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PELLS ON FOOTBALL: Shanahan must go; Bowlen must push him

Just like many of the players they lead, successful NFL coaches have a most unfortunate flaw: They rarely know when it's time to go.

DENVER (AP) _ Just like many of the players they lead, successful NFL coaches have a most unfortunate flaw: They rarely know when it's time to go.

Mike Shanahan has reached that point with the Denver Broncos. But sadly for the franchise, the city and, yes, even Shanahan himself, there is no one to give him the push.

That would be the job of the owner, Pat Bowlen, who is out of touch with reality.

``He's got four (expletive) years to go on his contract, and I'm not firing him,'' Bowlen said recently, standing firm on a stance he took many months ago.

Bowlen is loyal to Shanahan largely because of the two Super Bowl titles the coach brought to Denver, a city that long yearned for a championship. That loyalty is to be commended.

But the NFL is a business a business about winning and that last Super Bowl victory came six seasons ago. Since then, 20 of the NFL's 32 teams have won playoff games, and Denver is not one of them.

In total command of the coaching and personnel fronts, Shanahan put together a record over the past six seasons that would cost many coaches without Super Bowl rings their jobs.

Since they won the Super Bowl and John Elway retired, the Broncos are 52-42, 0-2 in the playoffs. They start fast 13-3 over the first quarter of the last four seasons and finish poorly _ 22-24 over the final three quarters of those years, with two games still to go in 2004.

Their 45-17 loss to Kansas City on Sunday, an embarrassment for which Shanahan rightly took the blame, dropped Denver to 8-6 and left the Broncos in jeopardy of missing the playoffs.

Not that it would matter much. A trip to Indianapolis for a first-round playoff game might be worse than just ending the season Jan. 2 at home against Peyton Manning and the Colts in the regular-season finale.

Shanahan's faults have been rigorously debated around Denver over the past few weeks.

Conclusions: As a coach, he is known as ``The Mastermind,'' but without the talent to put his game plans into action, he looks like a C student.

The quick starts and staggering finishes each season reveal a coach who comes out with great schemes, then does little to counter the adjustments opposing coaches make.

As a personnel man, Shanahan looked brilliant picking up Terrell Davis in the sixth round, turning Shannon Sharpe into a star and bringing out the brilliance in Rod Smith.

But the more recent record has been nowhere near as flattering.

The decision to trade for Champ Bailey might have been the right one, but the team isn't better because of it.

Meanwhile, the Jake Plummer signing looks worse with every interception. It is the sign of a coach with a big ego _ one steeped in the misguided belief that he can turn a mediocre quarterback into something more.

Plummer (two touchdowns, nine interceptions in Denver's recent 1-3 swoon) probably should also go after this season. But Shanahan has shown no intention of admitting his mistake, and Bowlen has supported both the coach and the quarterback.

One of the biggest arguments for keeping both Plummer and Shanahan is, ``There's nobody better out there.''

But Bowlen should remember Dan Reeves. He was a little-known assistant for the Cowboys when the Broncos took a chance and hired him as head coach in 1981. Reeves led the team to three Super Bowls and ranks sixth on the NFL's career victory list.

A more recent example comes from Jacksonville, where owner Wayne Weaver hired Jack Del Rio, an inexperienced assistant. In his second season, Rio already has the Jaguars in the driver's seat for the final AFC playoff spot the Broncos are trying for.

Bowlen could learn from the Jacksonville situation.

At the beginning, Weaver hired Tom Coughlin, gave him all the power and enjoyed surprisingly quick benefits, including a huge playoff upset over the Broncos and two trips to the AFC title game over the first five years.

But Coughlin lost his touch on the personnel side. His coaching style stopped working. The team started losing, and Weaver had to make the toughest decision of his life _ firing a man he genuinely admired, trusted and to whom he owed much of his own success.

Coughlin had been with Jacksonville for eight seasons.

Shanahan has been with Denver for 10.

He has changed quarterbacks, revamped the defense, shuffled his running backs, his offensive and defensive lines and his lineup of assistants.

Nothing has gotten better.

This isn't to say Shanahan wouldn't do well somewhere else. He has, after all, won two Super Bowls. But the point is this: His message has gotten stale in Denver, and so has the product on the field.

It's time for Shanny to go. What he lacks is someone to push him out.

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