It was 363 days ago that I first talked with Dennis Allen, who had agreed a couple of days before — a year ago today — to become the Broncos’ sixth defensive coordinator in six years.
“As a matter of fact, I’m sitting here in my old office right now, packing all my stuff up and trying to get everything ready to get shipped out to Denver,” Allen said that day from his office at the New Orleans Saints complex, where he had been secondary coach.
When I asked him if he intended to break the Broncos’ streak of a new defensive coordinator every year, he laughed.
“Well, absolutely,” he said, “because my math says if it keeps up I’m only going to be there for a year.”
This could only happen, we figured, if Allen, like his five predecessors — Larry Coyer, Jim Bates, Bob Slowik, Mike Nolan and Don Martindale — was fired. Or, in the case of Nolan and Josh McDaniels, “agreed to part ways.” Neither of us imagined at the time that Allen, then 38, would be hired as a head coach after just one year as a coordinator.
But that’s looking like the way to bet. ESPN is reporting that the Raiders have told other candidates for their head coaching vacancy that they’ve found their man. Allen is reportedly in negotiations on a contract to succeed Hue Jackson as head coach of the Broncos’ AFC West rivals.
If it happens, the Broncos will become the first team since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 to employ seven defensive coordinators in seven years. The 1982-87 Bills and 1999-2004 Redskins each had six coordinators in six seasons, a mark matched by the Broncos with the hiring of Allen last year.
As odd as it may seem for a one-year coordinator to get a head coaching gig, it’s happened to Broncos head coach John Fox before. In fact, you’ll forgive Fox if he’s getting a sense of deja vu.
A decade ago, when he took over as head coach of the Carolina Panthers, Fox hired Jack Del Rio, then the linebackers coach for the Baltimore Ravens, as his first defensive coordinator. Like Allen, Del Rio had not been a coordinator before.
And, like Allen, he was hired away to become a head coach, in Jacksonville, after just one season as a coordinator. Fox responded by promoting his defensive line coach, Mike Trgovac, to coordinator. Trgovac remained in the job for six years before being replaced by Ron Meeks, who had been defensive coordinator for the Colts before joining Fox’s Carolina staff.
So if you’re looking for potential candidates to replace Allen, here are a couple of names to keep in mind:
— Richard Smith, Broncos linebackers coach. Smith has worked for Fox the last three seasons — two in Carolina, one in Denver — coaching the linebackers. But he also has experience as a defensive coordinator — with the Dolphins in 2005 and the Texans from 2006-08. He would provide continuity, having worked under Allen this past season.
— Jack Del Rio, currently unemployed. There has been speculation that Del Rio, fired as Jacksonville’s head coach in November, might turn up in Los Angeles after he and his son, top Florida prep quarterback Luke Del Rio, were reported to be visiting Southern California high schools recently.
There are, of course, plenty of other possibilities, including Meeks, now the Panthers’ secondary coach, or any number of defensive position coaches on other staffs whom, like Allen, Fox might have admired from afar.
Fox and the rest of the Broncos’ coaches are in Mobile, Ala., this week at the Senior Bowl, the closest thing the NFL has to an annual coaching convention. It’s an excellent place for Fox to network with potential replacements for Allen.
Allen did a good job lifting the Broncos’ defense off the NFL floor in his first season. After finishing 32nd, or last, in both points allowed and yards allowed a year ago under Martindale, Allen lifted the unit to 24th in scoring defense and 20th in total defense this season.
After finishing last in the league in quarterback sacks with 23 in 2010, the Broncos moved up to a tie for 10th with 41 in 2011. Much of the credit for the improvement goes to rookie linebacker Von Miller, the second overall pick in the draft, who led the club with 11.5, but Allen also deserves credit for the unpredictable pass rush packages he brought with him from New Orleans, where he worked under defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
The last time the Raiders hired a Broncos assistant to be their head coach, his name was Mike Shanahan, and we all know how that worked out. Like Shanahan then, Allen is an up-and-comer with a bright future in the league. And without the late Al Davis around to meddle, he might actually get an honest chance to flourish in Oakland.
Assuming he gets the job, the Broncos will go where no team has gone before by hiring their seventh defensive coordinator in as many years. With any luck, this will be the one who breaks the streak.