ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — As his roommate, teammate, head coach and friend walked out of the Broncos' team room and toward his future, Executive Vice President of Football Operations/General Manager John Elway turned toward his next task.
Elway will undoubtedly miss Gary Kubiak — who he spent decades alongside in Denver on their way to three Lombardi Trophies — but the next big challenge of his career cannot wait. The search for Kubiak's successor will begin right away and in earnest. In a career that's been defined by The Drive and The Drive II and Super Bowls XXXII, XXXIII and 50, Elway now faces his next big challenge.
And as he prepares to head into his seventh year in his current role, nothing could excite him more.
Other teams will continue to make decisions regarding their head coaches' statuses, but Elway is already looking to "hopefully get" one of the "bright, young guys" that are currently being considered for head coaching positions.
"I think there are some quality candidates out there," said Elway, after Kubiak's farewell press conference Monday. "So we'll get busy on that today and start working toward that. … Obviously it's a position we want to fill as quickly as we can, but [we] also want to go through the detailed process, which we will."
Elway, who will lead his third coaching search, said the team must be flexible as it talks to candidates who will be coaching in the playoffs, but that they hope to move forward "as soon as we can." He's had his fair share of success in his past two coaching searches. In former head coach John Fox, he found a coach that led the Broncos to a Super Bowl XLVIII appearance. And in Kubiak, of course, Elway hired the long-time coach of the Houston Texans that would lead the Broncos to a Super Bowl 50 title.
The Broncos' EVP/GM shared his optimism for the potential of "three or four possibilities" who could come in and continue Denver's string of success. After all, the Broncos' standard will not change even after the departure of a Super Bowl-winning head coach.
"The goal and the plan has not changed, and that's to compete for world championships," Elway said.
As Elway and Co. search for the 16th head coach in Broncos' history, they'll look for a "very smart and bright" candidate that can handle a variety of personalities and connect with players in the locker room. Elway stressed the need to find a coach that's "on the same page" as the football team and has the ability to manage both coaches and players.
Like any NFL locker room, the Broncos' is one that ranges from bold and outspoken players like Emmanuel Sanders and T.J. Ward to those like Demaryius Thomas and Darian Stewart, who speak softer than their counterparts and leave the noise for Sundays. Politics, religion, marital status and background all vary — but the head coach must find a way to tie them together and discover success on the field. In Kubiak, the Broncos had a coach who was honest, open and treated his players like men. Elway's goal moving forward will be to find a candidate that can motivate and connect with the locker room in a similar fashion.
The means do not need to be the same — the result must be.
Elway alone will not make the decision on the future coach of the Broncos. He said Monday he doesn't like the choice to be solely based off his opinion, and around a half dozen executives will be involved in an interview process that will focus on situational preparedness.
Any decisions about keeping the current coaching staff intact will largely be left up to the incoming head coach, Elway said. And while no current assistants or coordinators are being considered for the head coaching position, Elway said he's hopeful that the new coach would retain members of the current staff for continuity's sake.
"We draft players, we sign players, but we've got to make them better when they get here," Elway said, "and that's why the coaching staff is so important and that's why this search is going to be so important. And as I said, we're fortunate to have a lot of good coaches already here, which is going to help us and help the new coach get off to a good start."
The challenges that stand in the way of that fast start will be addressed in the offseason. The offensive line will continue to be retooled, and the Broncos will aim to improve on offense through both free agency and the draft. The group must take it personally, Elway said, that the defense is considered the identity of the team and rise to the challenge.
One of the biggest question marks remains at quarterback with both first-year starter Trevor Siemian and rookie Paxton Lynch on the roster heading into next season. When asked about the status of the two young players, Elway said he feels confident in the position group that has seen its share of legends in Denver.
"I'm excited about the quarterbacks we have," Elway said. "I think we're in a much better position now than … when Brock [Osweiler] left and went to Houston. I'm excited about that position. Last year, it was my biggest concern. This year, it's not.
"I think we've got two young guys that have a lot of talent, have a lot to work with and both are competitive and both want to win. The competition we're going to have at that position between those two is only going to make them both better. I feel pretty good about where we are at that position."
And while he would not rule out the possibility of bringing in a veteran quarterback, Elway said he expects to proceed with Siemian and Lynch as the primary options.
On defense, Elway stressed the need to keep the defense as a strength of the team and said he will not sacrifice the backbone of this Denver group.
"The one thing that I want to make sure is that we don't take a step back on defense," Elway said. "We're not going to not pay attention to that defense. It's just as important, if not more important, to get better on defense than it is to get better offensively. Now, the offense will come."
The incoming coach will be tasked with managing both those units and returning a talented team to the playoffs and, ultimately, another Super Bowl.
Those expectations come with the territory, as the Broncos' selection will replace a coach that is matched by only Red Miller for the most wins in his first two seasons of any head coach in Broncos history.
Kubiak's successor will also find himself working for a Hall of Fame quarterback and successful executive in Elway, who has reached six Super Bowls and captured three Lombardi Trophies.
"This is a great place to work, but the expectations are high," Elway said. "Those expectations are the ones set by Mr. Bowlen a long time ago. Everybody that comes here, whether they're a coach or a player, understands that the standard is to be able to compete for world championships.
"Does that add a little bit more? Sure it does. But I think if you're good at what you do, you want that challenge."
Gary Kubiak, joined by his family, John Elway and his coaching staff, addressed the media Monday morning on his decision to step down as the head coach of the Denver Broncos. (Photos by Eric Bakke)