After CU weaseled out of firing Dan Hawkins last year, I feared the university would find another excuse to keep Hawk even after this past weekend's Kansas debacle. But no: CBS4 and other sources report that the pin will finally be pulled today, belatedly remedying one of two hideous high-profile local coaching catastrophes. So... what can the Broncos learn from CU about dealing with the other one -- Josh McDaniels? At least five things.
5. Don't be cheap. It's unlikely any CU administrator will ever admit it, but the one and only reason Hawkins was given a fifth year after a horrific 2009 season (and disappointing performances over the course of the previous three campaigns) was money. The school owed him $3.1 million, and decision makers clearly feared a PR bloodbath if they agreed to pay Hawk this sum simply to make him go away. But by keeping Hawkins at the helm for an even more disastrous year, the university has potentially cost itself much more. Convincing recruits to sign up with the Buffs will now be tougher than ever, making a quick turnaround all but inconceivable.
Fortunately, righting ships in the NFL is more straightforward than at the college level, especially if franchises spend money wisely. And paying off the rest of McDaniels's four-year, $8 million contract if this season continues to spiral out of control would be a good start.
4. Don't engage in spin. One of the most irritating aspects of the protracted Hawkins saga were his repeated efforts to explain away losses. Exhibit A was last year's Kansas State defeat, which prompted such a storm of bloviation that we dubbed Hawkins a dead man talking -- a premature label, but an apt one.
Thus far, McDaniels hasn't gone down this road to a significant degree -- but neither has he shown the sort of fight fans want to see from him. As the Raiders decimated the Broncos 59-14 a couple of weeks back, he looked suicidal, and his post-game comments only reinforced that impression. At least he didn't jabber on, Hawkins-style, about the positives that emerged during this overwhelmingly negative experience. But down the line, he needs to send the message that failures will be battled, not meekly accepted.
3. Don't avoid responsibility. At CU, boosters never seemed certain who was dealing with the Hawkins issue, since both athletic director Mike Bohn and chancellor Phil DiStefano tended to take cover whenever the flak started flying. And the situation with the Broncos is even more complex and confusing. The team's management is clearly in disarray, with sources telling Westword's Alan Prendergast that owner Pat Bowlen is no longer the team's major decision maker, likely due to the worsening of his admitted memory issues. But publicly, the Broncos are hiding behind the apparent fiction that Bowlen is still in charge -- a ruse that allows the likes of Joe Ellis, who appears to be calling the shots these days, to hide behind the deserved good will and affection Bowlen has earned over the years.
This tack, while understandable, cannot be allowed to go on forever. The Broncos need to make it plain who's in charge, so that fans can know the franchise isn't adrift. That's what CU's doing today.
2. Don't assume things will get better with time. Every sentient CU fan has known for years that the match between Hawkins and the Buffs was made in hell -- but administrators seemed to believe waiting and showing patience would eventually generate an upturn.
Oh so wrong -- and the same will likely prove true for the Broncos, who are sliding in terms of talent and quality as every other team in the division (with the possible exception of San Diego) is showing marked improvement. And these upgrades didn't happen by magic. The Chiefs and the Raiders are no longer jokes because mistakes were acknowledged -- example: JaMarcus Russell -- and fixes were put in place. And right now, McDaniels seems to be in need of fixing.
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1. Don't delay. Yes, McDaniels has only been on the job for a year and a half. But if the season continues on its present trajectory, giving him a third year under the theory that his system will be better established by then, and will reap dividends, is a flawed assumption that will spark open fan revolt if the 2011 campaign goes down the tubes, too.
Right now, CU fans have just written off their fifth consecutive season -- and while a coaching change won't miraculously turn the Buffs into world-beaters, it will at least give loyalists a reason to hope again. Broncos fans need that, too.
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