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News » Replacing legend is tough Bowlen's choice as new coach will have huge shoes to fill

Replacing legend is tough Bowlen's choice as new coach will have huge shoes to fill

Replacing legend is tough Bowlen's choice as new coach will have huge shoes to fill
One was a long shot, a former college receiver with a thin resume and not much older than some of his veteran players.

The other was a flashy college coach known as much for his plastered hair as his devotion to Football.

What Mike Tomlin and Jimmy John- son had in common was their ability to succeed following an NFL legend, something the next Broncos coach will hope to do after shocking firing of Mike Shanahan on Tuesday.

Tomlin, in his second year after taking over for Bill Cowher, guided Pittsburgh to a 12-4 record and the AFC North Division title this season, and he has the Steelers primed for another potential Super Bowl run. Johnson, who took over in Dallas when Tom Landry was unceremoniously shown the door, went on to win back-to-back Super Bowls with the Cowboys.

"When you have (Ben) Roethlisberger in place and Jay Cutler in place and (Troy) Aikman in place, all of those (transitions) become a lot easier," said NFL.com senior writer Gil Brandt, who was personnel director under Landry.

Still, Brandt said, the odds are that replacing Shanahan won't be easy.

"Coach Landry always said, when you're going to replace somebody, be sure that who you're replacing them with is better than the guy that was there," Brandt said. "All you have to do is look at the coaches that failed and (know Denver) had a proven commodity. They might get a proven commodity (again). I'm not sure. But I just think Mike was special."

Though Steve Mariucci won division titles, he never could duplicate the success the late Bill Walsh and George Seifert had in San Francisco.

Washington still is trying to regain its luster of the golden days under Joe Gibbs during his first go-round.

And one could argue the Cleveland Browns never have gotten it together since the Paul Brown-Blanton Collier days, though John Elway helped change that course of history.

Whomever Broncos owner Pat Bowlen ultimately chooses will have some big shoes to fill, what with Shanahan leaving as the winningest coach in franchise history with two titles.

"It's going to be tough," said former Broncos tight end Shannon Sharpe, who won two Super Bowls rings in Denver and a third with Baltimore. "The measuring stick is his record. Granted, the last few seasons have been .500. But he's got two (Super Bowl) trophies in the lobby. It's like replacing John (Elway). You just can't get anybody to replace John."

Following Elway

Some would argue that the Broncos still haven't replaced Elway, even with Cutler's rocket arm and cocky attitude.

Denver has gone through eight quarterbacks who've started games since Elway retired after the 1998 season, and Cutler is 17-20 in his 21/2 seasons.

"Until Jay Cutler learns how to protect the Football around the goal line, this program will live and die with him," said former quarterback Joe Theismann, who went to two Super Bowls under Gibbs and won one. "Mike Shanahan put a lot of faith in Jay Cutler. And he's very talented. But somebody has to teach him the things to do to win. It's not a knock on him - it's part of the growth process. He's going to have to do this for Pat Bowlen to achieve what he wants."

Players who know Bowlen see more than a man with an open checkbook and a year-round tan.

"I think there are people who underestimate his competitive nature," said former defensive end Alfred Williams, who recalls rehabilitation days at the facility trying not to be shown up by Bowlen on the Stairmaster. "He may be very quiet and in the background, but it's always with the understanding that this thing is about winning."

To that end, former safety Tyrone Braxton sees Bowlen's role changing with the departure of Shanahan.

"Mike always had his thumb on everything. Now it will be time for people to step up and do their jobs," Braxton said. "I think Pat will get more involved, like a Jerry Jones."

Braxton doesn't believe it will be a quick fix.

Williams, though, is hopeful.

"I hope the next guy . . . can get a good grasp on the players' intent," Williams said. "It's one thing to be a pro athlete and another to be a professional athlete. We've got to have more professional athletes who play with their heart and soul to win on Sunday."

He thought back to when Shanahan was hired in 1995.

"He wasn't a celebrated head coach when he got to the Broncos," Williams said. "But he became one. Pat Bowlen will find another one who's capable. If not, he'll get rid of him quickly. I just have a lot of respect for his willingness to do what it takes to win."

Bowlen showed as much, even as he choked up.

"I may end up regretting this decision," he said during his New Year's Eve news conference. "But right now, I am very comfortable with this decision that we've got to go in a different direction."

Pluses in Denver

Brandt said it certainly is an attractive job.

"You've got a quarterback. You've got a left tackle. You've got some good offensive linemen. What job is more attractive? Detroit or Denver? Cleveland or Denver? Jets or Denver? This is a quarterback-driven league, and when you've got a guy like Cutler, you've got something going for you."

While the shock value of Shanahan's firing rates up there with that of Landry, Brandt said nothing should shock him anymore.

"If you would have . . . told me that Tony Sparano is going to win 10 more games than the year before (at Miami), or that Mike Smith, as a head coach, was going to do what he did (in Atlanta), I would have told you you were crazy," Brandt said.

"But picking a head coach is somewhat like picking the winning lottery. It ain't easy."


Following a legend

* Four successors who flourished (in bold)

PITTSBURGH W-L Comment 1969-91 Chuck Noll 209-156-1 The only coach ever to win four Super Bowls - a feat that landed him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

1992-2006 Bill Cowher 149-90-1 In 15 seasons, his Steelers captured eight division titles, played in 21 playoff games and six AFC championships, and won Super Bowl XL.

DALLAS 1960-88 Tom Landry 270-178-6 In 29 seasons, his Cowboys won 13 division titles, five NFC titles and two Super Bowls.

1989-93 Jimmy Johnson 51-37-0 "The cupboard wasn't bare when he came in," former Cowboys personnel guru Gil Brandt said of Johnson, who was one of only six to coach consecutive Super Bowl winners.

CLEVELAND 1950-62 Paul Brown 115-49-5 The Browns won the NFL championship their first year, then twice more under this great innovator.

1963-70 Blanton Collier 79-38-2 Under Brown's quiet successor, Jim Brown would break the NFL's single-season rushing mark in 1963 and the team would upset Baltimore in the championship game a year later.

SAN FRANCISCO 1979-88 Bill Walsh 102-63-1 Won 10 of 14 postseason games, three NFC championships and three Super Bowls.

1989-96 George Seifert 114-62 In his first year as head coach, the 49ers won Super Bowl XXIV, and they would win it all again five years later. * Four successors who failed (in bold)

CHICAGO W-L Comment 1958-67 George Halas 76-53-6 In his fourth tenure with the Bears, he would win two coach-of-the-year awards and one championship.

1968-71 Jim Dooley 20-36-0 After winning half their games in his first season, the Bears collapsed to a 1-13 mark. Another late-season swoon in 1971 did Dooley in.

MIAMI 1970-95 Don Shula 274-147-2 Led the team to two Super Bowl wins and the only perfect NFL season.

1996-99 Jimmy Johnson 38-31-0 This time, his quarterback, Dan Marino, was on the decline, he inherited a mediocre defense and several draft busts came back to haunt him.

DENVER 1981-92 Dan Reeves 117-79-1 AFC coach of the '80s guided the Broncos to five divisional titles, three AFC titles and three Super Bowl berths.

1993-94 Wade Phillips 16-17-0 Was fired after only two seasons, as management felt he had lost control of his team.

GREEN BAY 1959-67 Vince Lombardi 98-30-4 He would win nine straight postseason games and five titles in nine years.

1968-70 Phil Bengtson 20-21-4 With his low-key approach and aging players, he couldn't keep the ball rolling in Green Bay.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: January 3, 2009

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