The Denver Broncos’ 2010-11 season came to a merciful end yesterday, with the Broncos fittingly taking another loss. The 33-28 defeat to the Chargers at Invesco Field marked a franchise-record 12 losses on the year compared to just four wins, making this season officially the worst any Broncos fan has ever seen. “It was a disappointing year is so many ways,” Broncos chief operating officer Joe Ellis tells The Denver Post. Ellis is right, but there are at least a couple dim signs of hope on the horizon.

Rookie quarterback Tim Tebow started the final three games of the year, showing signs of promise. He finished the season with five touchdowns, 654 yards, and three interceptions, but as a starter, he completed less than half of his passes, proving he has a long way to go as a pocket passer. Yet, he also rushed for 199 yards over three games, so he might hold hope for next year—if he can figure out how to throw an effective pass more consistently.

And there’s another reason for optimism: Denver’s atrocious 4-12 record locked up the second pick in the next NFL draft. The consensus seems to be that the Broncos should focus on defense, with the Post suggesting looks at pass rusher Da’Quan Bowers, defensive back Patrick Peterson, and defensive tackle Nick Fairley.

Helping to make those decisions will be John Elway, who will be announced as the team’s vice president of football operations later this week. Elway is in Miami to watch his alma mater, Stanford, play in the Orange Bowl, and perhaps to try and lure this year’s hottest coaching prospect to Denver as the next head coach. Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh will likely have several head coaching offers this year, and the Broncos are apparently hoping he’ll choose Denver (via ESPN). Harbaugh is considered an offensive-minded coach, which could help in the development of Tebow. If Harbaugh doesn’t end up in Denver, the Broncos might make runs at former Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Bill Cowher and former Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden, who’s a big fan of Tebow.