Denver Broncos’ Champ Bailey opens up
Denver, CO Colorado
DENVER, Colorado “-Here’s change you might find hard to believe in when it comes to Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey.
Bailey is entering his 11th NFL season. The eight-time Pro Bowler will be playing for his sixth coach and eighth defensive coordinator.
Actually, it’s nine defensive coordinators if you count Mike Nolan.
Nolan was named the Broncos’ defensive coordinator shortly after Josh McDaniels was hired as coach in January. He was Bailey’s first defensive coordinator in 1999, when both were with the Washington Redskins.
“I tell you what man, I have thought about that,” Bailey told me. “Guys talk about it all the time. Think about some guys that have been here four or five years like D.J. Williams. He’s been here five years with the same head coach. He’s had a couple of different defensive coordinators, but he’s had that stability at the top.
“And I’m like man, you just don’t know how good you’ve got it. I had four or five (coaches) when I was in Washington.”
In case you need names with the numbers, Bailey’s coaches in Washington were Norv Turner, Terry Robiskie (interim), Marty Schottenheimer and Steve Spurrier. He was traded after Joe Gibbs was named coach in 2004.
Bailey’s defensive coordinators at Washington were Nolan, Ray Rhodes, Kurt Schottenheimer, Marvin Lewis and George Edwards.
The Broncos have had three defensive coordinators since Bailey’s arrival — Larry Coyer, Jim Bates and Bob Slowik — under Mike Shanahan.
Six coaches and eight men coaching defense. How many Hall of
Fame-caliber football players have endured this much coaching turnover? With so much change, you might expect a volcanic explosion from a high-profile veteran such as Bailey.
But he maintains his cool and rolls with the flow of change while fighting the hunger pangs for wins. The Broncos have been to the playoffs twice since Bailey arrived in a trade for running back Clinton Portis. For his career, Bailey has been to the postseason three times.
Denver’s appearance in the 2005 season AFC Championship Game is as close as he has come to a Super Bowl. If the result of changes equals more wins, Bailey’s willing to accept more of them.
“I wished we could have worked it out with Mike (Shanahan), but obviously it didn’t,” Bailey said. “If (Pat Bowlen) thinks it’s necessary, I’m all for it. I’ve been through it and I know how to adjust.
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m frustrated because I want to win. I’m on the back end of my career. I don’t feel like I’m going to play 10 more years. I hope I do, but … there’s no telling when this thing is going to be over.
“I’ve been ready to win since I got into the league. It’s been 11 years now.”
You’re not going to get Bailey’s attention with promises. He’s not a guy who needs the front office to dangle visions of hope in front of his eyes. With Bailey, it’s that old saying, “Action speaks louder than words.”
“My thing is, I like to see results,” he said. “You can talk all you want, but unless I see this thing coming together physically … It all looks good in the classroom, but when we get out there on the field, it’s about doing the right things — putting pressure on the quarterbacks, covering the heck out of people.
“I don’t get caught up in what you say about how things are going to be. Everybody predicts pretty weather. If it gets bad, we’ve got to get out of it. We’ll figure it out as we go, but right now, it’s just wait-and-see.”
Bailey turns 31 in June. In two weeks, his new coach turns 33. With McDaniels, Bailey is looking at the Gatorade cooler as half-full instead of half-empty.
“I’ll let you give me reasons not to believe in you,” Bailey said. “I know one thing — you can’t win if you don’t believe in the head coach. Automatically, I’m going to try to buy into his system.
“He hasn’t given me any reason not to up to this point. He comes in, demands respect, discipline and he’s always real sharp about everything he talks about. He gets into the meeting room and demands that attention. Guys can really understand where he’s coming from.
“I have no reason to doubt that he can win here. It’s all about getting it done now.”
That’s not to say McDaniels didn’t catch Bailey’s attention during the soap opera that led to the Broncos trading quarterback Jay Cutler to the Chicago Bears.
“That’s how the league is,” Bailey said. “He tutored Matt Cassel from the ground up, pretty much. They won 11 games last year, so I can understand where he’s coming from. At the same time, you do have a Pro Bowl quarterback, a great talent, one of the best in the league.
“But this league is all about guys getting their guys. When you get a new head coach, they don’t keep the same (assistant) head coaches around. They get their own guys.
“The same goes for players. It’s a business and it’s like that. I mean, I can compare Jay Cutler’s situation to when I got traded. He’s coming off one Pro Bowl season. I came off four, and I got traded. Really, when I look at it, I could have gotten mad about it. But I never was (Redskins owner) Dan Snyder’s guy. He didn’t draft me — Charley Casserly drafted me.
“So, I know how this thing goes and I wish people would understand that it’s a business. You can’t get your ego caught up in this thing.”
There’s one thing that catches you about being around Bailey, and that is he’s not a guy with an ego. He’s the cover cornerback supreme who, at a shade above 190 pounds, will come up and drop the hammer on a 240-pound running back if necessary. It’s not about ego for Bailey.
But Bailey realizes there are whispers growing louder that he’s no longer the best cornerback in the NFL. He’s coming off a season in which he missed seven games because of a severe groin injury. He suffered an elbow injury in the regular-season finale.
All that, and Father Time is running a fly pattern in his direction.
“You can’t help but hear it all the time,” Bailey said. “It’s really about how I evaluate myself. I know I can be the best out there.
“I think about Deion Sanders when he came to Washington. Going into his 11th season (1999), people were questioning him. He got released after his 11th season and wound up in Washington (in 2000). That’s when I made my first Pro Bowl. It was weird, not hearing his name mentioned among the best. In his 10th season, he was great. In his 11th season, he was just OK. He retired after his 12th season.
“My thing is, I have a lot of pride. But I don’t have so much that I’m not going to accept change in my game and my body. If I lose a step physically, I’m going to enhance my game mentally. I’ll figure out a way to make up for losing that step, one way or another.
“But I’m not worried about it. It’s one of those things that’s going to happen. The greatest of the greatest go down and try to keep playing. They’re not the same, but they’re still effective. Whether it’s my 13th, 14th or 20th season, I’m going to keep on fighting.”
The Broncos are a long ways from being set, roster-wise, for the start of training camp. The draft is later this month. The possibilities still are open for major trades and free-agent signings. In other words, there still is more change ahead for Bailey to ponder before the start of the regular season in September.
“I’m ready to get this bitter taste out of my mouth,” Bailey said. “I hated the way the season ended last year.”