NFL: Was Tebow's move to starter preordained?
Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 11, 2011
By Jim Litke
DENVER — Broncos coach John Fox refused to make it official for another 24 hours, even though he’s known from the moment he arrived in Denver that Tim Tebow would be his starter sooner rather than later. He was just waiting for the bottom to fall out and it did Sunday.
If the whole thing felt preordained long ago, well, that’s because it was — but not by the guy you might have in mind. Credit for that belongs to former coach and failed wunderkind Josh McDaniels.
McDaniels lacked head-coaching experience and was just 32 when he was hired in 2009. Yet owner Pat Bowlen and his advisers were so confident in the Bill Belichick disciple that they doubled down and made McDaniels the de facto general manager as well. In short order, he chased away Jay Cutler, a perfectly serviceable quarterback, then traded away three draft choices the next year to make Tebow a first-round pick and heir apparent. Then McDaniels went to work wrecking the rest of the roster, leaving behind as his legacy plenty of chaos and a 4-12 season — the worst in franchise history.
Fox knew all that when he took the job. So did former Broncos hero John Elway when he signed on as team president. They knew this day was coming even after Tebow failed to win the job — maybe even the backup QB job — fair and square in training camp, and long before fans started chanting his name near the end of games and threatened to plaster their campaign on billboards around town. Why Fox was determined to let it drag on for another day is anyone’s guess.
“The way we’ll operate is we’ll communicate with the people involved and the team long before we announce it to you guys,” he told reporters Monday. “So, that won’t be happening today because we don’t see the team until tomorrow.”
Fox had said everything was “up for discussion” after Tebow came on in relief Sunday of starter Kyle Orton and sparked a listless Broncos team to within a last-gasp pass of coming back against the San Diego Chargers. Tebow cobbled together two quick scores against a prevent defense, pumping his fist and breathing fire into his teammates and fans, and effectively ending any real discussion. Never mind that backup quarterbacks playing well late in losing efforts happens all the time, or that Tebow also fumbled three snaps from center in that brief relief appearance. The Broncos have a bye week to work on that before traveling to Miami for their next game Oct. 23, and as often happens at various moments in Tebow’s career, the extra week to study the Broncos playbook is hardly the only star aligned in his favor.
Because the Dolphins have trouble filling their stadium in good times — they’re winless at the moment — someone in the marketing department decided last summer to stage a promotional event called “Gator Day” at Sun Life Stadium on that very Sunday. The idea was to honor the University of Florida’s 2009 national championship team and coax a few alums into buying Dolphin tickets, too. That’s because they all remember who won that title in that very stadium two years ago. A guy by the name of Tebow.
For all that, there’s a reason Fox delayed the inevitable for as long as he could. Tebow wasn’t good enough to be the No. 1 starting the season because his footwork is questionable, he can’t throw accurately and if he sees his primary receiver covered, he tucks the football into the crook of his arm and takes off. That worked great when he was pin-balling through college-sized defenses. But he will need luck just to survive the beating he’s likely to absorb in the NFL. Just ask Michael Vick.
A 1-4 record leaves Fox with little to lose. As a first-year coach, he’s got a grace period built in and Elway’s implicit blessing for the move buys him more goodwill. All he has to do now is overhaul the offense and find a way to accommodate a skill set that hardly anyone was convinced would fly in the NFL, then let Tebow work his magic. That sounds like a recipe for 1-5 — and worse — but there are few things Tebow loves more than a challenge. It’s finally arrived.
Because the new collective bargaining agreement mandates that players take Thursday through Sunday off during bye weeks, Fox will let his players and everyone else in on the worst-kept secret in town Tuesday. Then the team will get in two practices in and resume play the following week. He better not be the only guy using the down time productively. After noting that injured players would be allowed to use the team’s facilities during the off days, the coach was asked whether a “recently named QB” who “might need to study more” would have the same option.
“I don’t think we lock the building and don’t let him in,” he said with a chuckle. “Whoever that is.”