Coaching change hurt Broncos, helps Chiefs


Jan 11, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) after his loss to the Indianapolis Colts in the 2014 AFC Divisional playoff football game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Colts won 24-13. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Normally, when an NFL team has a total front-office makeover, the season that follows is not a pretty one — as the Denver Broncos are about to find out.

Marty Schottenheimer left after a 7-9 season in 1999 for the Kansas City Chiefs, and the following year new head coach Gunther Cunningham logged a 9-7 season and failed to make the playoffs. Dick Vermeil took the reins in 2001 and managed to get a 6-10 record. Subsequently, Vermeil managed to build a quality team, but he could not manage a winning record in his first year with what Cunningham left him.

Vermeil retired from football in 2005 and his final team posted a 10-6 record. Vermeil left the best offense in football, but a defense that couldn’t keep opposing teams from scoring. He did not get to name his successor, and then-general manager Carl Peterson traded for New York Jets’ head coach Herman Edwards. Edwards took an offensive powerhouse and managed a 9-7 record. The Chiefs backed into the playoffs and were blown out by the Colts that year in the wild-card round.

After three years, and with a final year record of 2-14, Edwards was replaced by Todd Haley. Haley inherited a squad in total decay and managed a first year record of 4-12, twice as many wins as Edwards got the year before. Haley’s last year was short — he was fired with three games left in the season. His replacement, Romeo Crennel, managed a record of 2-14.

I mention all of this ancient history so that I can point out how remarkable it was when the 2-14 Chiefs went 11-5 the first year after the coaching staff was replaced for the fifth time in 10 years. In just one offseason the Chiefs went from worst to almost-first in the AFC West. This happening is like seeing Haley’s Comet twice in a lifetime.

I point out how rare it is for a team to replace a head coach, even a winning head coach like Dick Vermeil and see continued success the following year so as to bring me around to the Denver Broncos.

For the past few years the Broncos have been the dominant force in the AFC West. Last year they owned the division again, while John Fox managed to get a 12-4 record with a nearly fossilized Peyton Manning. Can Gary Kubiak break the normal pattern of new head coaches not even getting a winning record when taking over a champion-caliber squad? I do not think so. Denver has 14-1 odds to win the Super Bowl this year in Vegas, but I wouldn’t take that bet. The Chiefs’ stock is on the rise, the Broncos’ chances are slim with their losses in free agency and the front office changes. Vegas has Denver at 10-6 this year. I give them 8-8 at best, losing both games to KC this year.

Our defense will be much stouter in the coming season, which is all the Chiefs needed. I have been watching the last season over again on NFL GameRewind. Marcus Cooper got burned over and over again in his corner role. Caught looking, caught running the wrong way, caught shoulder tackling, Cooper gave up quite a few games for us. We will be improved at corner, because we picked up a potential shutdown corner in Marcus Peters.

Our offense was improved by our free agency pickups and our draft choices. Yes, we lost a center, and a great one at that, in Rodney Hudson, but we picked up a Pro-Bowl lineman in left guard Ben Grubbs. Mitch Morse will be a utility lineman that can play multiple roles for the team. Alex Smith only needs a little more time in the pocket than our O-Line allowed him last year, and upgrades on the line will only benefit our performance in wide receiver statistics. Which reminds me, we picked up a world-class wide receiver in free agency, too!

Denver will not be able to buck the rising tide of KC’s fortunes combined with the negative influences of front office changes. Here is to our AFC West title this year. Go Chiefs!