Mike Shanahan in November 2008.

Barry Gutierrez/Rocky Mountain News

Mike Shanahan in November 2008.

Broncos fire Shanahan

Coach since 1995 let go after end-of-season collapse extends playoff drought

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— He was known as a genius, a mastermind and, yes, a Super Bowl champion. Shockingly, though, Mike Shanahan has a new title: Unemployed coach.

Shanahan became the latest and most stunning victim of the NFL coaching purge, fired Tuesday by the Denver Broncos after a late-season collapse knocked the team out of the playoffs for the third straight year.

Shanahan became the fourth coach to be fired this week, joining Eric Mangini, Rod Marinelli and Romeo Crennel, after going 24-24 during the past three seasons. That included three straight losses this year that turned a three-game division lead to an 8-8 record.

"After giving this careful consideration, I have concluded that a change in our football operations is in the best interests of the Denver Broncos," owner Pat Bowlen said.

Bowlen had been steadfastly loyal to Shanahan, rewarding the coach who brought the long-awaited Super Bowl title to Denver with what seemed like carte blanche for life.

But Denver remained stuck on only one postseason victory since John Elway retired in 1999 following back-to-back championships. Shanahan finishes at 146-91 throughout 14 seasons in Denver, including playoffs; his final game was an unseemly 52-21 loss to San Diego with the division title on the line.

"I'm very shocked, extremely shocked," said rookie Spencer Larsen, who played fullback and linebacker this year. "I don't think any of us saw this coming."

Quarterback Jay Cutler certainly didn't.

"I was talking to Mike yesterday about personnel moves," he said in an interview on KCNC-TV in Denver. "I'm as shocked as anybody else. I think it's the wrong move."

For any other coach, on any other team, this kind of thing wouldn't have come as such a surprise, considering the season that just ended.

It included a historic collapse with Denver becoming the first team since divisional play started in 1967 to blow a three-game lead with three games left.

The Broncos' defense gave up 448 points, third worst in the NFL, including 112 during the three-game collapse at the end.

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