ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — On Monday, January 2, 2017—the day Gary Kubiak retired—general manager John Elway was tasked with putting together his third coaching staff in six years. While he didn’t know who would be his next head coach, let alone the rest of the staff, he knew the philosophy that the staff would be hired around: making the players the number one priority.
Less than ten days later, on Wednesday, January 11, Elway hired Vance Joseph as the 16th head coach of the Broncos, who, above all else, echoed Elway’s vision of “players first” on his first day on the job.
To no surprise, on Tuesday, as the Broncos new coordinators were introduced to the media for the first time, the same message rang from all three coaches.
“This is going to be a player-friendly system. That’s one thing I think we’ve always done,” new offensive coordinator Mike McCoy said. “We are always going to try to do what the players do best.”
On the surface, this statement appears obvious. However, looking at all 32 teams in the league, for various reason, whether it be coaching schemes or egos, this philosophy fails to happen often. Just last year in Denver, with Kubiak at the helm, the offense was often referred to as the “Kubiak offense” because he had a well-defined offensive system that he used. McCoy wants there to be no mention of a specific type of offense run in Denver this year.
“We are gong to build an offense around our players,” the former head coach of the San Diego Chargers said. “We are going to do what our players do best. It is going to change week to week.”
The “players first” mentality won’t stop at building a system that best fits the players either. In fact, the players will have a say in building the game plan as well.
“We are going to give the players some flexibility also. When I speak of players, quarterbacks,” McCoy said. “If there are certain things they called here for the past couple years that we need to change, so it’s more familiar with them, they are the ones playing the game.”
While the quarterback position is often called the most important position on the field, it’s not just that position that the offense will be catered around.
“If DT [Demaryius Thomas] is the best guy at running this route, he should be running it,” the new offensive coordinator said. “If Emmanuel [Sanders] is better at doing those things, he should be that guy. That’s our job as an offensive staff.”
Although the idea of building a team, and a scheme, around what the personnel does best may seem too novel for most organizations to employ, for the new coaching staff, it’s simple: just talk to the players.
“What do they like? I’m big into talking to the quarterbacks (during) install from a week to week basis and looking at our plans and being open with these players and saying, ‘what do you really like? What are your favorites?” McCoy said. “When we get into the game plans at the end of the week I’m going to ask the quarterbacks, ‘what are your favorite plays in these situations?’ In first and second down calls, ‘what are your favorite plays?’ So they have a lot of confidence when they are under center on game day.”
Even in the third phase of the game, new special teams coordinator Brock Olivo will make sure that meetings are a conversation, not a dictatorship.
“We aren’t just going to sit up here and say, ‘you’ve got X, and you’ve got O,” he said. “We are going to make sure they know why they’ve got X and why they’ve got O and why we do what we do.”
The defensive side of the ball won’t be any different either. First, just like on the offensive side of the ball, new defensive coordinator Joe Woods will build the defense around the players, not a scheme. Additionally, there won’t be much change in the defensive scheme that has been so successful in Denver the past two years.
“We want to fit the scheme to the players,” Woods said. “If we have guys that can rush the passer, we want guys to rush the passer. If we have guys that can cover, we want guys who can cover to be in those positions. From a terminology standpoint, we aren’t going to change anything from what we’ve done in the past.”
Fortunately for Woods, it would be hard to build a scheme that didn’t work with the talent that he has: from Von Miller and Shane Ray up front to Chris Harris Jr., Aqib Talib and the rest of the No Fly Zone on the back end.
Whether or not this new coaching staff turns out to be successful in the win-loss category will remain a mystery for many more months. However, what is certain now is that Elway got the one characteristic he was looking for in each of his coaches: the ability to put the players above everything else.