7 January 2009: Shanahan’s firing is no big deal

When put in context, Shanahan’s firing no big deal


That was the Denver Post super-bold headline proclaiming the firing of Broncos’ head coach Mike Shanahan. After a 14-year tenure, Shanny finds himself among the unemployed, at least for the moment.

There are several ways to look at his dismissal aside from the pap emanating from sports writers and the blogosphere.

One is looking at Shanahan’s success rate in terms of wins and losses.

The Broncos finished the season with an 8-8 record. In pro sports that is considered mediocre but, on occasion, worthy of a championship: e.g., the San Diego Chargers who won the AFC West title on a tie breaker despite their record being identical to our hometown sad-sack heroes.

In school, fifty percent = F. Certainly that is true on the CSAP. Using a rubric of four, three out of four indicates proficiency. Two out of four earns a school a place on the Colorado Department of Education’s Black Hole of Calcutta List.

Since John Elway’s retirement, the Mike Shanahan-coached Broncos have averaged a record of 9-7 annually, so 56 percent. Generally, the lowest passing grade is 60 percent. Accordingly, despite being charitable and looking at it from his slightly above-average record, Shanahan still has been a failure.

Nonetheless, the media have dubbed Shanahan “The Mastermind.”

It would seem, though, by the standards applied to public schools, Shanny is a dunce. He need not fret, however, since he won’t need to repeat a grade or be put on probation. In the surreal world of pro sports, a losing coach is simply transferred to another venue where he will in all probability continue to work his non-magical touch.

Another lesson to take from this is the fact that his unemployment status—albeit, temporary—got him front page and lead story coverage in the papers and on the local channels, not once but twice. Not one of the 500,000 Americans who lost their jobs in November warranted such coverage.

In terms of severance package, Shanahan will be earning some $21 million for sitting on his duff. True, it is money owed him by contract and pales in comparison to the hundreds of millions failed corporate CEO’s walk away with, but it is, nevertheless, obscene given millions of others who have lost their jobs are facing foreclosure and destitution.

I doubt Shanahan will find it difficult to keep up with the mortgage payments on his 35,000-square-foot bungalow. Nor will he need to worry about conservatives demanding his contract be renegotiated like they are insisting the auto workers’—UAW—contract be in order to get bailout money for the Big Three.

We should keep in mind Invesco Field at Mile High happened due to the largesse of the taxpayers. In effect, we subsidize the Broncos and, by extension, Shanahan’s salary. Can we talk socialism?

In addition to it being a socialistic enterprise, there is the issue of being sold a bill of goods. In the late 1990s, the taxpayers were convinced of the line that the new stadium was absolutely necessary if the Broncos were to remain competitive. Since September 10, 2001 when Invesco was opened, the Broncos have averaged, as noted above, a sizzling nine wins per season.

It reminds one of another bill of goods sold in 2003 to the American people by one occupying the White House, something about an imminent threat of Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Like George W. Bush, Bronco owner Pat Bowlen has proven himself to be not only a lackluster leader but also a snake oil salesman.

But there is hope: Bush fired Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and now Bowlen has fired his best friend.

Take from this the lessons you will. Sports play an important role as metaphors for life. On the whole, being an athlete is a very good thing, and I always encouraged my students to be the best student-athletes they could be.

By failing to keep it all in perspective, leaders and participants in the games succumb to avarice and a sense of self-importance, and that leads to excess.

While sports writers are speculating about the potential for the post-Shanahan Broncos, the rest of us might take this opportunity to assess Shanahan’s firing by putting it in a larger context.

When looking at it from the perspective of what is really important in life—education and employment among them—Shanahan’s dismissal means diddley-squat besides being a no-brainer.

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