ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — John Elway is looking for the right man to fix a 12-4 team, not a 4-12 debacle like John Fox inherited four years ago.
Instead of starting from scratch with high draft picks and low expectations, Denver’s next coach will step into a win-or-else pressure cooker where Elway walks the talk on “Super Bowl or bust” and 49-22 wasn’t good enough.
The next coach will be expected to execute Elway’s mantra to “not only win now, but from now on” and to do so with or without Peyton Manning, who’s mulling his football future after a difficult stretch run.
It’ll help the successful candidate if his teams can show more fire in big games, too.
Elway said Fox’s squads didn’t go down “kicking and screaming” like they should have in a stunning 24-13 loss to Indianapolis at home last week or in their 35-point demolition in last year’s Super Bowl.
The new coach will inherit a talent-laden roster featuring an NFL-best 10 Pro Bowlers. Only two of them are among Denver’s dozen unrestricted free agents, too: Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas, whom Elway pegged as his top priorities once he finds Fox’s replacement.
This situation is a little like when Jerry Jones replaced Jimmy Johnson with Barry Switzer back in the 1990s and asked him to keep the Dallas Cowboys championship express rolling right along.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do but we have a good roster, we have depth and talent,” team president and chief executive officer Joe Ellis told The Associated Press. “And we get some of the injured guys back, Danny Trevathan, Brandon Marshall, who wasn’t 100 percent healthy last Sunday, so we should be optimistic.
“And I think our fans should be optimistic about where we go next year.”
That goal remains the Super Bowl, no matter who it is calling plays or who’s under center, said Elway, who has asked Manning not to make a rash decision about his future.
The roster features the Thomases, Emmanuel Sanders and Ryan Clady on offense and a star-studded defense led by Chris Harris Jr., Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward, DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller, all of whom were selected, along with Manning, to play in next week’s Pro Bowl.
The Broncos are the first team since the 1996 Carolina Panthers to have four free agent acquisitions named to the all-star squad in their first year with their new team.
Elway said he will dive into free agency again this offseason. He’ll also have eight or nine draft picks, depending on compensatory selections.
“I think it all makes it an attractive opportunity for the next head coach, I really do,” Ellis said. “I think the situation here is good.”
The new coach will be asked to mesh his system and create a chemistry to put the Broncos over the hump, and the sooner, the better.
“John feels, and I believe he’s right, we’ve got a good roster in place and we can compete for a championship, OK? And if that’s the case, which we believe it is, what’s it going to take to close the deal?” Ellis said. “And hopefully during the search we can find somebody that can articulate the answer the way John wants to hear it so we can bring somebody in here who can take us to a world championship, and do it the right way.”
Elway’s search began Thursday when he interviewed offensive coordinator Adam Gase, who was passed up a day earlier for the 49ers’ job that went to Jim Tomsula.
Elway also has an interview lined up with coveted Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, and he’s asked the Ravens if he can interview offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, who was his backup QB in Denver from 1983-91.
Elway told Manning he wants him back in 2015, but he’s not necessarily searching for a coach who can persuade the five-time MVP to return for a fourth season in Denver.
“Peyton Manning is one of the game’s greatest players today and of all time, and a player like that is entitled to make his decision as he sees fit,” Ellis said.
Ellis said the new coaching hire is entirely Elway’s call and he can’t envision differing with his selection.
“John Elway was signed on to make those decisions, and John has shown strong acumen in every area in his job since he’s taken it on,” Ellis said. “He’s going to make the right choice and we’re going to go forward with that choice.”
By Arnie Stapleton, AP Pro Football Writer
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