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Sacco Sez: It's all about the coaching search

The coaching search is the single biggest story involving the Denver Broncos and in sports throughout the state of Colorado at this time.

I have no pretense of knowing where the Bronco coaching search is going (other than things reported by the media) or how long it will take, but I thought we might explore where coaches came from in the first two decades of Broncos history.

Denver never had a winning team from 1960-72, but they still had coaches working hard for that elusive goal.

A lot of times, it comes down to who you know and feel you can trust.

By no means does this mean relationships are tops over talent, just that when many factors are equal, a general manager or owner will often lean toward someone with whom he has worked in the past.

The Broncos' first head coach was Frank Filchock, and he and General Manager Dean Griffing had worked together in the same capacities in the Canadian Football League, so it was logical that Griffing reached out to Filchock for the new venture.

Those first two seasons were less than ideal and everyone got fired after the 1961 campaign.

Showing how different things were then compared to now, Filchock's next coaching job was at St. Joseph's High School in Denver, and his full-time job was driving a beer truck for the Coors Brewing Company.

Jack Faulkner was hired in 1962 and he came to the Broncos from a string of assistant jobs. He changed the uniform colors, bringing in orange and blue, gave the Broncos their first actual playbook and started off 7-2 in 1962.

That was enough to make Faulkner the AFL Coach of the Year, but the team ran out of gas in the second half and the Denver owners again made a change during the 1964 season, releasing Faulkner on October 4 and naming Mac Speedie the interim head coach.

He went 2-7-1 for the balance of the year, and believe it or not, the talent was so bad that that record was actually considered pretty good, so Speedie was named head coach at season's end.

But Speedie's reign only lasted until the start of the 1966 season when he was fired after an 0-2 start, the team again promoting an assistant to the head coaching job in the person of Ray Malavasi.

Malavasi was a tough guy and a good coach — certainly the best that Denver had had to that point — but he finished 4-8 and primary owner Gerry Phipps was determined to bring respectability to the Broncos.

He did that on December 19, 1966, signing Lou Saban to a 10-year contract as general manager and head coach.

Saban had led the Buffalo Bills to consecutive AFL championships, the first AFL coach to perform that feat, and he genuinely brought pro football out of the Dark Ages in the Mile High City.  

Under Saban's regime the Broncos moved out of their literal Quonset hut headquarters into a brank new facility in Adams County, the stadium was expanded, season ticket sales hit record-high levels and Denver developed one of the best defenses in the AFL under "Cool Lou."

The press called him that because he was anything but cool.

He drafted future Hall of Famer Floyd Little, brought in linebacker Richard Jackson from Oakland and turned him into one of the greatest defensive ends in history and traded with San Diego for All-American quarterback Steve Tensi.

Unfortunately, and despite Little, the offensive line was awful, Tensi kept getting hurt, the Broncos never won and Saban had had enough in 1971.

He resigned mid-season and offensive line coach Jerry Smith was promoted to handle the team for the rest of the year.

Meanwhile, Stanford had won the Rose Bowl in consecutive seasons and John Ralston had turned everyone's head to the West Coast with his great job in Palo Alto.

He was tabbed as the head coach in 1972 and remained on the job through the 1976 season.

In my next column we'll take a look at Ralston's time and exit here in Denver, and the birth of what became widely known as the Orange Crush.

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