Shanahan Represents Stability In Denver

After Mike Shanahan's Denver Broncos failed to reach the playoffs for the first time in four seasons last year, there where whispers that "Coach Kevlar," as one dubious website refers to him, was on the hot seat. One playoff win in eight seasons doesn't look good.

Fortunately for the people of Denver, Broncos owner Pat Bowlen has always kept that seat relatively cool. He knows what he has in Shanahan, who signed a three-year extension on Monday. He has stability, in what is otherwise – for the most part – an unstable NFL world.

Consider the fact that since Shanahan was hired to coach the Broncos in 1995, there have been 14 other coaches within the AFC West division. As if that fact wasn't remarkable enough, there is also this to note: even since he lost John Elway, Shanahan has guided the Broncos to the division's best record.

Denver is 76-52 since winning the Super Bowl in 1998. The Raiders? 55-73. The Chargers? 61-67. Kansas City? 70-58.

Shanahan has outclassed nine other head coaches within the division in this time frame, and has done it without the services of the division's best player.

Who has Denver really had to hang their hat on since "The Duke" retired? Brian Griese was a laughable replacement for #7, and Terrell Davis was on his last legs, as was Shannon Sharpe. Clinton Portis was nice for a couple of seasons, but didn't provide any longevity, which Champ Bailey is now attempting to gain.

It's easy to see the Chiefs (Priest Holmes) and Chargers (LaDainian Tomlinson) have had the best player in the AFC West within this time frame. And yet, neither squad has so much as won a playoff game.

If there is any great argument for the importance of coaching in the NFL, it is the above. Shanahan's teams have led the NFL in scoring and total yards since 1995. He has done this with a variety of characters leading the way – Elway and Davis, yes, but also misfits like Ed McCaffrey, Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson, Jake Plummer, Ruben Droughns and Ashley Lelie.

Shanahan has squeezed absurd numbers out of his offense, even in the absence of Hall of Fame players. One of them, Sharpe, bolted to the Baltimore Ravens in 2000. He posted a fine season with 810 yards and five touchdowns.

What did Shanahan do? Replaced the 10-year veteran with three backup tight ends who combined for 1,117 yards and seven touchdowns. All three originally entered the NFL as Broncos, by the way.

It is this kind of production that spells out the best argument as to why Bowlen will maintain a death grip on Shanahan for as long as possible. With the influx of young offensive talent entering Denver's organization within the last two offseasons, Shanahan has his chance to build a truly elite offense once again.

It's difficult to look around the NFL and find a more talented young quarterback than Jay Cutler. Javon Walker is easily the best wide receiver the Broncos have had since Rod Smith was in his prime, and up-and-comer Brandon Marshall will (hopefully) give the Broncos a legitimate threat at the No. 2 position. Lord knows Shanahan has tried and failed in that regard (Lelie and Marcus Nash bring up painful memories for Broncos fans).

The running game? You might as well start worrying about Halliburton's profit margin going down. The Broncos have had no trouble producing 1,000-yard running backs year in and year out, even when casting off the previous year's leading rusher, as they did recently with Tatum Bell.

It will be interesting to see what Shanahan can do with Travis Henry, a 1,200-yard rusher in Tennessee last season. The league can only hope Shanahan doesn't find another elite back in the Davis mold to feature.

No, Shanahan definitely deserves the chance to finish the job with all this young talent he's acquired. Bowlen owes him that much – and, really, quite a bit more as we've already spelled out.

Meanwhile, the rest of the AFC West will continue to pray there's somebody new coaching in Denver every offseason. Give us a break!

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