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DENVER -- Mike McCoy should study and scout his own history with the Broncos. Maybe he’d find a solution to the team’s offensive flaws, faults and failings.
After the 2008 season, McCoy was a 37-year-old NFL assistant without a job. His contract with the Panthers, who were coached by John Fox, was not renewed – at the orders of owner Jerry Richardson.
Up popped 32-year-old Josh McDaniels as the new, surprising head coach of the Broncos. He replaced "coach for life" Mike Shanahan. Kid McCoach had been the offensive coordinator with the Patriots.
McDaniels intended to be his own offensive cording and play-caller with the Broncos. But he had been impressed with McCoy’s creativity with the Panthers and brought him to plot out the offensive game plan and work with quarterbacks Kyle Orton, who had been acquired from the Bears in a deal for Jay Cutler, and Chris Simms, son of famous quarterback/analyst Phil Simms and a free agent scuffling to find his spot in the NFL after being dumped by the Bucs (where he suffered a serious injury) and serving as a backup with the Titans.
Under the McBrothers, the Broncos got off to an amazing 6-0 start. But a not-so-funny thing happened on the way to a sure thing – the postseason. The Broncos were beaten in eight of their last ten games with Orton and Simms (one losing start). The sure thing didn't happen.
In 2010 the Broncos jettisoned Simms, traded for a Cleveland first-round bust, Brady Quinn, and drafted already legendary college quarterback Tim Tebow. McDaniels wanted Quinn or Tebow to take over from Orton, but neither was remarkable, or even competitive, in training camp. And McD and McC were stuck with Orton, who had proved to be an underachiever in both Chicago and Denver.
Orton scuffled again; the Broncos struggled (eventually ending up 4-12), and McDaniels was gone before the end of the season. McCoy became the actual offensive coordinator when running backs coach Eric Studesville assumed command as interim coach. And Tebow was installed as the starting quarterback. He had one gallant game leading the Broncos over the Texans (and coach Gary Kubiak).
Enter John Elway, then John Fox for 2011. Fox kept his former assistant and good friend McCoy as the lead dog for the offense.
The Broncos tried to trade Orton to the Dolphins, but the quarterback wanted a renegotiated (higher) contract, and the deal collapsed. Orton was the starter again.
The Broncos won only one of their five games, and Tebow was sent on the field in the second half against the Chargers, and nearly brought the Broncos a victory.
Fox had a difficult decision the next week and told me off to the side: "Sometimes you know what the right thing is, but you can’t do it." He didn't elaborate, but I suspected he wanted to start Tebow.
There are different sides to the story at this point. It’s claimed that Elway demanded a change. Fox would say later the choice was his. Obviously, both had serious influence on the decision. McCoy did not. According to one of the major men involved, McCoy had to be "dragged against his will" into the switch to Tebow and told Fox: "You’ll get all of us (coaches) fired by doing this."
But, to his credit, McCoy immediately requested that the University of Florida send all the Tebow plays in the zone-read offense to the Broncos. And McCoy watched them intently and began to overhaul the pass-heavy offense specifically for a Tebow-dominant run scheme. Players grumbled.
A hybrid offense, based on Tebow being Tebow, did win in overtime in south Florida, but the Broncos were blown out at home by the woeful Lions. Then, with a 2-5 record and the new offense in full force, the Broncos reeled off six straight victories, with Tebow leading fourth-quarter comebacks, and another overtime triumph.
In a game in Kansas City, the Broncos seldom threw passes. Tebow ran for a touchdown and connected with Eric Decker for a 56-yard touchdown, and the Broncos prevailed 17-10.
The Broncos were defeated in three games down the stretch, but finished in a three-way tie with the Chiefs and the Raiders at 8-8. The Broncos won the division on the tiebreaker.
With a brilliant McCoy call on the first play of overtime, the Broncos scored on a 80-yard Tebow-Demaryius Thomas catch-and-run, and they upset the Steelers. Yet, the season ran out in New England against the vastly superior Patriots. Tebow was hurt in the game, and would never play again for the Broncos. Elway and Fox lured Peyton Manning to town.
What’s important is that McCoy, despite his reluctance, changed the horses in mid-stream in 2011.
He must do it in 2017 if the Broncos are to have any chance in an AFC West that is floundering on all fronts. Who knows? There could be another three-way tie if the Chiefs continue to fade and the Broncos and the Raiders regroup.
After all, this is just the midway of the season for the Broncos. They have to find six victories in the final eight – beginning with those dastardly Patriots Sunday night.
With Brock Osweiler at quarterback, McCoy needs to be as creative as he was with Tebow. Certainly, the quarterbacks possess different skill sets. But if the Broncos could go on streak with Tebow, they should be able to with Osweiler – with the right offense, mindset and the correct play selections.
When McCoy did it before with Tebow, and then jumped on Manning’s back the next season, he got a head coaching position. His only opportunity to secure a second will be a result of how he handles the current dilemma in Denver.
Now, the Broncos’ season is on the offensive coordinator. Can he be the real McCoy again?