The news came as a shock: the Denver Broncos fired Mike Shanahan.
The initial reaction: if Shanahan could get it in the back, could Andy Reid?
Short answer: sure.
Quick surmise: probably not.
Reason: look at the record.
Shanahan is a dictatorial type, which can wear out an organization. Reid is collegial and inclusive, which does not. That is a part of this. More, though, look at the simple numbers.
Yes, Shanahan won two Super Bowls with John Elway. But it was a long, long time ago now. In the last 10 seasons, the Broncos made the playoffs four times and won exactly one playoff game. In the last 10 years, the Eagles have made the playoffs seven times and won eight playoff games, with the tenth season still not finished. In the last three years, Shanahan has made zero playoff appearances and has collapsed late in seasons, including blowing a three-game lead in the AFC West this season with three games to play. Reid, meanwhile, has seen his team fight to the end in each of the last three seasons and come from behind to make the playoffs twice.
In other words, the two situations ain't the same thing at all.
If there is a lesson in the Shanahan thing, it is that nobody has a job forever. But we already knew that. In the last 10 years, though, there really is no comparison with Reid.
Meanwhile, Stefan Fatsis -- who spent a training camp with the Broncos as a kicker and wrote an insightful book about it, "A Few Seconds of Panic" -- had this take in an email:
Count me among the shocked. Bowlen once described his relationship with Shanahan to me as a marriage. Before the 2007 season, when he extended Shanahan's contract through 2011, Bowlen told me: "He might as well know that I have the faith in him until he and I both agree it's probably the end of his coaching career." The owner deferred to Shanahan on just about every internal football decision, on and off the field, like sacking the GM who was with the team for 16 years, Ted Sundquist, after a season that could hardly have been blamed on the front office.
Some people in Denver viewed their relationship as too one way, that Shanny had Pat's number. But Bowlen's no pushover, and no fool. He doesn't make decisions to respond to public pressure; he is justifiably proud of the competent operational systems that he and Shanahan imposed over the years; and he understands as well as any owner I've ever met in any sport that operating a professional franchise is a fickle endeavor, that success is cyclical, especially in a league like the NFL, and dependent on too many outside factors. (Look at how many injuries the Broncos suffered this season.)
I haven't spoken to either Bowlen or Shanahan, but I'd be surprised if something didn't flip in their relationship, or if Bowlen didn't just conclude that the franchises's long-term business (and football) prospects would be improved by a change. But this isn't your garden-variety firing. Shanahan is no Mangenius anymore, some young, disposable coach. Love him or hate him -- and fans do both, of course -- he's an institution in Denver.
Players and executives griped about Shanahan's omniscience, about his entrenched habits and routines, but I never once heard anyone question his abilities as an organizer and a coach. There was a fundamental belief, even a cockiness, that the Broncos had figured out how to make an NFL organization operate efficiently and effectively, that the team wouldn't win every year but it wouldn't embarrass itself if it didn't. But after three really bad seasons in a row -- a run that I think began with the benching of Jake Plummer when the Broncos were 7-4 in 2006, but that's just me -- the Teflon may have worn off. I wouldn't say Mike Shanahan was the Great and Mighty Wizard, but he certainly stopped looking quite so invincible, maybe even to Bowlen.