DENVER — Frustration and accountability reverberated throughout Sunday’s season-ending press conference with general manager George Paton and departing CEO Joe Ellis.
For the fans who follow the Broncos closely, the firing of coach Vic Fangio was unsurprising, the latest thread in a history of disappointment that has led to five straight losing seasons and 10 starting quarterbacks since Peyton Manning retired.
"I can't thank the coaching staff enough for their service, their work ethic. There's a foundation in place. But, we are not satisfied. We are taking a critical look at the football operation. We all need to be better and that starts with me. There needs to be an urgency,” Paton said. “I think it’s an organizationaL problem that needs to be fixed (not a quarterback problem). We can’t keep recycling coaches. And we are going to get it right, I promise you that.”
The team has become bad and boring. The Broncos have missed the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season, joining the Jets with this indignity. Denver dropped its season finale with 14,571 no-shows.
“Frustration levels have reached an all-time high for everyone. I am not talking about just me, but the fans. We can’t figure out ways to win games. And that’s gotta change. I can talk about it. But that’s just cheap,” said Ellis, who will be exiting likely in the spring after the ownership transition.
“We have to raise expectations and the energy level so fans get inspired. The 10,000 no-shows a game. ... you have all seen when that stadium is packed. We have to figure out a way to get fans back and excited. I am tired of it. I won’t stand up here next year and say the same thing. It’s gotta stop. Someone else will stand up here next year with a positive spin and attitude. I do believe this team is getting closer. We need to figure out how to win. We can do it.”
The onus is on Paton, in the second year of his six-year deal, to find the coach, Denver’s fifth in nine years. He will use a collaborative process, but it is his decision. He indicated that previous head coaching experience is not a prerequisite even as first-timers Vance Joseph and Fangio dissolved before fans’ eyes over the past five years. Ellis also indicated that the ownership issue — the team is expected to be sold — won't interfere, but that he cannot discuss it until there is resolution in the right-of-first-refusal case pursued by the Kaiser family.
So what is Paton looking for in the next coach?
“The No. 1 quality is leadership. We are looking for someone to lead the organization, the community and the players. I think there’s a foundation in place,” Paton said. “Obviously we need to upgrade the offense. The vision for the offense and what the offense is will be a priority. And we also need to elevate special teams.”
Paton will begin asking for permission to talk to candidates on Monday. His list is expected to include, but not be limited to Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who worked with Paton in Miami for two seasons, former Eagles coach Doug Pederson, Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, Patriots linebackers coach Jerod Mayo, Tampa Bay's OC Byron Leftwich and Buffalo's DC Leslie Frazier.
Closing the gap in the AFC West remains critical. Fangio went 5-13 in the division, the third-worst winning percentage in the AFC West since the NFL merger in 1970. The Broncos also lost their home-field advantage, where Fangio was 11-14.
“That’s the goal. We need to play better in the division,” Paton said. “And we need to play better at home. We have to get better in our division, and we know we are behind. ... The failure is on all of us. We all have to look in the mirror. ”