The Denver Broncos plight has fans 'disgusted'

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 1, 2010; 12:09 AM

Things haven't always gone smoothly for Coach Mike Shanahan with his new team. The Washington Redskins enter December with a losing record and have endured national attention over their first-year coach's handling of defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and quarterback Donovan McNabb.

But consider the franchise Shanahan left.

The losses are piling up for the Denver Broncos and their second-year coach, Josh McDaniels, who was hired after owner Pat Bowlen fired Shanahan following the 2008 season. The Broncos have a 3-8 record this season and have gone 5-16 since winning their first six games last season under McDaniels, the 34-year-old former offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots.

Now there is the taint of a videotaping scandal along with the lack of on-field success. The NFL announced last weekend that it had fined McDaniels and the Broncos $50,000 each because a team employee taped a portion of the San Francisco 49ers' practice the day before the two clubs played a Halloween game in London.

There is considerable unrest in Denver about the city's marquee team.

"I've been out here since 1995 as a player and an analyst," said former Broncos offensive lineman Mark Schlereth. "I have not seen a time when the fans were more livid, frustrated, upset, angry. It's not even close. People are disgusted."

McDaniels initially looked like he would be the coach to recapture the Broncos' glory days-their Super Bowl wins under Shanahan in the 1997 and '98 seasons that sent quarterback John Elway triumphantly into retirement.

McDaniels's 6-0 start last year, achieved while Shanahan spent a season out of the league, matched the third-longest string of victories by a rookie NFL head coach to start his career since 1930. But the Broncos soon reverted to struggling, even more than when they went 24-24 in Shanahan's final three seasons.

"Denver has had a real history of success," said another former Broncos coach, Dan Reeves. "It's been one of the better franchises since they joined the league. They expect to win, especially with Mike Shanahan winning those championships there."

During McDaniels's tenure, the Broncos traded away disgruntled stars Jay Cutler, the starting quarterback, and Brandon Marshall, a Pro Bowl wide receiver. They also parted with running back Peyton Hillis in a trade that got them backup quarterback Brady Quinn, and Hillis has thrived this season with the Cleveland Browns.

"People look at the decisions that have been made," Reeves said by telephone this week. "I know the fans there well enough to know they're definitely not happy."

The Broncos lost the Oct. 31 game to the 49ers, 24-16, at Wembley Stadium. According to the results of an NFL investigation announced Saturday, Steve Scarnecchia, the Broncos' director of video operations, taped about six minutes of the 49ers' walk-through the previous day at Wembley Stadium, then offered the tape to McDaniels.

The league's investigation determined that McDaniels refused to watch the videotape of the 49ers' practice and no Broncos assistant coach watched it either. McDaniels was fined for failing to report the incident to the league, as required, and the Broncos were fined because they were held responsible for their employees' behavior.

The Broncos fired Scarnecchia, according to the NFL, and he could be barred from the league. Scarnecchia, like McDaniels, formerly worked for the Patriots. The NFL said it considers Scarnecchia a repeat offender based on his involvement in the Patriots' improper videotaping, which resulted in the team being punished by the league in 2007.

The Broncos' upper management did not learn about the London incident until Nov. 8, according to the NFL's investigation. Joe Ellis, the team's chief operating officer, said in a conference call with reporters Saturday that he did not regard McDaniels's conduct in the episode a firing offense.

"He told the video director that this is not how we do business here, and I think he just moved on from it at that point," Ellis said. "He recognizes that was a mistake and he should have come forward."

Ellis said that Scarnecchia acted on his own, the same conclusion reached by the league's investigation.

"I stand by the fact that this particular incident has been handled the right way," Ellis said. "We're not proud of it, but we feel we've cooperated fairly and appropriately throughout the course of the investigation."

Jeff Pash, the NFL's executive vice president of labor and league counsel, said during Saturday's conference call: "If the worst thing about this is they gave a guy [Scarnecchia] another chance and he let them down, I think that's a mistake that people have to live with, but it's certainly not the worst thing that I've ever heard."

McDaniels said Monday he wasn't fretting about his job status because it wasn't his decision.

"Nobody likes to have that kind of attention," McDaniels said at a news conference. "Certainly, you know, I'm not oblivious to that. I'm human. [But] I know what we're about here. I know what I'm about here."

Bowlen said in a written statement released Monday night that "Josh McDaniels is the head coach of the Broncos" but that the organization "will continue to monitor the progress of the team and evaluate what's in the best interest of this franchise."

Schlereth called the videotaping incident "reprehensible" and lamented the team's recent woes.

"I'm disappointed that's where we are as an organization," said Schlereth, who played six seasons for the Broncos after six seasons with the Redskins, and now is an NFL analyst for ESPN. "I'm disappointed every time I turn on the tape [of games]. . . . Mr. Bowlen, he's a great owner and a guy I have a lot of respect for. To me, it goes against everything I stood for when I was here. And to see this team get pushed around, it's sickening. It's hard to watch."

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