CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- In his first public comments since his worst season as a general manager, John Elway showed humility, honesty and candor as he attempts to execute a rebound.
Elway admitted he considered multiple options before retaining embattled coach Vance Joseph, ultimately believing Joseph, with a revamped coaching staff, will improve.
"There’s nobody happier than me that 2017 is over. Maybe Vance," Elway said. "As I told Vance many times, he was drinking through a fire hose when you go through learning what it takes to be a head coach in this league. We thought about different options, but ultimately our goal was to stay with Vance."
Joseph acknowledged he made mistakes in his first season. He must coach his coaches better, a point I have discussed on numerous occasions. Joseph waited too long to assert control over the game plan, and it backfired with offensive coordinator Mike McCoy. Joseph said he should have addressed the offensive philosophy earlier, stressing the team run the ball. Joseph retained offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and defensive coordinator Joe Woods, and will add six assistant coaches. Ben McAdoo, whom Joseph praised while coaching with him in San Francisco, is among the candidates for the quarterbacks coach position.
"Early on, I didn't do a good job of pushing the coaches. It was time to change the culture so we could get back to pushing our players," Joseph said of the dismissed staff. "I know I need to do better."
Quarterbacks dominated Monday's press conference. The Broncos, if you have not realized, need a starter. A good one. In a pass-happy league, the Broncos ranked 25th in touchdowns through the air, while posting the second-most interceptions (22). Denver made six quarterback changes, leading every player, minus the quarterbacks, to admit any U-turn begins with consistency at that position. Elway did not disagree, acknowledging it undermined Joseph in his first season.
"That position did not perform as well as we wanted it to and it’s not just on them. I think there’s a lot of circumstances that went into that. Obviously a position that we feel like we have to get better at," Elway said. "There's no doubt we have to get better. For us to have any chance, we have to get better at that position."
While the Broncos look for a quarterback on the field, they promoted one off it. In a move long overdue for one of the smallest front offices in the NFL, the Broncos expanded the role of former coach Gary Kubiak. Kubiak, who stepped down as the team's coach in 2016 because of health reasons, will help with the draft and free agency.
"He's a guy that has a lot of football knowledge. He's a good evaluator, too," Elway said of Kubiak, who has known Elway since 1983 and guided the Broncos to a Super Bowl title in 2015. "He'll help us in that area. I am not sure what his title is going to be. I don't even know what his title is now. I know what he's going to be doing, so I am not worried about the title."
This has been a difficult season for Elway. He helped frame this year's talk of this being a reboot, and dismissing the idea of windows closing. He was more measured in his response Monday about the team's immediate prospects -- a stance that makes sense with quarterback uncertainty and a roster in transition.
"When you are 5-11, there are obviously some issues that we have to get handled. I think that is our goal. Our mindset is to get back to the playoffs," Elway said. "But whether we can or not, I don't want to raise expectation level by saying, 'Yes, we are automatically going to get back there.'"
Elway received criticism for failed draft picks, with only first rounder Garett Bolles contributing from this year's class. The Broncos have only selected one Pro Bowler since 2012 (Von Miller; Malik Jackson made the game this year, but plays for Jacksonville). Elway talked humbly of the challenge ahead, but clearly has not lost his edge for bite.
"I always try to get better. I don't have all the answers," Elway said. "I am fortunate that I played for a long time. I have been in this job for seven years, therefore I am always trying to get better. As soon as I think I have it down, I'll retire. Then, I'll be doing what you do (in talk radio) because then you know it all."
Elway is casting a wide net in his search for a quarterback. He allowed that if the Broncos start a rookie next season, it might take more time to execute a U-turn. He has no financial issues in free agency, so the Broncos are likely to pursue potential high-profile free agents Kirk Cousins and Drew Brees, any number of Minnesota's quarterback stable, while also exploring the trade market (Will Kansas City's Alex Smith become available?). The offense needs help in multiple areas. I asked Elway if he would consider trading a defensive player to upgrade the other side of the ball. A year ago, he said no. This year he is keeping an open mind, though it's not his preference (cornerback Aqib Talib, in my opinion, could be dealt).
"Once we let the dust settle, we will start putting a plan together. I really don't like taking away from a strength; I don't like doing it," Elway said. "I think that because if it's a known strength, and you're not positive, that you're going into another strength, I like what I know even though it might help us (to make a move)."
The Broncos will begin removing the exterior signage at Sports Authority Field over the next week to 10 days. It has been an embarrassing eyesore to feature a bankrupt company on the building. A placeholder will be used or a new corporate sponsor will be featured by the opening of the season, Broncos CEO Joe Ellis said. ... The Broncos are not raising ticket prices. "When you see the kind of loyalty, commitment and emotions that are fans pour into this team, it's sort of the least we can do. I saw a few comments that we should lower them. Those aren't necessarily out of line," Ellis said. ... Ellis believes complacency settled in this season, something for which he holds himself responsible. "I feel like there are times where I just get a sense that as an organization maybe we’re looking at a slogan on the wall, three trophies in the locker room or Super Bowl banners at the stadium facing our audience. We kind of assume that is the way it’s going to be. If I let that creep into the organization, then I am the one that has to stop that mindset. I talked to John. I talked to Vance. They understand. We had good discussions. I’m going to talk to a lot of people in the organization about it in the next month. I feel responsible that I allow that. I’m not saying it’s widespread, but if it is in there -- and my sense is that, at times, it became that way -- that needs to stop. I’m in charge of that. On the accountability side, an entire community, 75,000 people that show up every Sunday, two other trustees and the Bowlen family. I feel like I’m accountable to a lot of people. This year was disappointing and a letdown. Now we are moving forward and looking toward the future. We’ve got to improve things.”