With the firing of Rich Scangarello and hiring of Pat Shurmur, the Broncos are headed towards their fifth offensive coordinator in five years.
The Broncos have cycled coordinators before and the results were a playoff drought and multiple head coaches being shown the door.
In 2005, the Broncos reached the AFC Championship Game behind the fourth-ranked offense in the NFL. Larry Coyer was the Broncos defensive coordinator. Coyer had been in this role since 2003 and under Coyer the Broncos defense had found success despite continual changes in personnel. Even though the Broncos defense was solid throughout the 2005 season, they crumbled against the Steelers in the 2005 AFC title game.
Following the 2006 season, head coach Mike Shanahan fired Coyer. That offseason, Shanahan hired Jim Bates to run the defense, as well as be an assistant head coach. Bob Slowik was the defensive coordinator in name, but Bates called the plays on defense.
The results were a disaster. Under Bates, the Broncos had the 28th-ranked defense and were blown out multiple times.
After the embarrassing step backwards, Shanahan fired Bates and promoted Slowik to officially be the defensive coordinator. With Slowik calling the plays, the Broncos defense regressed and finished 2008 as the 30th-ranked defense in the NFL.
Following 2008, Shanahan was fired and naturally, so was Slowik. New head coach Josh McDaniels hired the well-respected Mike Nolan to run the defense. Under Nolan, The Broncos defense vastly improved to 12th in the NFL.
It seemed like a no-brainer that Nolan would return as defensive coordinator for 2010. With McDaniels as head coach, however, all logic is right out the window. McDaniels and Nolan agreed to part ways after 2009.
Even after a good defensive performance in 2009, the Broncos were still in need of a new defensive coordinator.
For the 2010 season, the Broncos promoted Don “Wink” Martindale from linebackers coach to defensive coordinator. This move backfired, as the Broncos defense finished the season 32nd in the NFL.
McDaniels was fired before the end of 2010. Once the season concluded, the Broncos moved on from Martindale as well.
The Broncos had a new defensive coordinator every season from 2006-10. Throughout those five seasons, the Broncos missed the playoffs each year. The lack of playoff appearances and overall bad play led to the firing of Shanahan and McDaniels.
In 2011, Dennis Allen was named defensive coordinator and with John Fox as head coach, the Broncos finished 18th in total defense and made the playoffs. Allen left after 2011, although he was not fired, as he was hired to be the head coach of the Raiders.
Jack Del Rio was hired as defensive coordinator prior to the 2012 season. Del Rio would stay in the role until he was hired prior to the 2015 season to be the head coach of the Raiders. Del Rio was not likely to be retained as defensive coordinator after 2014, however, but his performance in Denver was consistent enough to warrant a head coaching job.
Allen and Del Rio went on to be head coaches after they were coordinators in Denver. Teams should always lose their assistant coaches to promotions. Successful coordinators leave teams because they have performed well. If coordinators perform well, the team is generally a contender every year.
The current revolving door of offensive coordinators in Denver is starting to resemble that of the defensive coordinators 2006-10.
Since 2016, the Broncos have had Rick Denison (with Gary Kubiak calling the plays), Mike McCoy, Bill Musgrave, Rich Scangarello and now Pat Shurmur. In that stretch, the Broncos have missed the playoffs every single season.
In many people’s eyes, the continued failure of the offense is the primary reason the Broncos have had four straight seasons without the playoffs and three straight losing seasons. A continual pattern of firing coordinators after one season leads to a losing culture for an organization.
Pat Shurmur is the most important coordinator the Broncos have hired since Wade Phillips in 2017. The Broncos have Drew Lock to be excited about and need to build on the momentum created by a 4-1 finish to the 2019 season.
If the offense takes a step backwards or even remains stagnant, that could mean the end of another head coach in Denver. Much like Shanahan and McDaniels were fired during the time of the revolving door at defensive coordinator, Vic Fangio could suffer the same fate.
In Vance Joseph’s two seasons as Broncos head coach, he had two offensive coordinators that underperformed. Joseph was fired after those two seasons. Fangio is already halfway there. If Shurmur does not work out, Fangio will likely suffer the same fate as Joseph.
If Pat Shurmur leaves the Broncos after the 2020 season, it needs to be because he performed so well he was hired as a head coach elsewhere. If Shurmur is fired after the 2020 season, the Broncos will be trapped in their recent pattern of losing.
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