ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Following the first practice of training camp, Broncos Owner and CEO Greg Penner said his expectations for the upcoming season include playing good — and improved — football for Broncos Country.
"One expectation is that Year 2 will be a little smoother than the first year," Penner said Wednesday. "It was a great year. We learned a lot. Of course, there are always going to be some surprises. Our expectations for this year are [to] set really high expectations, work hard every day to get better and [put a] good product on the field, something that our fans can be proud of."
Those expectations seem guided, in part, from the lessons that Penner said the Walton-Penner Family Ownership Group learned in its first season leading the Broncos.
"It has to start with our fans," Penner said. "We knew coming in with such a rich tradition here, but given the season that we had, our fans' support, interest and passion was a good surprise. I talked about a year ago about setting a culture, and for us that starts with people, setting high expectations, giving them resources and then holding them accountable. I've been doing that a long time at Walmart. The big learning is how do you translate that — those principles — into this environment and this setting? There are a lot of differences and a lot of that just comes from experience. We've gotten a lot of that in the first year."
As the group enters their second season, Penner has seen signs that the culture has already improved under Head Coach Sean Payton's leadership.
"I think Sean has been tremendous," Penner said. "He came in and right away changed the tone in the building. He sets very high expectations. Everybody knows that they are going to be held accountable. At the same time, he's a great teacher. [He's] always wanting to teach. He's a great communicator and then the big thing was the staff that he put together. Coming in and building a really diverse staff — and I mean diversity in terms of coaching trees that they came from, age and experience. We've got everybody from [Assistant Head Coach] Mike Westhoff to [Assistant Special Teams Coach] Chris Banjo and [Quarterbacks Coach] Davis Webb that are just out of the league. [It's] just a tremendous staff that I think he's put together."
Penner said he's empowered Payton to make a lot of decisions that impact training camp and the football team, but he and Payton "will talk more in depth" about certain decisions.
"That's part of building a relationship," Penner said. "It's understanding where he knows he has free rein — and other points where we touch base and make a decision together."
Payton's experience has helped him build "strong convictions," according to Penner, and that's been a big piece of the Broncos' shifting culture.
"He has a lot of emotion and cares passionately about this team and what we're building," Penner said. "His heart is in the right place and his intentions are right. Again, he started with, 'We are going to raise the bar,' and I think that's what we needed with this team and organization."
That effort came, in part, with an increased focus on working hard and being "anonymous donors," as Payton put it at his introductory press conference. The Broncos' approach included fewer media availabilities, and Penner said the team would prioritize any strategy to find increased success.
"I think the season that we just had and what we are coming off of, it was an important reset for the team with a lot of new faces," Penner said. "What happened last season, it was a good way for us to start and be totally focused on football. It's a balance. It is a community asset, and our fans care a lot. At the end of the day, what they care about most is winning.
"If there is something that we can do that we think helps prepare us to do that in a better way, we will make that decision."