About halfway through the death march of the Broncos’ last season, my brother-in-law Brad said he knew just what Denver needed.
“They ought to get Sean Payton at coach,” he said. “He knows how to get the most out of a quarterback like Russell Wilson. It’d be a great fit.”
We laughed and bantered and said, sure, that would be interesting. But it wasn’t going to happen. Too high a price, too many other teams likely to be interested, most of them with better prospects. Everyone knew the sort of coach that came to the Orange Crash these days: rookies and maybes, not former Super Bowl champions. Right?
Maybe I should let Brad buy a lottery ticket or two.
As you know if you’ve even casually glanced at a Denver sports page these days, the Saint has come marchin’ in. Naturally, his selection also kicked off a debate, because if there’s one thing Bronco fans love almost as much as a win, it’s an argument. For the pro-Payton bunch, it’s the hiring of a proven winner with the prestige and tools to rebuild Denver. For the “punt on Payton” people, it’s mortgaging future draft picks against an uncertain present, one who’s been out of the game for a while and was right at the storm center of “Bountygate” a decade ago.
But good, bad or ugly, the choice has been made to shake things up. And that’s bigger news than Payton himself.
It’s easy to keep doing the same things in the same way. We see it in sports teams, in business and government, even in ourselves. And when times get hard, we often double down on it. Why risk what you still have? Best to play it safe, turtle up and weather the storm, right?
The trouble is, it often doesn’t work. Sometimes it means you’re trying to get out of a situation with the same approach that got you into it. Other times, it means you’re postponing any decision and just waiting for things to improve. But not deciding is a decision itself, and one that takes the initiative out of your hands.
To fix something, you have to risk breaking it. Commit to the action. Take the chance. Turn off the route you’re on, even if it feels like a major detour.
“The longest way round,” Alexander MacLaren once wrote, “is sometimes the shortest way home.”
Yes, it can be a gamble. Action in the face of uncertainty often is. It’s uncomfortable, not least because it exposes you to criticism. Failing by the numbers, after all, shows you knew how to “do it right” – you’re part of the club. Taking a chance that doesn’t work turns everyone else into an expert on what you SHOULD have done.
But when the conventional just perpetuates the cycle, it doesn’t make sense to keep committing to the same old three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust. Then it’s time to decide. And risk.
Will this risk pay off for Denver? It’s too early to say either way. (I knew I shouldn’t have sent my crystal ball to the cleaners this week.) But it’s an attempt to break beyond the mediocre, to literally change the game.
That’s not a bad model. On the field or off it. After all, failing doesn’t have to mean failure … as long as it leads to the next attempt.
And if this one fails, I’m sure there’ll be plenty of fans ready to tell the Broncos exactly what that next attempt should be.