Commentary

Denver makes sense for Cowher

Denver, which fired coach Mike Shanahan on Tuesday, seems to be a good fit for former Steelers coach Bill Cowher, John Clayton writes.

Originally Published: December 30, 2008
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen has a major predicament in trying to replace Mike Shanahan. After firing Shanahan on Tuesday, Bowlen must now revamp the entire football operation.

In the Mile High City, Shanahan stood head and shoulders above everything for pro football. He was not only the coach but also the general manager. He had more power than just about any coach in football, and it's going to be hard to fill that void.

The easy solution will be the costliest, and that might be a problem for Bowlen, who reportedly owes Shanahan $20 million over the next three years. Bill Cowher should be seriously interested in the job should Bowlen call. Although Cowher has told the Cleveland Browns he's not coaching there and the Jets are willing to do anything to get him as their coach, the former Steelers coach could see the Broncos as a fit.

To coach in 2009, Cowher must have everything in line. First, he wants big money, possibly $8 million to $9 million a year. Second, he wants the ability to bring some of his people into the front office. Third, he wants to have an established quarterback similar to what he left in Pittsburgh with Ben Roethlisberger.

The Broncos have all three of his needs available -- if the organization can afford him. Jay Cutler is one of the best young quarterbacks in the game. He threw for 4,526 yards this season and earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl.

[+] EnlargeBill Cowher
Jason Bridge/US PresswireAfter a highly successful career in Pittsburgh, Bill Cowher has sat out the past two seasons.
It is pretty obvious Bowlen didn't fire Shanahan the coach. He fired Shanahan the general manager. The Broncos have been among the franchises that have had the fewest number of starters out of their draft. Shanahan has had to either change defensive coordinators or change starters on defense to try to make things better. Instead, things got worse, forcing Bowlen to spend big money on free agents who often didn't work out.

In a season in which the league called only 1.7 holding penalties a game, Shanahan had a light defensive line that was pushed around by running teams. Those problems might force Bowlen to offer big money to lure defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, a free agent after this season. The Titan might cost $10 million a year or more.

An investment in Cowher could save in the long run. Cowher doesn't want to be like Shanahan and be the ultimate voice in personnel decisions. He simply wants to have people to work with like those he had in Pittsburgh. Cowher knows the best system is one in which the coach and the personnel people can get on the same page.

If Bowlen doesn't go for Cowher, the Denver owner must decide whether he wants to go the general manager route in hiring New England personnel director Scott Pioli, who might be wooed by the Browns. For a coach, Bowlen also might look at assistants such as Jason Garrett of the Cowboys, Josh McDaniels of the Patriots or Steve Spagnuolo of the Giants.

One-stop shopping would involve Cowher. We'll see whether Bowlen will make the call.

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer

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