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Welcome to the first 2009 edition of Wtnelson's Mailbag! I hope that you all had a great holiday season and that 2009 will prove to be a tremendous year for you. This week's Mailbag is dedicated largely to the Denver Broncos and Mike Shanahan. Enjoy!

1. What were your opinions of the Denver Broncos 2008 season? - Dyhard

I honestly can't say that I thought it was a bad season. The way that they finished certainly took most of the luster off of it, but I thought that 8-8 was about the best they could possibly do. Their offense has the chance to be one of the best in the NFL for a lot of years, so long as they can find stability in the running game. I certainly didn't expect Mike Shanahan to be fired, so it'll be interesting to see what next year brings. The defense was absolutely atrocius, though. There's just no way around that fact. Before I learned of Shanahan's firing, I thought that defensive coordinator Bob Slowik had to be back, though, simply because you can't keep changing defensive coordinators year after year. Pat Bowlen took care of that two days after the season ended, though. The special teams has long been the Broncos achilles heel, and it was again this season. The Broncos haven't won a field position battle in many, many years. The kick coverage was just bad, and it has been virtually ever since 2000. The problems on both defense and special teams can be attributed to the failed drafts of 2001-2005, from which only linebacker DJ Williams remains (Champ Bailey can also be attributed to the 2001 draft, as that's when Clinton Portis was drafted). The 2007 draft in which the Broncos took four defensive linemen was a complete bust also. Three of those linemen remain on the team, and two of them, Tim Crowder and Jarvis Moss, were healthy but inactive for much of the season. Bad drafting on the defensive side of the ball is responsible for the struggles in the 2008 season. Mark Kiszla wrote a great article today in the Denver Post entitled "Super Success in 10 Big Moves", and for once, I agree with him.

2. Should the Broncos have fired Shanahan? - Redwing19

I had to know that this question was coming. The answer is yes and no. For what he has brought to Broncos Country, no. There's no question that he was great for the organization. Now that he had finally gotten his quarterback, it looked like the semi-rebuilding project was complete on the offensive side of the ball, so the timing was strange. It would have made more sense last year or the year before. If it were another team, though, I would be saying that they needed to fire the head coach after finishing the season the way that they did, as well as the futility of the past decade. Ultimately, I think that Pat Bowlen needed to take back control of his organization, and I think that Shanahan needed to be fired for his own sake. He'll land on his feet, and I think that being fired in Denver could be great for his career. As far as the Broncos, I do think that a change needed to be made to the defense, and the buck stopped with Shanahan. At some point, he had to go, and it may as well have been now. Sometimes change is the best thing. When I look at it as an outsider, yes, Shanahan needed to go.

3. What is your prediction for Mike Shanahan's future? - TenRingsSTL

It's difficult to say, but I think that he'll ultimately wind up in Indianapolis. Dallas seems to be the hot candidate to eventually land him, but I don't think that he would enjoy working for Jerry Jones. Jones is similar to Al Davis in his methods. He wants too much control of the football operations of the Cowboys, and it would just be a power struggle that I don't think would end well for Jones, Shanahan, or the Cowboys. Tony Dungy is going to retire either this year or next year. The Colts have Peyton Manning for another five or six years barring any injuries, and their offense is great. The defense isn't great, but it is miles ahead of what we have in Denver, and the Colts ownership is great. Indianapolis hasn't been mentioned much, but I think that's where Shanahan will land, either in 2009 or 2010.

4. Who is the best candidate for the vacant coaching spot left by Shanahan's shocking firing? Who will actually get the job? - Mondo Jay

The answer to both questions, I think, is Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. When you look at the available jobs, Denver is certainly the best one available. In fact, I would argue that, as long as Pat Bowlen is the owner in Denver, it is the crown jewel of NFL head coaching jobs, rivaled only by Pittsburgh. Spagnuolo was interviewed yesterday, and Josh McDaniels was interviewed today. McDaniels wouldn't make any sense, as the Broncos already have a 32-year-old offensive play caller in Jeremy Bates, and it wouldn't make any sense to bring in another one, especially after Jay Cutler made it clear to Bowlen and Broncos chief operating officer Joe Ellis that Bates had better stay. They will also interview Bucs defensive coordinator Raheem Morris, which is probably simply to fulfill the requirements of the Rooney Rule, Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, and their own offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Rick Dennison. Bob Stoops' name has also come up, but I don't think that will happen. Spagnuolo is really the only one that makes sense, and Denver seems more attractive than the Jets' job for a number of reasons. I'm biased, but given the choice, I'd take Denver. I think he should and will get the job.

5. Why was Denver slighted so long in getting professional sports franchises? Is that the reason that, even now, Salt Lake City only has a professional basketball franchise? What about Vegas? - Appleseed

 A little history lesson. Contrary to popular belief, the Broncos were not the first professional sports franchise in Denver. In fact, they weren't even the first team to play in Mile High Stadium. The stadium was first known as Bears Stadium, and it was home to a AAA baseball club called the Denver Bears, which were founded in 1948. Many MLB greats played for the Bears up until they folded in the 1980's, including Terry Francona and Tim Raines. Billy Martin and Felipe Alou both began their managerial careers with the Bears. It took so long to get anyone other than the Broncos and Nuggets because Denver was seen as sort of a "cow town", and in many ways it still is seen that way. In the 1970's the Oakland Athletics were very close to moving to Denver, but the deal fell through. Nobody thought that baseball would work in Denver due to the altitude, but fans moaned for nearly 50 years before the founding of the Rockies. Even when the Rockies were founded 16 years ago, downtown Denver wasn't nearly what it is today. The reaction when people found out where the plans to build Coors Field was, "You're going to put a stadium where?" That region is known as LoDo (Lower Downtown) in Denver, and the area was absolutely revitalized. Nobody imagined that the fans would come out in drones like they did. Nobody really knew that there were that many people there. When they saw how the town supported the Rockies, who sold out every game for the franchise's first 9 seasons, coupled with the fact that the Broncos have been sold out since the early 1970's, it was a no-brainer to bring the Quebec Nordiques here. I think that there is the same stigma about Salt Lake. It's seen as a western town, and most don't think that there are enough people there to support more teams, which is ludicrous. All you have to do is see how they support the Utah Utes and BYU to see that it would work. An NHL team would do very well in Salt Lake. As far as Vegas goes, the main reason is that most feel that having professional teams in Vegas would promote gambling by athletes. Any league would put a franchise there if they weren't afraid of the ramifications.

Thanks for all of your questions. Keep sending them in! I really enjoy this group and this blog, and I appreciate everyone's help. This week's video of the week features comedian Jeff Dunham and his ventriloquist act Walter in an appearance on David Letterman.

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