Earlier this month, Broncos sources told writer Alan Prendergast that owner Pat Bowlen is no longer the team's major decision-maker on key financial and management questions. Presumably, a Monday interview -- Bowlen's first since early this year -- was intended to disprove this claim. But the completely different tone of a subsequent statement is likely to restart those rumors about his reported memory issues.
Yesterday, Bowlen spoke with NFL Fanhouse's Thomas George, a onetime staffer with both the New York Times and the Denver Post. (Click here to read "By George," our 2005 profile.) And throughout the conversation, his support for McDaniels was unequivocal.
Bowlen said he "was not interested" in making a coaching change, pledged that McDaniels would be back for the 2011 season, dismissed bad trades as the sort of things that sometimes happen in the NFL, suggested that injuries had led to some of the team's losses, and hinted that assistant coaches would be sacrificed after the season in order to save McD's gig.
According to Bowlen, "Josh has surrounded himself with good coaches but it may get to a point where some of them have to go. I don't know that yet. Josh is around the football team. He knows."
In addition, Bowlen dismissed rumors about his health as "pure B.S.," adding, "I have no idea where that came from. I don't run the triathlons anymore like I used to. I do leg work on machines and do the bike. I'm not as strong as I used to be, but I'm still good.''
Of course, the whispers about Bowlen have revolved around his mental health, not his physical stamina. As Prendergast noted, Bowlen previously admitted to the Post's Woody Paige that he even has trouble recalling the Broncos' Super Bowl wins of the 1990s -- and subsequent evidence that he'd forgotten about contacts from Jay Cutler prior to the QB being dealt to Chicago led ESPN's Rick Reilly to speculate that his memory issues could hurt the team in the future.
Did Reilly's prediction come true yesterday? Hard to say -- but a statement issued in his name stopped well short of guaranteeing that McDaniels would return in 2011. It reads:
This has been a very trying and disappointing season for all of us. We haven't had the success we had hoped to achieve. Josh McDaniels is the head coach of the Broncos, and you always strive for stability at that position. However, with five games left in the 2010 season, we will continue to monitor the progress of the team and evaluate what's in the best interest of this franchise.
The differences between these comments and those that appeared on NFL Fanhouse are so large that they encourage speculation. Is it possible that Bowlen went rogue in his conversation with George, speaking without first getting clearance from others in the organization? Did Joe Ellis, the man who's reportedly handling most day-to-day decisions for the Broncos, realize that a blanket endorsement of McDaniels was foolhardy, especially given the possibility of more damning revelations about improper video recordings of a San Francisco 49ers walk-through, for which McD has already been fined by the NFL? Was Bowlen then asked to dial back his support? Or could someone else have written the statement in his name?
Such questions only make the McDaniels situation more untenable, and contribute to fan frustration. A TV appearance would provide at least some evidence that Bowlen's still in charge. But a phone interview and a statement that seem like they came from different people won't resolve anything, especially in light of Bowlen's insinuation during the George chat that the Broncos still might make the playoffs this year.
Optimistic or delusional? You be the judge.
More from our Sports archive: "Josh McDaniels: Top 10 reasons Broncos fans want Coach McD to be fired."