Front Range

Retrofit

Is bringing a retired hero to the front office desperate-or genius?

August 2011

More than a decade after john elway retired from the football field, we can’t let him go. At least, that’s what it felt like last January when Elway made his comeback to a depleted—and demoralized—Denver Broncos organization as the vice president of football operations. But can Elway, with no significant NFL management experience, turn the Broncos around?

It’s a daunting task: The 2010 Broncos set a franchise record for most losses and finished the season 4–12. (Ouch, that still hurts.) To make matters worse, the Donkeys aren’t the only mile-high team that’s reached a new low: The once-storied Colorado Avalanche franchise is just as cringe-worthy. But like the Broncos, the Avalanche have tapped an old superhero: Joe Sakic. He was a 13-time NHL All-Star and a team captain; he retired in 2009 but joined the Avs’ front office in March as the executive adviser.

The big question is whether bringing back star players to work in the front office will pay off for Denver’s teams. Both could end up like Hall of Famer Ozzie Newsome Jr., the former tight end for the Cleveland Browns who became general manager of the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens. Or, they could end up like Isiah Thomas, who helped the Detroit Pistons win back-to-back championships as a player in the 1980s but later ran the Continental Basketball Association into the ground and had a disastrous management stint with the New York Knicks.

Early indications are that Elway, at least, is making some headway. Despite not picking up a defensive tackle in April’s NFL draft—a position the Broncos sorely needed to fill—he led the team’s much-improved draft efforts. He still has to figure out what to do with quarterback Tim Tebow—he might need to pump up the boy wonder without deflating Kyle Orton’s trade value. Fortunately, quarterbacking is part of Elway’s expertise. “I know what I don’t know,” Elway told reporters in January. “I will find out what I don’t know as fast as I possibly can.” It was a classic Elway moment, and even though we’re not sure exactly what he meant, here’s hoping Elway turns out to be more Ozzie than Isiah.