John Elway takes long look at his role in Broncos’ rebuild

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — John Elway still has optimism, even as he looks for his fourth head coach in his tenure as the Denver Broncos‘ top football executive.

As the Broncos have missed the playoffs for the third straight season, and fired coach Vance Joseph on Monday, Elway has taken plenty of blame for the team’s on-field performance. But he’s moving forward.

“I feel like if we can get some key players in certain situations, get the right staff and get in a better place, and get the energy going again, I think that we can get that done,” Elway said. “… The older I get, the more I dislike losing. I’ve dealt with that and where that comes from. But it just adds more fuel to that fire. That’s why it’s a great challenge for me and the rest of our staff to get this thing straightened away.”

The Broncos are certainly on unfamiliar ground. Besides missing the playoffs, with this year’s 6-10 finish, they have posted back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 1971-72.

Those who know him say that this is the most uncomfortable place for Elway, who is almost routinely described as the most competitive person anyone knows when it comes to, well, anything.

“He’s not going to just sit there,” cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. “I always felt like I wanted to retire here, play the rest of my career here, but now every vet in this locker room is on a no-guarantee deal, that’s what I think. Because (Elway) ain’t about losing and missing the playoffs, that’s not what this place is about. And everybody has to understand that.”

Elway’s position in the league is unique. His profile in the city he works in is far different from that of most of his vocational peers.

When he sits down to interview former Titans head coach Mike Munchak on Friday, for example, it will likely be the first time Munchak, a Hall of Fame player, will be interviewed by another Hall of Fame player for a coaching job.

And Elway’s role in the team’s struggles of the past three seasons, especially with the carousel at quarterback with four different starters in the last two seasons, is under increasing scrutiny.

“I’m responsible too,” Elway said. “We’ve got to take a look at ourselves, see what we’re doing on the personnel side and try to get better there. We’ve got to look at it all … Where we start to get better is by looking in the mirror. That’s why I’m going to reflect on this year, reflect on the moves that I made last year and the couple years before that, see which ones were right, see which ones were wrong and evaluate them. That’s the only way I can get better. My goal is to continue to get better.”

As he searches for a new head coach, Elway has pointed out that John Fox’s departure after the Broncos’ playoff stumble to end the 2014 season was “mutual” between Fox and Elway when the two couldn’t agree on what changes should be made before the 2015 season, including on the coaching staff.

And that Gary Kubiak did win a Super Bowl before stepping away for health reasons after the 9-7 2016 season, before Vance Joseph was fired for the performance of the last two seasons.

“… We haven’t done well the last two years,” Elway said. “That has to get better. It’s not all on the head coach, but the head coach, again, is going to be a big part of it.”

It all puts Elway where he says he likes to be — in the middle of things, trying to compete, trying to win, and this time he’s evaluating his own performance at times to do it.

“It’s a tough league, and this league is about parity,” Elway said. “It’s about creating that and when you’re good at some point in time, it’s going to catch up to you and that’s the great challenge. Again, we’ve got to answer that bell.”

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