ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Well, the Denver Broncos are glad that's over.
Now that the worst season in their 51-year history is in the rearview mirror, the Broncos are eager to get on with the rebuilding project after Josh McDaniels' 22-month reign of error.
"To say I'm glad it's over is true but it doesn't take away from the disappointment of a 4-12 record and a lot of the stuff that we went through as an organization on and off the field," chief operating officer Joe Ellis said. "The feeling that leaves you with is not a pleasant one.
"But we've got to get over it, get over it quickly. We've got to get better. We owe that to our fans, we owe it to the community. And hopefully starting very soon we're going to take some steps to do that."
The Broncos, who own the second overall pick in the draft following their devastating season, are expected to introduce Hall of Famer John Elway as their chief football executive on Wednesday, and his first order of business will be to launch a coaching search.
First in line for an interview is interim coach Eric Studesville, who went 1-3 after being promoted from running backs coach when McDaniels was fired on Dec. 6 in the wake of a videotaping scandal and amid the team's worst slide in four decades.
Studesville is considered a long-shot but he could still have a future in Denver as an assistant after providing the reeling Broncos with just what the organization needed: a friendly face who answered all the tough questions with none of the aloofness or brashness that defined McDaniels' tenure.
"He did a great job under adverse circumstances," Ellis said. "And he brought a lot of positive energy. ... He lived up to our expectations. He did a fine job."
The Broncos acknowledge they shouldn't have given McDaniels so much responsibility so soon by naming him coach and de facto general manager, two jobs he'd never had, at age 32.
So, they were determined to restructure the organizational chart, and they're going to empower general manager Brian Xanders, who was basically relegated to serving as a consultant to McDaniels. With final say on all personnel matter, McDaniels made a series of decisions that backfired.
After feuding with Jay Cutler and shipping him to Chicago upon his arrival in Denver, McDaniels last year sent Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall to Miami, where he had his fourth straight 1,000-yard season. He also shipped running back Peyton Hillis and two draft picks to Cleveland for quarterback Brady Quinn once he'd already decided to make a move for Tim Tebow on draft night.
Quinn didn't take a single snap and Hillis rushed for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns with the Browns.
McDaniels was still celebrating his selection of Tebow when he got a call on draft weekend informing him that All-Pro left tackle Ryan Clady had blown out his left knee playing hoops.
Clady's play slipped dramatically, but at least he got to play. Pass-rusher Elvis Dumervil wasn't so fortunate. Just days after signing a mega contract after leading the league with 17 sacks in 2009, he tore a chest muscle in training camp and went on injured reserve.
Rookie offensive linemen J.D. Walton and Zane Beadles were overmatched as immediate starters, leading to a one-dimensional offense that would get Kyle Orton hit too much and eventually knock him out for the year.
Linebacker D.J. Williams was stripped of his captaincy following his second drunken driving arrest and rookie cornerback Perrish Cox was arrested in a sexual assault case.
In October, the Broncos retracted a contract extension offer from their best player, perennial Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey, who said he'd like to stay in Denver but is eager to test free agency.
"Regardless of what's out there, I want to be here," Bailey said. "(But) I'm not going to shortchange myself at all. I want to win. If I feel like I have a better opportunity to win somewhere else, that's what it's going to be."
Denver's roster needs a major makeover and the Broncos have just six selections in the draft to repair a defense that was the league's worst. McDaniels didn't use any of his 19 draft picks on an inside linebacker or defensive tackle and the Broncos ranked better than only Buffalo in defending the run in 2010.
The lowest point of the Broncos' season was the suicide of former Denver wide receiver Kenny McKinley, who killed himself with a gun he'd bought from a teammate.
Safety Renaldo Hill said the team couldn't really mourn until now.
"Kenny was a good guy. He was a father. Just tough things to think about," Hill said. "This is my family here — and for all these guys — and losing a part of that is definitely a hole in our hearts."
The Broncos' next coach might step right into a quarterback controversy.
Tebow started the last three games, going 1-2 but providing some much-needed energy and excitement to the team, the organization and the city after supplanting prolific passer Orton, who lost his starting job when he suffered bruised ribs and two poor performances in December.
Orton threw for 3,653 yards with 20 touchdowns and nine interceptions, his biggest beneficiary being Brandon Lloyd, who caught 77 passes for an NFL-high 1,448 yards and made his first Pro Bowl in his eighth NFL season.
Tebow completed half of his 82 passes for 654 yards with five TDs and three interceptions and also ran 43 times for 227 yards and six scores.
Orton's future in Denver is up in the air even though he signed a contract extension in camp that will pay him $8.8 million next season.
"I really don't know what's going to happen next year," Orton said. "I just know wherever I'm going to be, it's going to be a good thing for me."
Tebow said his three-week audition gave him confidence and game reps to study in the offseason, but he refused to say whether he considers himself the incumbent starter now.
Orton complained last month that he didn't deserve to lose his starting job and reiterated that sentiment Monday, insisting he deserves to start next year in Denver or elsewhere.
"They're going to make a decision based as an organization on what they want to do," Orton said. "But certainly with my play, I don't feel like I opened the door for anybody."
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