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Dire in Denver
Peter King
October 17, 1994
After an 0-4 start, John Elway and the Broncos got finally got straightened out
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October 17, 1994

Dire In Denver

After an 0-4 start, John Elway and the Broncos got finally got straightened out

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Now there's a nice couple of weeks.

Phillips knows that the ax is being sharpened—and it's his head on the block. Bowlen is not a patient man. "I refuse to give a vote of confidence," the owner said last week. "I'm not here to judge how a guy coaches. I'm here to judge wins and losses."

Unlike his predecessor, the disciplinarian Dan Reeves, Phillips does not chew hides and fire people when things go bad. He nurtures and supports. "Coaching is teaching," says Phillips. "Some coaches coach by fear and intimidation, but I don't believe in that. People are taught to do things, not yelled at to do things."

His gentle style aside, the biggest knock on Phillips is that he and Ferguson spent too much money on offense and not enough on defense. He disagrees. "I think you can put a good defense together with less talent than you can on offense," he says. "You can play winning defense with not particularly great players who play with intensity and play well together."

Phillips pulled the right strings on Sunday, sending linebacker Mike Croel into the Seattle backfield for six tackles and three quarterback pressures. The defense gave Denver some teeth. It will need that bite until the offense starts scoring four touchdowns a game.

The Owner

Bowlen didn't have complete control of the Broncos, whom he bought in 1984, until he let Reeves go after the '92 season. Bowlen wanted to run the franchise, so he replaced Reeves with the more pliant Phillips. Before the 1993 season, with the blessing of Bowlen and his general manager, John Beake, Ferguson and Phillips gave unheralded free-agent guard Brian Habib a contract worth $1.4 million a year and dealt first-, second-and sixth-round picks to the Minnesota Vikings for left tackle Gary Zimmerman, who was signed to a contract that averages out to $2.35 million annually. Getting Pritchard a year later cost Denver first-, third-and seventh-round picks, plus a $2 million salary.

The Broncos are now snug up against the salary cap, which means they will have to chop some payroll in the off-season to sign the defensive help they need. Worse, they don't have a pick in next April's draft until the fourth round. The only way they will obtain immediate defensive help will be to buy it on the free-agent market.

"I can't be second-guessing our people right now," Bowlen says, "or I'd be second-guessing myself."

But he believes that team chemistry was forgotten when the Broncos were assembling this year's team. That's why he encouraged the re-signing of 34-year-old linebacker Karl Mecklenburg and 35-year-old safety Dennis Smith. Bowlen says, "What some players lack in ability, they make up for in team cohesiveness."

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