Elway's reorganization plan works fast and well as Broncos reach playoffs

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DENVER-- John Elway has been there before -- and is there again.

The Duke of Denver's advice to Broncos young quarterback Tim Tebow for his first NFL playoff game Sunday: "Pull the trigger."

A year ago tonight, Elway, always a gunslinger, officially became the Broncos executive vice president. Twenty-eight seasons ago, in his second season with the Broncos, Elway started his first NFL playoff game against, as irony would have it, the Steelers. Elway knows exactly how Tebow feels.

With Tebow at quarterback, the Broncos won seven of eight games before they dropped the past three. Tebow seems to have lost his confidence and has been tentative, or fearful, throwing the football, I suggested to Elway.

"That's human nature, especially when you're young, to become more cautious. He had a tough week before [the Kansas City game] against Buffalo. The key thing for [Tebow] is to go out, put everything behind him, go through his progressions and pull the trigger.

"When you get into these playoff situation, he's a good enough athlete, you know what, to pull the trigger. He's obviously upset with last week. He's already got an edge to him, so he's ready to go. I like seeing the edge. Oh, yeah. I actually love it. I have full confidence he'll bounce back and have a good week."

Elway started 21 postseason games, winning 14, including his last seven.

In his 16-year career as a Hall of Fame quarterback, Elway led Denver to the postseason after several late Broncos letdowns in the regular season. In fact, the Broncos lost three of their final five games in 1986, three of their final four in '89, two of their last three in '97 and two of their final three in '98.

They won the Super Bowl the last two.

"It doesn't matter how you win it as long as you win it," Elway said.

The night he was reintroduced to Denver as the club's executive vice president, Elway promised that, as the chief of football operations: "I won't let the Broncos down."

He has not.

Elway has changed the culture of the Broncos in the community, in the locker room and on the field. He has returned the Broncos to respectability, the AFC West Division title and the playoffs.

He reorganized the franchise and spread the responsibilities, hired John Fox as coach, kept Brian Xanders as the true general manager, forced out the remaining disgruntled and disgraceful elements of the Broncos, added important free agents, drafted well, resigned free agents and raced way ahead of his three-year game plan.

There have been controversies along the way -- the trading of Brandon Lloyd and Kyle Orton and his uncertain statements about Tebow -- but Elway has proven his front-office capabilities, become the leader of the team again and is a viable candidate for NFL executive of the year.

Elway is not some pretty face with a famous smile and a smooth golf swing, living life as a legend. He has produced another Broncos' heroic comeback.

The late-season fade cannot diminish the positives Elway and the Broncos have achieved in Year One.

"I feel great about what we've accomplished," Elway said. "I think the hardest mentality of change is winning games, and winning close games, and we've changed that mindset.

After the loss Sunday, the locker room was not filled with celebration, champagne and championship caps.

"The 24-hour rule is over," Elway said. "You got to keep things in perspective. I think we all look at things in the short term, not the whole season. John [Fox] is a positive guy and will make sure the players realize this is the second season. Once you get to it, the excitement level goes up so quickly."

In regard to the Steelers game, Tebow and the Broncos offense must "do a better job of making plays in the passing game. It's never going to be totally pretty, but, if they show us defenses with eight or nine men in the box, we've got to make some big plays like we did against Minnesota.

"The guys in that locker room hung in there and have kept battling. One thing the fans should be proud of is the guys playing their tails off. They've been resilient all year, and they'll play well this weekend. We need energy from our fans right away Sunday."

Elway cited the hiring of Fox as "the central key here -- his excitement and energy, and the way he and his staff created that bond among the players."

Asked to grade his first year. Elway said. "Where we were and where we are, we come a long way, but we've still got a long way to go. To be able to rebuild and win your division at the same time is what we're most proud of. We've built a positive culture. I also know I've got to get better. I've learned a whole lot this year about working with our people here and the intricacies of the league."

Any regrets? "You'd like to do things perfectly. I've made missteps, but there are few things I would change. I'm not sure I would be where I am now if I hadn't made those mistakes."

Woody Paige: 303-954-1095 or wpaige@denverpost.com .


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