Two questions have dominated just about every conversation in my life for the past week: Why did the Denver Broncos fire Mike Shanahan? And what will owner Pat Bowlen do next?
Here's all you need to know about how much the story has hypnotized Colorado: Since word came on Dec. 30 that Shanahan was gone, the Denver Post has conducted two Internet polls on its Web site. The one gauging reaction to Gov. Bill Ritter choosing Michael Bennet for U.S. Senate has drawn about 6,000 responses (with most voting "poor pick"). The one asking about who the Broncos should hire as head coach is at more than 18,000 and counting, with about 68 percent favoring New York Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
Bowlen already has interviewed Spagnuolo, as well as others including New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. But nothing is happening quickly, which seems to confirm that (a) it might be Spagnuolo, who won't be available until after the Giants' playoff run ends, and (b) Bowlen didn't come into this process with a preconceived strategy for restructuring the Broncos.
Let's add a third possibility here. Bowlen could look elsewhere, and his decision might depend at least partially on what happens with Shanahan.
Within hours of Shanahan's firing, a different rumor began to spread, and it hasn't stopped since. My guess is that it's gone far beyond a rumor, and much closer to reality.
That would be Shanahan becoming head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, once owner Jerry Jones figures out the best way to fire Wade Phillips after repeatedly insisting Phillips' job is safe for another year. Why it's likely: Jones has always been ruthless, the Cowboys are moving into their fabulous new stadium in 2009, and Shanahan and Jones are good buddies. Plus, Shanahan's kids have attended the University of Texas (his daughter Krystal was in the wedding, which all the Shanahans attended, of Jenna Bush, the president's daughter.) Oh, and son Kyle now is offensive coordinator of the Houston Texans. That's enough Texas ties.
One report, which nobody has refuted, is that Shanahan told a handful of NFL owners he needed two weeks to deal with the shock before considering his next move. He could sit out a year, or he could realize the truth: He'll never be more valuable on the coaching market than he is now.
My theory is that Jones has assured Shanahan the Dallas job is his, if he wants it, but Shanahan has asked for the two weeks to decompress, which would end sometime around Jan. 13 or 14.
Meanwhile, Bowlen has floated the possibility he might pursue University of Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops (Bowlen is an OU alum), though Stoops was denying it before the Sooners' national-title game against Florida.
After that game, Bowlen might put on the full-court press for Stoops. Many already have condemned the idea, citing other college coaches who have failed in the NFL. But something tells me Stoops would be perfect for the Broncos. He has a strong defensive background but, at the same time, has totally changed OU's offensive personality to a wide-open style. He'd bring boundless fresh energy, and he's already well-acquainted with Bowlen, removing a problem that has plagued other college coaches in the NFL adjusting to the owner who's signing the checks.
It's also well-known, and feared by Oklahoma folks, that Stoops' ambitions do include the NFL, far more than any other college job.
What if this speculation is all wet? What if Stoops wants more money than Bowlen is willing to pay? In that case, the Broncos should pursue Dallas offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, who could be job-hunting if Shanahan moves to the Cowboys. Garrett has been regarded by many as virtually the head coach-in-waiting for Dallas, at least until Shanahan became available. And there could be no better place for Garrett, a former quarterback himself, to land than in Denver, where he'd work with Jay Cutler.
So the first vote here goes to Stoops. But if not him, Garrett would be just fine.
And if Mike Shanahan winds up in Dallas, that'll almost be worth paying to watch. Almost.