several weeks to make his decision.

“It’s hard for the season to be over," said Miller, one of the other Pro Bowl Broncos. “All you can do is get ready to get back to work when it’s time. We wanted to be here for the other game, be in the last game. You’re going to remember that no matter how many banners we see here."
PHOENIX -- In a Super Bowl with two coaches in Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll who know the benefits of a second chance, the latter stood up for former Denver Broncos coach John Fox.

Carroll dropped Fox's name while answering a question about finding a way to secure another chance in the NFL after being fired as a head coach. Carroll was fired by the New England Patriots after three seasons and by the New York Jets after one before finding success with the Seattle Seahawks. Fox is now the head coach of the Chicago Bears.

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AP Photo/Chris O'MearaPete Carroll, a beneficiary of second chances, empathizes with former Broncos coach John Fox.
"So often guys get kicked out," Carroll said Wednesday morning. "I got kicked out after one year at the Jets. I didn't even get started figuring that thing out, I was a mess. But those experiences are extraordinarily valuable and I can see why owners look to a guy who has had experiences.

"To hire a guy like John Fox, how could you not want to hire John Fox? He's done everything. He's been through it all and he's a great coach and a communicator. I understand why guys get a second chance in that regard. It's based on the accumulated experiences that give you more wisdom, more understanding, and also an opportunity to see a guy. You've seen them in situations and you know more so what you're getting. I think that happens, too."

The Broncos and Fox parted ways Jan. 12, the day after Denver's loss to the Indianapolis Colts. Fox led the Broncos to four consecutive AFC West titles and three consecutive 12-win seasons, including 2014. In announcing the move, Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway said the two disagreed on how to take the Broncos "to the next level."

In replacing Fox, Elway gave his long-time friend and former teammate Gary Kubiak a second chance as a head coach as well. Kubiak was fired by the Houston Texans 13 games into the 2013 season and spent this past season as the Baltimore Ravens' offensive coordinator.

"I learned a lot," said Kubiak, who was 61-64 in regular-season games with the Texans. "I think you always learn from what happens. You learn what you should do and maybe what you shouldn't do,"

Carroll echoed that sentiment Wednesday.

"It's just experiences," Carroll said. "This is a really difficult job the first time. There are so many things that happen in this position that you just can't predict and you just don't know and you don't see it coming in your preparation. You just have to deal with it as it hits you. Everybody is going to falter and make mistakes and say, 'I wish I would have known then what I know now.' That's going to happen. What unfortunately doesn't always happen is guys get enough time to work through those early years so that you can find your way and you can find your voice and you can find your perspective."

Former Broncos coach Josh McDaniels, who was fired 12 games into his second season in Denver and is now the Patriots' offensive coordinator, is hoping for a second chance as a head coach. Like Carroll, McDaniels said this week that the first time through can be a bumpy ride.

"I think I'm a better listener than I was then. I was young, made a lot of mistakes, learned from them -- hopefully -- try to be a better person, a better coach," McDaniels said. "I learned every day from it ... sometimes when you step away from it, you can look at it with a better eye, see what you did and why and make sure that it was the best way."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- In all the words that have been written or spoken about friendship, the simplicity of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “the best we can find in our travels is an honest friend," might be the bottom line.

And in the NFL, people hire their friends all of the time, familiarity being a powerful lure for folks trying to make high-risk decisions into low-risk ones. But those who hire a friend must also be prepared to fire a friend.

Which brings us to John Elway and Gary Kubiak. Elway is the Denver Broncos' executive vice president of football operations/general manager who hired Kubiak as the 15th head coach in the franchise’s history. The two really didn't need an interview to get the lowdown on each other.

[+] EnlargeJohn Elway and Gary Kubiak
The Denver Post/AP ImagesJohn Elway and Gary Kubiak have known each other for over 30 years.
They have been friends for more than three decades, since both were rookie quarterbacks for the Broncos in 1983. They’re former roommates and Kubiak was Elway’s offensive coordinator for four seasons. Elway, many who know him believe, has wanted Kubiak to be the coach since Pat Bowlen and Joe Ellis hired Elway in 2011 to resurrect the Broncos.

If it goes well, it is the kind of homecoming, put-the-band-back-together story Bowlen always endorsed when he ran the day-to-day operations of the team. If it doesn’t work out, well …

“We don't talk about risk," Kubiak said this week. “We understand the business. We understand it's a battle every day and it's stressful. But we have great respect for each other. We know it's going to be tough. But it's going to be fun being tough with somebody with that you know he had so much confidence in, so much trust in, as a football mind. And what John's done here in a brief period of time with this organization has been tremendous for me."

Since the Broncos and John Fox "parted ways" the day after the Broncos’ playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts, Elway has said he and Fox disagreed on how the team would take the next step, from playoff contender to title winner. And while Fox did not address that thought in his news conference in Chicago on Monday, there are those who believe he wanted a little more say on personnel matters, or at least be kept in the loop. Fox also balked at potential coaching staff changes.

Of all the things Elway said following Fox’s departure, the phrase "like-minded," might have been one of the most important. In short, there may be no more like-minded person for Elway when it comes to football than Kubiak.

“Gary’s done it, he’s seen it. He understands, he’s been there; he’s won a world championship with Mike [Shanahan]," said Elway, when asked why Kubiak is the right coach to take the Broncos to the next level. "And so he’s seen it. He’s been with the Baltimore Ravens, who have won several world championships. He’s seen how they do it. ... We talked about comments that this is a place that it’s win a championship or nothing. That’s how it’s always been. Nothing’s changing there. That’s what Pat Bowlen wants. And that’s why it’s great that Gary’s experience here being a Denver Bronco, he understands that."

And there you have it. Kubiak understands that Elway’s goal and the Bowlen family’s goal is to win a Super Bowl. Sure, that’s everybody’s stated goal in the NFL, but to state the goal is one thing, to part ways with a coach who won four consecutive division titles to go with 46 regular-season games in four years is another.

Still, like a lot of things you ask Kubiak about, he is unfazed by that thought. And when you’ve spent as much time with Elway as Kubiak has, he knows it’s just a given with his boss.

“John's the most competitive human being I've ever been around, whether you're playing cards or ping pong, it doesn't matter," Kubiak said. “And that's not going to change. I think I'm very competitive, too. That's probably why we're still standing in this league because if you're not, you're not going to hang out for very long. I think this will be 31 or 32 years for me in the National Football League and I'm sure it's the same, well, it would be the same for John. So, just to get together and battle together every day is something that is very special and something I look forward to."

The jury is out, until games get played and seasons go by, as to whether it works the way Elway and Kubiak want it to -- long-time friends help win Super Bowl trophy for Bowlen -- but Kubiak, more than anyone else the Broncos could have hired, knows exactly what he has signed up for.

As he said: “I want to be part of expectations."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- In the middle of a career-changing losing streak, as he sought to pull the 2013 Houston Texans out of the rut they had fallen into and find the unturned stone that would make the difference, Gary Kubiak said he tried to do too much.

That he saw his limit but went right on by.

"That was a scary time," Kubiak said this week. "... I probably ran myself into the ground a little bit. I think I learned a lot from that."

[+] EnlargeGary Kubiak
Chuck Coo/USA TODAY SportsNew Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak said he learned to delegate better in his season with the Ravens after suffering a health scare with the Texans.
The circled date will always be Nov. 3, 2013, against the Indianapolis Colts, when Kubiak, in his eighth season as the Texans' coach, collapsed on the field just before halftime of what would become the team's sixth consecutive loss in a streak that reached 14 by season's end.

Doctors called it a transient ischemic attack, or TIA. It happens if blood flow to the brain is briefly interrupted, often by a blood clot or narrowed blood vessels. It is often referred to as a "ministroke," because symptoms last only a few minutes or a few hours with no permanent brain damage.

TIAs can be a sign that a person is at higher risk for a stroke in the future. But just over 14 months since that episode, Kubiak said he's healthy and more than physically and mentally ready to be the 15th head coach in Denver Broncos history.

Kubiak returned in '13 to finish out the season but was fired after 13 games with the Texans at 2-11. He was the Baltimore Ravens' offensive coordinator this season.

"I'm doing great, I'm feeling fine," Kubiak said. "Hopefully I look OK. But I'm doing fine, I worked through that. I think it's like anything else, you're giving something everything you have and that was a tough season, tough situation and I was going to keep swinging. Like I said, I probably just ran myself down a little bit too much, but I've come back from it. Everybody tells me I'm doing just fine. I took a big physical this past week, so I'm ready to go. I'm good."

John Elway, the Broncos' executive vice president of football operations/general manager, said he discussed the topic of health with his new coach.

"I think Gary, we talked about it and he said it, he said it was a good lesson for him," Elway said. "I think a lot of times, obviously my dad [Jack] was a coach and he didn't take great care of himself, so we had talked about that before. And I think, as Gary said, it was a good thing for him, because now he had to be more conscious of his health and how he was treating his body and the things he was working on."

It can be part of the learning curve on the job, surrounding yourself with people you're willing to delegate to in a profession filled with hands-on, Type A personalities. It's a profession where getting fired is part of a longer path than perhaps the coaches anticipate when they first land a top job in the league. After all, the two head coaches in the Super Bowl were both fired in their first tries -- Bill Belichick by the Cleveland Browns and Pete Carroll by the New England Patriots.

Kubiak said that in retrospect, he believes he was not willing to involve the people around him with the Texans enough in his attempts to try to correct a season that was off the rails. He added that his season with the Ravens will also have a lasting impact in how he takes on the job with the Broncos.

"Then I really can't explain the value of last year for me as a coach, being around [Ravens coach] John Harbaugh, being around that organization, being around [general manager] Ozzie Newsome, watching them go about their business, how they go about being successful week in and week out," Kubiak said. "I take all that with me as I move forward, and I know I'm a lot better coach now than I was when I left. A lot more experience. It still gets back to the people you surround yourself with. I think all coaches are only as good as the players they have and coaches they've got working with them. We'll have a great crew doing that, I promise you."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Yes, John Elway was going to always keep Peyton Manning apprised of the Denver Broncos' search for a new head coach.

Yes, Elway is going to give Manning plenty of room to make a decision about whether the quarterback does, or doesn’t, play in 2015.

[+] EnlargeJohn Elway
AP Photo/Jack DempseyJohn Elway has to make decisions on 17 Broncos scheduled to become free agents this offseason.
And yes, the Manning decision is certainly the team’s biggest question at the moment, at least in the public domain. But Elway made it clear Manning is not the only player the team is thinking about right now.

“I’m not talking to Peyton about what his plans are because I don’t think he’s ready to talk about it,’’ Elway said Tuesday as the Broncos formally introduced Gary Kubiak as the team’s new head coach. “ … I will say this: I talked to Peyton Saturday and said we were going down to talk to Gary on Sunday and it’s been a whirlwind since then. I also want to emphasize there’s 52 other guys we’ve got to worry about here. And I think we build this thing as a team. … Sure, we do want Peyton’s input, I do want to understand Peyton’s side of it, what he wants to do, but really there is 52 other guys on this roster, 10 guys on the practice squad and now guys we’ve signed to future contracts. And those guys are really, really important, too. This organization is important.’’

Following the Broncos’ Jan. 11 loss to the Indianapolis Colts in an AFC divisional round game, Manning said he could not say if he planned to return for the 2015 season. It was a departure from his statement Christmas Eve that he did plan on coming back next year “if the Broncos will have me.’’

Manning and the Broncos do face at least one deadline in the decision. Manning’s $19 million salary for the 2015 season is guaranteed if he is on the roster on the last day of the league year, which is March 9. Free agency opens and the new league year begins March 10.

Beyond Manning’s decision, the Broncos also have 17 players scheduled to be free agents -- unrestricted and restricted combined.

“So my job, as I say, sure I want to try to help and do everything I can to help Peyton with his decision. But it’s also very important that we take care of those other guys that are under contract with us that are on this football team because they’re just as important,’’ Elway said.

Kubiak said he, too, would be looking to put a hard sell on Manning, but to let the 14-time Pro Bowl selection make his decision.

“Yes, we have talked. We talked a couple of days ago at length,’’ Kubiak said. “We talked a little bit [Monday] night via text and those type of things. We talked about a lot of stuff. But the bottom line is we’ve basically come to the conclusion that -- I know he’s got some things going on, family things right now, and obviously I’ve got a lot going on here the next couple of days -- we’re going to get together and sit down. The thing I want to do, I want to be the best support system I can be for Peyton.’’
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- It was a strange few days for Gary Kubiak.

One moment he had just finished his first season as the Baltimore Ravens' offensive coordinator, offering it was “flattering and humbling" to be considered as a head coach after the end of the Ravens’ season -- a divisional-round loss to the New England Patriots -- and Kubiak said he had “decided to stay with the Ravens."

That was before the Denver Broncos job was open, which came the following day, and Kubiak said it brought a change of heart.

“I had a couple opportunities come up real, real quick," Kubiak said Tuesday just after he was introduced as the new Broncos head coach. “Rhonda [Kubiak’s wife] and I talked about it, you now, what I went through the year before, I thought I was in a good place, I liked what I was doing, I knew I was learning a great deal. And I just kind of said to myself, ‘hey Rhonda I’m going to make this decision, we’re going to stay (with the Ravens). We’re going to go take a vacation, take a break. Obviously there’s been no vacation."

Kubiak played for the Broncos for nine seasons as the backup quarterback to his current boss -- the team's executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway -- and was an assistant coach for the team for 11 more years, including the team’s back-to-back Super Bowl winners to close out the 1997 and 1998 seasons.

Kubiak said when the Broncos job opened after the team "parted ways" with John Fox after Denver's 24-13 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, and the Broncos had expressed interest, that he met with Ravens head coach John Harbaugh and other team officials, including general manager Ozzie Newsome.

“Just a game-changer," Kubiak said. “This place is special to me, I started my career here and hopefully this ia chance -- I think I have a lot left in me -- to hopefully end my career here ... Just a totally different scenario for me and I know the Ravens understood that."

And it’s why nine days after saying he planned to stay with the Ravens as offensive coordinator, Kubiak was officially named the 15th head coach in Broncos’ franchise history.

“Tremendous motivation for me to come here and work for [the Bowlen] family, be a dream come true for them to hold that trophy again," Kubiak said. “[I] hope to get a chance to visit with Pat [Bowlen] here shortly."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos will formally introduce Gary Kubiak as the team’s new coach on Tuesday.

In many ways, it will be an easy move to explain to the team’s faithful. Kubiak is a former Broncos player and assistant coach. He has three Super Bowl rings -- one from when he was an assistant coach with the San Francisco 49ers and two from his time as an assistant with the Broncos.

Kubiak is a good man, honorable in how he conducts himself. He took out a full-page ad in the Houston Chronicle to thank “the players, coaches and staff for their tireless work and commitment’’ and to thank the fans AFTER he had been fired by the Texans in December 2013.

[+] EnlargeBaltimore's Gary Kubiak
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesGary Kubiak's career record as a head coach is 61-64.
His former players swear by him -- a list that includes the likes of Rod Smith and Terrell Davis, and apparently one John Elway. Former tight end Joel Dreessen has said publicly he would “take a bullet’’ for Kubiak, and Jake Plummer said he wept when Kubiak left the Broncos after the 2005 season.

It’s all there with Kubiak: faith, family and football.

But the Broncos themselves have framed the discussion differently from the moment they parted ways with John Fox. He won 46 regular-season games and four division titles in four seasons in Denver, but it wasn't enough. The Broncos want to win the Super Bowl.

Elway essentially shook hands with a good guy in Fox, telling him two playoff exits as the AFC’s top seed -- a Super Bowl blowout last February to go with the double overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens to close out the 2012 season -- to go with their exit as the AFC's No. 2 seed with the Jan. 11 loss to the Indianapolis Colts would not do.

When Elway announced Fox’s departure, he said: “He’s a very, very good man. He’s got a tremendous heart -- even the new one they fixed is still tremendous -- a guy that I will always have a personal relationship with. When we did get up and he left the room, we gave each other a hug and wished each other the best of luck. That relationship will always remain that way.’’

So clearly it isn't about being a good man, it is about playing football at the highest level. The level that wins championships.

Kubiak has led an NFL team before. His record in eight seasons with the Houston Texans was 61-64. They made the playoffs twice in 2011 and '12, winning a game before losing the next in both cases.

The Texans struggled on defense in Kubiak’s tenure, until he hired Wade Phillips as the defensive coordinator. Things also got away from Kubiak at quarterback in his final season. Matt Schaub seemed to to lose confidence after a flurry of interceptions returned for touchdowns, and the losing appeared to take an enormous toll on Kubiak as he tried to make it right.

These are different situations, teams in different places to be sure. When Kubiak took the Texans' job before the 2006 season, they were a two-win team with an atrocious roster.

But his tenure showed how important his defensive staff was to his success. Phillips’ hire snapped the defense in order. Rick Dennison’s hire as offensive coordinator a few years into Kubiak’s tenure also bred success as the team's running game and offensive line play improved. Dennison will be on Kubiak’s staff with the Broncos, but how he fills out the rest of that staff will determine a lot about how things go in the seasons to come.

It is always a question of personnel, coaching or both. The Broncos believe Kubiak is the coach who can take a team Elway thinks has top-quality personnel and keep it playing into February.

Still, if the loss to the Colts showed anything, it’s that assignment discipline matters, schemes matter and players digesting information and playing in the moment matter. The Patriots and the Seahawks, two teams that defeated the Broncos this past season, showed where the get-it-done bar in the league sits right now.

Kubiak’s Texans never played beyond the divisional round and now he has been tasked with taking the Broncos to a championship. He will use what he learned in Houston, where he was expected to win.

But in Denver, he will be expected to win a lot more.
CHICAGO -- Chicago Bears chairman George McCaskey and team president Ted Phillips took a critical look at the club’s disastrous 2014 season and reached the conclusion that keeping "the status quo was not an option."

The hiring of soon-to-be 60-year old John Fox represents a genuine break from the status quo.

Fox arrives in Chicago with a wealth of head coaching experience after spending nine seasons in Carolina (2002-10) and four in Denver (2011-14), reaching the playoffs a combined seven times, and finishing as the runner-up in two Super Bowls.

This breaks the franchise’s tradition of hiring first-time head coaches.

Though new general manager Ryan Pace had what several sources described as a "tight" relationship with former Buffalo Bills head coach Doug Marrone, whom the Bears interviewed on Tuesday along with Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, Fox became a no-brainer the moment he "mutually parted company" with John Elway and the Broncos.

The Bears, coming off a 5-11 train wreck, could ill afford to pass on Fox, especially after the Bruce Arians debacle from two years ago, when former general manager Phil Emery bypassed Arians (21-11 in Arizona) in favor of Marc Trestman (13-19).

Can you imagine Pace choosing Marrone over Fox, and two or three years later firing Marrone after he failed to pan out in Chicago?

It would be disastrous for the organization.

Even if Fox falls short of turning the Bears into a perennial playoff participant, at least the young GM would be able to mount an honest defense: He hired the best man available at the time.

However, strong evidence suggests Fox can change the Bears’ culture.

Fox comes from a defensive background, serving as the defensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Raiders and New York Giants before landing his first head coaching gig in Carolina, where he went 78-74 overall (three playoff berths, one NFC championship).

Fox’s four-year stint in Denver produced 49 total wins, four consecutive division titles and a Super Bowl appearance last season.

For comparison's sake -- Marrone went 15-17 in Buffalo.

One former Fox player predicted: "[Coach Fox] will bring stability to the Bears. Coach Fox is definitely a players’ coach, but he also preaches discipline, and he’ll lay down the law if he has to. He will immediately improve the defense, while also putting a higher priority on running the football. Honestly, he is a great fit for the Bears. Chicago is lucky he left Denver."

What about Jay Cutler? Can Fox co-exist with Cutler if the quarterback remains on the Bears’ 2015 roster?

"I don’t know what the plans are with Jay, but if he stays, Coach Fox won’t have a problem with him," the player said. "Jay will respect John. How can he not? Coach Fox is a tough guy. He won’t tolerate anything less from Jay."

Respect, authority, stability and credibility -- four words rarely uttered at Halas Hall since Lovie Smith left town.

Even close to 60 years old, Fox provides a breath of fresh air the Bears badly craved.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos have opened their search for a new head coach in earnest. And the elephant in the room is that John Fox is no longer the team’s head coach after four consecutive division titles, 46 regular-season wins, and one Super Bowl trip.

So if that’s not what executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway wants, what kind of coach would fit the bill? Well, it will be one who better know the job description.

A guy who understands the key words

[+] EnlargeJohn Elway
Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY SportsJohn Elway demands a high level of success from his head coaches, something the new Broncos coach must be able to handle.
Since Fox and the Broncos “parted ways," there has been some surprise by the move from Elway. Perhaps folks just weren’t paying attention.

On the day Elway was first introduced in his current job -- Jan. 5, 2011 -- he said this;

“When you go back to the culture of the Denver Broncos -- and the culture is winning, and the culture is competing for World Championships -- we have been there before and we know we can do it."

He said this at Tuesday's announcement of Fox's departure: “I look for a guy that’s very smart, that’s competitive, that is aching to win world championships like I am."

Moral of the story? If you don’t want to live the Super-Bowl-or-bust life, don’t accept the job.

A guy who can work with Elway. A guy Elway wants to work with.

Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh is really the only guy who lives a life similar to Denver's coach, as his general manager is Hall of Famer Ozzie Newsome.

Elway casts a big shadow in this city; he’s a Super Bowl winning quarterback who's led the Broncos to countless comeback wins. He’s seen his Super Bowl dreams shattered more than once, lived life in the fishbowl, and has felt what it took to finally hoist the trophy.

As a result he’s going to have some ideas on the topic. The buzz around the Broncos’ complex is that Elway and Fox were drifting apart on personnel matters a bit, and there were some who believed Fox didn’t think his voice was being heard enough on those matters.

That’s often the tone of the discussion after a football divorce, but either way Elway and new head coach have to get on the same page -- that “like-minded’’ area Elway talked about Tuesday.

A guy who knows expectations await

The Broncos have 10 players in the Pro Bowl. There’s plenty to work with on a roster that has won 38 regular-season games over the last three seasons. Elway and Fox shook hands and parted ways not because of how things went between September and December, but because Elway and team CEO Joe Ellis did not like what the playoff exits looked like.

“I think if there is one thing that you would like to have and you want to feel, at least in the last game, you want to feel like you go out kicking and screaming," Elway said. “When you’re right there and I think two years in a row it didn’t feel like we went out kicking and screaming because of the fact the way we played the last game."

A guy who can embrace some change

The Broncos have 17 free agents. The list includes two of the team’s Pro Bowl selections in wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas.

But it also includes starters such as defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, safety Rahim Moore, wide receiver Wes Welker, guard Orlando Franklin, tight end Jacob Tamme, tight end Virgil Green, and linebacker Nate Irving.

Add in the will-he or won’t-he decision quarterback Peyton Manning will make, and the Broncos will have to show plenty of flexibility as they usher in a new coaching staff to go with plenty of new faces on the roster.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- As several teams line up to interview Adam Gase for their offensive coordinator jobs, the Denver Broncos moved quickly to talk with him about their head coaching job.

[+] EnlargeAdam Gase
AP Photo/Eric BakkeAdam Gase will talk with John Elway on Thursday about the head-coaching job with the Broncos.
Gase, who met briefly with Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway on Wednesday, was set to interview for the job Thursday afternoon and into the evening, if necessary.

Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin will interview with the Broncos on Friday. They have formally requested permission to talk with Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak. As of Thursday afternoon, the Broncos were still waiting to hear back from Kubiak, who announced this past weekend -- before the Denver job was open -- that he intended to stay with the Ravens.

For Gase, the Broncos interview comes as several teams had begun to express interest in him as an offensive coordinator.

Three of the four teams Gase interviewed with during the Broncos’ playoff bye week -- the 49ers, Buffalo Bills and Chicago Bears -- have either hired head coaches or are closing in on a candidate. The Bears are nearing a deal with Fox, while the Bills hired Rex Ryan. Gase also interviewed for the Falcons’ head coaching job, which has yet to be filled.

Those in and around the Broncos say Gase has drawn interest in recent days from a wide-range of teams to be their new offensive coordinator, including two (49ers and Falcons) who interviewed him for their head coaching jobs. The St. Louis Rams and Jacksonville Jaguars have also expressed interest.

In the two seasons Gase has called plays for the Broncos, they have averaged 34 points per game, including an NFL single-season record of 606 points in 2013. The Broncos also topped 40 points 10 times in the past two seasons combined and topped 50 three times, including in back-to-back games early in the 2013 season.

What about the inevitable question about how Gase would fare without Peyton Manning as his quarterback? Well, Manning has said Gase would raise the level of any offense. His 55 touchdown passes in 2013 were an NFL record and six more than he had thrown in any other season. Manning has also reached out to other teams, including the Cleveland Browns last season, to vouch for Gase.

"I don't think you need me to sit up here and campaign for him," Manning said. "Last year I talked to a couple teams on the behalf of him that reached out to me. That may happen again, so I'm certainly glad to share my thoughts ... He deserves it, I think teams that he talks to will be impressed.''

Gase is also respected in football circles. He's had stints with Nick Saban at Michigan State and LSU and former Rams coach Mike Martz in the NFL. He was also instrumental in the deconstruction of the Broncos' offense in 2011 to build a read-option look for then-starting quarterback Tim Tebow.

If the Broncos went with Austin as their head coach, he would be far more apt to try to keep Gase on his staff. Kubiak would be more involved in the offense, and many with the team believe he would want to bring Rick Dennison, the Ravens wide receivers coach and Kubiak’s former offensive coordinator with the Houston Texans, with him to Denver if Kubiak were hired.

And as far as the other teams hoping to get a shot at Gase? The Rams have an unsettled quarterback situation and will likely ask Sam Bradford to restructure his contract. He is coming back from ACL surgery. Meanwhile, the Jaguars offer Blake Bortles, who threw 11 touchdown passes and 17 interceptions this past season as a rookie starter for a 3-13 team.

And for the 49ers and Falcons, Gase is known to have thoroughly outlined to those teams’ decision makers how he would help elevate the play of Colin Kaepernick or Matt Ryan.

But first, he gets his shot to talk with the Broncos.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- A rather extreme makeover for a 12-win team continued Wednesday when Denver Broncos players and officials were informed defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio had accepted an offer to be the Oakland Raiders coach.

Del Rio
John Fox and the Broncos "parted ways" on Monday, and Del Rio informed team officials Wednesday afternoon he was moving on, as well, after three seasons. Del Rio, who signed a contract extension before this past season, is the second consecutive Broncos defensive coordinator to take the Raiders' job, following Dennis Allen, who left the Broncos following the 2011 season.

Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase could also poised to leave his position. He has interviewed with four teams, including two sit-downs with the San Francisco 49ers -- who promoted defensive line coach Jim Tomsula to head coach. Gase then met with Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway briefly Wednesday morning. Elway said Tuesday both Gase and Del Rio were "candidates" for the Broncos' coaching vacancy but would not say whether he would interview both.

Broncos players have been solidly behind Del Rio. Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said in the days leading up to Sunday's 23-14 divisional-round loss to the Indianapolis Colts: "he's a genius ... he knows what's coming so we know what's coming."

Knighton, who is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent, figures to be on the Raiders' radar now. When Knighton arrived in Denver in 2013, Del Rio said his addition was one of the team's most important offseason moves that year.

Some of the Broncos took to Twitter to show their support, as well:

For the third time in the past three seasons, the Broncos will see one of their coordinators take a head coaching job elsewhere in their division. There was Allen in 2012, and former offensive coordinator Mike McCoy was hired as the San Diego Chargers coach following in 2013.

Del Rio had his first interview with the Raiders on Jan. 4, and multiple sources confirmed Monday that the second interview with Raiders officials, including owner Mark Davis, took place Tuesday. Del Rio then accepted the job and the four-year contract that goes with it Wednesday.

By league rules, since the Broncos' season ended with the loss to the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, Del Rio and Gase could reconnect with the teams that interviewed them during the playoff bye week if those organizations were still interested.

On his initial interview with the Raiders, Del Rio said days before the Colts game that "I think it went well."

Del Rio, a native of a Hayward, California, has family members who have been Raiders season-ticket holders. It was a job he desired, and it didn't escape notice that Davis sought out Del Rio on the field during warm-ups before the Broncos and Raiders played in the regular-season finale Dec. 28.

The Broncos finished No. 3 in total defense this season and led the league in forcing three-and-outs. In 2012, Del Rio's first season in Denver, the Broncos were No. 2 in overall defense, No. 4 in scoring defense and tied for the league lead in sacks.

Denver has won four consecutive AFC West titles, and Del Rio was on Fox's staff for three of those. Before he was hired by Fox -- after a meeting at the Senior Bowl -- Del Rio had been the Jacksonville Jaguars' head coach for nine years.

Del Rio has made no secret that he hoped for a second chance at being a head coach. He had a 68-71 regular-season record with the Jaguars and made the postseason in 2005 and 2007, winning one playoff game. He was fired 11 games into the 2011 season after the Jaguars started 3-8.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- A decision over whether Peyton Manning will, or won't, play quarterback in the 2015 would affect most people who punch the clock day-to-day in the Broncos' suburban Denver complex.

But probably nobody would be more affected than the guy whose locker is next to Manning's -- backup quarterback Brock Osweiler. Since Manning was signed before the 2012 season, Osweiler has been his backup.

A second-round pick in the draft that same year, Osweiler spends more time with Manning than virtually anyone else in the building and Osweiler doesn't know what Manning has planned.

"I have no idea," Osweiler said. "None. I fully expect when Peyton is ready to address it he will. I've been fortunate to be in my situation and will continue to work as hard as I can."

Osweiler has learned at Manning's side, his coaches say he's progressed in an offense that was not built for him, but for a future Hall of Famer who may have the best football recall of any player who has ever lined up behind center.

He's even run the starting offense in practice from time to time. He just hasn't played very much in the last three seasons.

His grand total is 30 pass attempts -- just 10 of those this season -- to go with one touchdown, a 1-yard scoring pass to tight end Virgil Green in this year's regular-season finale against the Oakland Raiders. Overall he has, at times, shown a top-shelf arm to go with quality mobility, but he has lacked a pocket awareness at times when he has played, often holding the ball a little too long.

But the Broncos feel some of that may be his desire to try to make something happen in the small sample size worth of snaps he has gotten to this point, that it's hard to play with patience when you have waited so long to play. Still, Osweiler said after he takes some down time, he won't adjust his offseason preparation according to whatever Manning decides to do.

"Ever since I've been here I've always taken the approach if you're prepared you don't have to get prepared. I've always prepared every single week, training camp, every single spring, like I was going to be the guy playing. I just went about my business and if my number got called I was ready."

Tuesday Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway addressed his confidence in the Broncos' current depth chart at quarterback with Osweiler and Zac Dysert, who was a seventh-round draft pick in 2013.

"We're excited about both of those guys, Zac and Brock," Elway said. "They worked their tail off and have done a heck of a job, so they've made progress, especially Brock has made that progress that you would hope he would make. What's difficult is he hasn't gotten a lot of playing time. When that time comes, you know we'll see where he is and the training that he's gotten up to this point is second to none. (Offensive coordinator) Adam (Gase) and (quarterbacks coach) Greg Knapp have done a great job training Bock and Zac, so we'll see where that is when we get there."

Elway said he told Manning Monday, when the two met in Elway's office, to take "five-six weeks" to make his decision about next season. Elway also added he believed Manning would be back and that he and the Broncos wanted Manning back.