Greg Penner’s first test as Broncos boss comes earlier than anticipated

Sep 20, 2022, 6:00 AM

Carrie Walton-Penner Greg Penner...

(Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

(Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

When Greg Penner was named CEO of the Broncos last month, he probably didn’t expect just two games into the season the team would be facing a crisis.

Denver is 1-1, but unfortunately the talk of the NFL for a second week in a row. And not in a good way. Head coach Nathaniel Hackett is the punchline of seemingly every joke. He’s being roasted on social media, with meme after meme mocking the man who’s supposed to be leading the team.

Right now, Hackett isn’t leading anyone. The Broncos are .500 in spite of him, not because of him. What happened against the Texans in a brutal 16-9 win was flat out unacceptable. Denver committed 13 penalties for 100 yards. They had two delay of game penalties on kicks. The crowd mockingly counted down the play clock. Hackett said after the game he would have booed himself.

This isn’t the franchise that has won three Lombardi trophies. This isn’t the team everyone in the Rocky Mountain region has been proud of for decades and decades. This is some Vance Joseph and Vic Fangio BS. Perhaps, it’s even worse. You know Hackett’s doing a poor job when fans miss grumpy old man Fangio.

And Penner has to know it. He’s a smart guy, leading one of America’s most recognizable brands in Walmart. Like them or hate them, you don’t make billions by being bad at business. And that’s what the Walton family and Penner do year after year.

When the CBS cameras panned to Penner, his wife Carrie Walton-Penner and her father, Robson Walton, it was their welcome to the NFL moment. This team is no longer in the Bowlen family or run by Joe Ellis. The Walton-Penner Family Ownership Group (WPFOG) is in charge and they can do whatever they see fit. Decisions will be family ones, but ultimately made and delivered by Penner. He’s the point man.

While the comedy of errors by Hackett are driving fans nuts, it has to be wearing on the players as well. Along with GM George Paton and the new Broncos owners. I’m not suggesting Penner will fire Hackett this week, but you have to think the thought has crossed his mind. Right?

He didn’t hire Hackett. The previous regime did, led by Ellis, Paton and perhaps John Elway. The WPFOG didn’t know Hackett before buying the Broncos. So why would they have any loyalty to him now? We don’t know how Penner does business. Is he a “quick trigger” guy with personnel changes? Or does he tolerate mistake after mistake?

This job is also a little more public than Walmart. If he fires someone in a boardroom in Arkansas, no one really cares. If he fires his head football coach, that would be major national news and lead every sports show in the country.

Again, I’m not saying Penner is looking to make a change tomorrow, but it’s probably on his radar. Hackett needs to get his stuff fixed and fast. Billionaires are billionaires for a reason — they don’t have a lot of patience for people being incompetent at their jobs.

So you better believe when the San Francisco 49ers comes to town on Sunday night, Penner will be watching Hackett closely. The contest is on NBC. There are no other games going on at the time. Every football fan in America will be watching Hackett. They’ll be ready to mock him at his first misstep. Unfortunately, he’s put that on himself after a pitiful start to his head coaching career.

But whatever the masses think of Hackett, the opinion of one man matters the most. And that’s Penner, sitting in his owner’s box, watching his new toy underachieve to start 2022. He seems like a pretty even-keeled guy, but deep down he’s probably fuming like the rest of us.

Greg Penner’s first test as Denver’s CEO is already here. How he handles Hackett now and moving forward will tell us a lot about how the new Broncos boss will operate for years to come.



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