MERILATT MONDAY

Greg Penner needs to give Broncos Country a “Prime” moment

Dec 5, 2022, 12:12 PM
Peyton Manning...
(Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
(Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

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It’s hard to imagine the CU football program being in a tougher spot. They were coming off a 1-11 season, a year in which they were arguably the worst team in all of college football. They had fired their head coach midseason, ending a disastrous 8-15 run less than three years into the Karl Dorrell era. And by season’s end, more fans were outside the stadium in the tailgate area than in the stands during games.

It was ugly. It was awful. It was rock bottom.

The Buffs were irrelevant. And it didn’t appear as though that was going to change any time soon.

After all, what could possibly resuscitate a program that had been to just two bowl games since 2006? What could revitalize a team that has had only two winning seasons during that same time, one of which came during the six-game COVID campaign?

Nothing. Or so it seemed.

Then on Sunday, CU was the talk of the town. During the second half of a Broncos game, in early December, all eyes were on Boulder.

Why? Because Rick George had thrown a Hail Mary and had his prayers answered. Colorado’s athletic director was introducing Deion Sanders, “Coach Prime,” as the 28th head coach in Buffs history.

To say that the announcement invigorated the fan base would be a gross understatement. It had taken something that was nearly dormant and brought it back to life.

Prime served as a defibrillator for the program. CU football, at least in terms of prominence and relevance, was back. And it was instant.

Time will tell how things turn out in Boulder, but one thing is certain today: Hope has returned to campus. And it’s hard to put a price tag on that sentiment.

Such is not the case in Broncos Country. After another demoralizing loss, this time 10-9 at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens, hopelessness has set in. A malaise has developed. A fog fills the air.

It’s not just because the Broncos are bad, which they are. It’s because things seem like they’re never going to change.

Greg Penner hasn’t made any moves. The team’s owner still has George Paton running the football operations, with Nathaniel Hackett as Denver’s head coach. And Russell Wilson, the $250-million quarterback, is still behind center, despite failing to get the Broncos into the red zone for a single play on Sunday.

Week after week, it’s the same product on the field, the same soundbites from the podium and the same dreaded sense of familiarity. It’s bad. Over and over and over again.

It’s enough to make Broncos fans feel hopeless. It’s the kind of results that cause them to wonder if it will ever change. A sixth-consecutive losing season, especially one that started with such high expectations, will do that to a fan base.

So Penner has to do something. And he has to do something big.

If he doesn’t, it’ll be a tough sell in Broncos Country. Retaining Paton and Hackett, even if they bring in a hot-shot offensive coordinator, won’t soothe the wounds. Replacing the head coach with Dan Quinn might earn kudos, but it won’t galvanize the fans. And even dumping Paton for a roster builder with an impressive resume will be met with a yawn.

Broncos fans were duped this year. They aren’t falling for it again. They’ll withhold their enthusiasm. They’ll tiptoe back into the waters of unwavering support.

It’ll be a slow build. It’ll be a tough transition. Unless Penner pulls a Prime-type move.

There’s only one thing that could excite Broncos Country in the way Sanders landing in Boulder did for CU fans. There’s only one move that can erase the stench of the last six years and get everyone back on board immediately.

Hire Peyton Manning.

Bring in the Hall of Fame quarterback to right the ship, much in the same way Pat Bowlen called upon John Elway to save the day in January 2011. Put Manning in charge of football operations, let him hire a head coach who can make things work with Wilson and create a winning culture.

Hackett’s not the answer. Admit it and move on.

Neither is Paton. He’s made way more mistakes than he has savvy moves. Pull the plug.

It’s Peyton’s show. Let him run it.

Everything the former quarterback touches turns to gold. He was a great player, has built a successful business since hanging up his cleats and even shines as the host of awards shows. Why? Because he’s a tireless worker who is always prepared.

He’d be a great president of football operations. There’s no doubt that he’d excel in that role.

That doesn’t mean he’d be perfect; no one bats 1.000 in that job. But he’d turn things around, much like Elway did when he stepped in and transformed a 4-12 team into a playoff team within one season.

Winners always find a way. Prime did at Jackson State and will in Boulder. Elway did as a quarterback and in his first five years as a GM. And Manning would, as well.

But most of all, bringing him into the fold would provide much-needed life into Broncos Country. Prime did it for the Buffs. Manning would do it for the orange and blue.

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Greg Penner needs to give Broncos Country a “Prime” moment