ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Hall of Famer John Elway has been summoned by the Denver Broncos for one more comeback, this time as the team’s chief football executive.
The beloved quarterback who led the Broncos to five Super Bowls and back-to-back championships before retiring in 1999 returned to the team’s Dove Valley headquarters Wednesday to begin restoring the franchise’s tarnished image and bring back its winning ways.
Team owner Pat Bowlen said he expects Elway to lead the Broncos to more Super Bowls and joked this time, Elway can tell him: “This one’s for Pat!”
Elway said he was thrilled to be part of the Broncos again, declaring: “My greatest asset is my competitiveness … I will give it everything I can to return this team back to the way it was.”
Three coaching candidates are in line for interviews: Perry Fewell, Eric Studesville and Mike Mularkey, and Elway said he would call Jim Harbaugh as soon as he got upstairs to his office to try to schedule an interview with Stanford’s coach, too.
Elway will interview Mularkey, the Falcons’ offensive coordinator, in Atlanta on Friday night before returning to Denver for interviews Sunday with Fewell, the New York Giants’ defensive coordinator, and Studesville, who went 1-3 as Denver’s interim head coach following Josh McDaniels’ Dec. 6 ouster.
Elway’s title will be executive vice president of football operations in a reshaped front office, and chief operating officer Joe Ellis becomes team president. Brian Xanders will go from the general manager in name only to one who’s empowered in the new organizational chart.
Bowlen, who famously declared, “This one’s for John!” following the Broncos’ upset of the Green Bay Packers in the 1997 Super Bowl, said, “When I came in as the owner in 1984, John had just completed his first season as the quarterback of the Denver Broncos and it didn’t take me long to realize I had a great treasure. … Now, I couldn’t be happier to have him here running football operations.
“I can’t think of a better job and a better guy to do that job than John Elway, and I look forward to great things in the future,” Bowlen said. “I think John will return this team to a very high level of competitiveness. I think we’ll win some more Super Bowls.”
After his 16-year playing career ended with consecutive championships, Elway was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2004. He also led the Arena Football League’s Colorado Crush to a championship in 2005 as its co-owner and chief executive officer.
Elway’s first order of business in his new role with the Broncos will be to lead the search for a coach to replace McDaniels, whose 22-month misadventure left the Broncos embarrassed and in need of a major makeover.
The Broncos are coming off the worst season in their 51-year history, a 4-12 debacle that exposed McDaniels’ many personnel blunders and was marked by the Spygate II videotaping scandal that cast them as cheaters.
Elway said he felt the videotape violation was “the straw that broke the camel’s back” in tarnishing the team’s image.
The Broncos have won just one playoff game since Elway retired in 1999 following his second straight Super Bowl title, and they haven’t reached the postseason in five years.
Mike Shanahan was fired after a run of mediocrity in January 2009 and McDaniels was plucked from Bill Belichick’s staff in New England.
McDaniels was kicked to the curb last month but wasn’t thrown under the bus — Ellis said the Broncos erred in giving him so much power when they made him the head coach and de facto GM with final say on personnel matters. The then-32-year-old had never had either job before.
The new coach won’t have so much latitude with the roster; that will rest with Xanders, and Elway will have veto power.
McDaniels traded away Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, Tony Scheffler and Peyton Hillis, and failed to use any of his 19 draft picks on an inside linebacker or defensive tackle. The Broncos were one-dimensional on offense and had the league’s worst defense in 2010.
The Broncos have just a half dozen picks in April’s draft, although their loss Sunday to San Diego was their franchise-record 12th defeat, securing the No. 2 overall pick in April.
Elway retired with the most wins by a starting quarterback in NFL history, going 148-82-1. He engineered an NFL-record 47 comeback drives and was second in yards passing (51,475) and third in TD throws (300).
Elway spent the 2010 season as a marketing consultant to the Broncos following eight years as co-owner and chief executive officer of Denver’s AFL team. Elway worked closely with Bowlen, who owned one-third of the arena team.
“You think Broncos and you think Elway and Rod Smith and Ed McCaffrey and Terrell Davis,” wide receiver Eddie Royal said. “That name is the first name you think about and he put his heart and soul into this organization, so it’s great that he’s coming back. And he’s going to help us out. You know that he’s a winner. You know that he knows the game. And he’s been to Super Bowls, so he knows what it takes.”