BRONCOS

Broncos owner Greg Penner already knows the NFL’s secret to success

Dec 28, 2022, 6:21 AM
Greg Penner...
(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

The Denver Broncos are searching for a new head coach – again. Since Gary Kubiak retired at the end of the 2016 season, the Broncos have gone through Vance Joseph (2017-18), Vic Fangio (2019-21), and now Nathaniel Hackett (2022).

This season, Denver is just 4-11. And after a humiliating loss to the Los Angeles Rams on Christmas Day, the Broncos made the rare move of firing a head coach before his first season had concluded.

Owner and CEO Greg Penner did not pull any punches on Tuesday. Joined by general manager George Paton, Penner was open and honest about what he thought of this disappointing season and what he’s looking for in the next coach of the Broncos.

Penner is ready for the challenge of a coaching search that he will lead.

“As owners, it’s incumbent on us to have high expectations, set a high standard and ensure there is accountability. We talked about that at the beginning of the season. It was true then, and it is true now. It is also important for us to be realistic about where we are and the work that needs to be done. That starts today with our head coaching search. I will lead a thorough process with input from our other owners and from George, who I have confidence in as our general manager. This will be a crucial offseason for us across our football operations — that’s coaching, personnel and support staff. We’ve got to get this right,” Penner said.

Penner knows the dirty secret of the NFL. Let’s look at why he gets it, and why that knowledge will help the Broncos make a better decision this time around.

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All About “Fit”

I’ve said it once, I’ve said it 1,000 times, it’s all about fit in the NFL. You can have a lot of things to construct your team, but if you don’t have fit then it won’t work at a championship level. Parity abounds in this league, and the talent gap from the top to the bottom is not that wide. The difference between the great teams and the bad teams is the understanding that fit matters more than anything else in the NFL.

We heard a lot from Penner – and I liked what I heard. He hit on multiple keywords that show he understands what he needs to find. Penner also said my favorite “F” word in the NFL – fit. The team understands that it’s more than experience, knowledge, or a great understanding of the game – it’s all about fit between coaches and players in this league.

This team has Russell Wilson under contract for the foreseeable future. Wilson did not work with Hackett because it was a bad fit from day one. The offense they spent months preparing for was thrown out the window once we got a few weeks into the regular season. Wilson looked like he was improvising, and those changes didn’t work. Hackett looked like he didn’t know what he was doing as a play-caller, so he surrendered those duties to QB coach Klint Kubiak – but it was far too late to save his job.

Penner said the word fit a few times at the press conference on Tuesday, and I was over the moon with his response. Wilson has been terrible this season because of a bad fit. I don’t think he’ll ever be a great quarterback again, but Wilson can still play good football. We’ve seen glimpses of vintage Russ during the season, so find the right fit and watch your quarterback play up to his potential. At this point of Wilson’s career, I’d expect him to be a solid starter with proper coaching.

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The Business of Football

The NFL can be described as the entertainment business. Sports are fun to watch, and the competition is fierce on the gridiron. However, at the end of the day this is just entertainment for the masses. As sports fans we love it, but at the same time most of us should realize that there are many more important aspects to life.

Penner clearly understands big business. The Walton-Penner group is the richest ownership in the NFL, and it’s not even close with a net worth around $70 billion. To get to that level and continue growing as a business, you must have the right people in place. Penner clearly stated that the new head coach will have all the resources necessary to do his job at the highest level, and the new coach (who will report to Penner) will have the full backing of the entire ownership group.

Find the best people for the job – that’s what successful businesspeople do. Money is no object, so find the best people, pay them, and let them go to work. Penner is not going to get in the way of the football operations, but he’s damn sure intent on finding the best people to run the business of football.

This is not a Jerry Jones (Dallas Cowboys) situation. Jones believes he’s the smartest man in the room (just ask him), and he wants to be hands on when it comes to football decisions. That’s why coaches, front office people, and scouts really don’t have much say in what the Cowboys do. Jones runs roughshod over that team because he thinks he knows best – when he doesn’t. Knowing business helps put Penner ahead when it comes to learning the business of football.

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Forge an Identity

There is no doubt the Broncos have an identity on defense. There is also no doubt that the offense has no idea what they want their identity to be. Why can teams with lesser talent win more games, win close games, or be tough opponents when they make the postseason? They have an identity, know who they are, and know how to perfect what they do – even working through injuries as the season goes on.

Look at what the San Francisco 49ers have done under GM John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan. They’ve fought through multiple injuries on both sides of the ball, but they’re in line to make a run at the Super Bowl because they have an identity. The 49ers are on their third starting quarterback of the season, and they’re playing good football with QB Brock Purdy – a rookie who was the final pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. How is Shanahan able to win games with an average (at best) talent like Purdy? You know the answer; it’s because he has perfected the 49ers’ identity.

Penner was clear when it comes to what he wants from the offense – he wants an identity. This leans to a more experienced coach, and I think after three first-time head coaches who have failed (Joseph, Fangio, Hackett) we’ll see a veteran coach hired by the Broncos.

When the head coach is hired, we’ll know more about the type of identity to be forged on offense. I know I’d like to see a Shanahan/West Coast offense back in Denver again. That system can be tough to beat when it’s run precisely. Even if you’re working with backup caliber players, the Shanahan/West Coast offense can be tough to defend. No matter who the Broncos hire, I’m certain he will bring an identity to the Broncos offense.

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Broncos owner Greg Penner already knows the NFL’s secret to success