Bowlen’s quest takes him from New York to Boston |

Bowlen’s quest takes him from New York to Boston

Arnie Stapleton
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
** FILE ** In this Dec. 23, 2007 file photo, New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels looks on from the sidelines during an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins in Foxborough, Mass. NMcDaniels has interviewed with Browns owner Randy Lerner about Cleveland's coaching vacancy on Friday, Jan. 2, 2009. The Denver Broncos are also reportedly interested in McDaniels as their coach. (AP Photo/Bill Sikes, File)

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. ” The Denver Broncos are in a hurry to find Mike Shanahan’s replacement.

By midweek, owner Pat Bowlen and his advisers will have interviewed five candidates to succeed the winningest coach in franchise history, the man who won him two Super Bowl trophies but just one playoff game in the decade since John Elway retired.

The Broncos brass planned to meet Sunday with New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, whose reputation grew this year after Matt Cassel, a perennial backup who hadn’t started a game since high school, replaced an injured Tom Brady and led the Patriots to an 11-5 record a year after Brady threw for 50 touchdowns and came within less than a minute of the NFL’s first 19-0 season.

McDaniels also interviewed for the Cleveland Browns’ coaching vacancy on Friday.

The Broncos met Saturday night with the most sought-after assistant in the league this year, Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who also has chatted with the Browns, Lions and Jets about becoming their coach.

Spagnuolo, 49, who spurned the Washington Redskins last year and got a big contract to stay in New York, is the architect of the pass rush that stymied Brady in last year’s Super Bowl stunner and who has helped the Giants earn the top seed in the NFC playoffs this season despite the retirement of seven-time Pro Bowler Michael Strahan last summer and the loss of fellow Pro Bowl defensive end Osi Umenyiora to a knee injury in the preseason.

The Broncos need lots of help on defense, where they ranked 30th in points allowed this season, went through six free safeties and a half-dozen linebackers and couldn’t stop the run under Bob Slowik, their third defensive coordinator in three seasons.

The Broncos’ brain trust of Bowlen, chief operating officer Joe Ellis and personnel chief Jim Goodman will take a breather Monday before interviewing three more candidates at their team headquarters.

On Tuesday, they’ll meet with Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, who spurned offers from Baltimore and Atlanta last offseason after Cowboys owner Jerry Jones upped his salary to about $3 million and pledged to make him head coach Wade Phillips’ eventual successor.

On Wednesday, they’ll interview Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive whiz Raheem Morris, 32, who was promoted from secondary coach to coordinator following the departure of Monte Kiffin to join his son Lane at Tennessee, and the only in-house candidate for the job, Rick Dennison.

Dennison, who played linebacker for the Broncos from 1982-90, joined Shanahan’s staff in 1995 and coached special teams and the offensive line before being elevated to offensive coordinator three years ago.

Although the Broncos haven’t reached the playoffs since losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC title game in 2005, it’s hardly been the offense’s fault.

Behind stars Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, Tony Scheffler, Ryan Clady and Eddie Royal, the Broncos ranked second in the league in yards this season but were done in by a dreadful defense that ranked 29th.

When Bowlen fired Shanahan last week with three years and more than $20 million left on his contract, he said he wanted a replacement who was “a 10 in every area” and would immediately put the Broncos back among the league’s elite.

In addition to the five candidates they’ve lined up for interviews, the Broncos put out feelers to gauge the interest of University of Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops, who is preparing for his fourth shot at a national championship when the Sooners face Florida in the BCS title game Thursday night.

On Saturday, Stoops dismissed the notion he was ready to leave the college ranks for the rigors of the NFL.

“What situation? That’s a rumor that I have not heard and no one has contacted me about that so I don’t know anything about it,” Stoops said of the Denver job. “We’re preparing for a national championship, that’s all my focus, all my concentration is on that, so obviously I’m not a candidate. I’m sure someone might have told me … if I was.

“There’s no story,” Stoops said. “I’m not a candidate. This is the first I’ve heard about it.”

The Broncos finished 8-8 this season and are 24-24 in the last three seasons, their first such stretch without a playoff appearance since 1980-82.

Despite a rash of injuries and personnel moves that didn’t pan out, they were on the cusp of ending their playoff drought this season before a colossal collapse. Their 52-21 blowout at San Diego last week rendered them the first team in league history to blow a three-game lead with three weeks remaining.

Shanahan, 146-91 in 14 seasons in Denver, was fired 48 hours later.

It appears Shanahan will sit out the 2009 season and look to land a prime NFL coaching job in 2010, when fellow free agents Bill Cowher and Mike Holmgren might also be rejoining the coaching ranks.

Crews are putting the finishing touches on Shanahan’s 35,000-square foot mansion and he recently broke ground on a Denver steakhouse that will bear his name.

So, he’ll likely be getting an up-close view of the rebuilding job his successor tackles at Dove Valley.

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