Unlikely Pat Bowlen will pony up again

When it comes to football, Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen never spares expenses. He has always paid top dollar for coaches or players.

But in finding a replacement for Josh McDaniels, who was fired Monday after a 3-9 start, Bowlen might have to be prudent. The Broncos are paying an offset portion of Mike Shanahan’s contract with the Washington Redskins. Bowlen will also be paying McDaniels $3 million to not coach the Broncos.

With a significant amount of money tied up on two former coaches, Bowlen may not splurge on his next coach. That could mean high-priced options such as former head coaches Bill Cowher, Jon Gruden and current Carolina Panthers head coach John Fox may not be in the mix. (Fox is in the final year of his contract and is widely expected to not return to Carolina next season.)

That’s why it won’t be out of the question for Bowlen to dip into the college ranks for a head coach. Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh might be too pricey, particularly if his athletic director is correct in saying Harbaugh is getting closer to accepting a contract extension.

One name to watch is Air Force coach Troy Calhoun, a former assistant with the Broncos. Mike Leach, the former Texas Tech coach, could also be an option. Bowlen has a history of hiring offensive head coaches, knowing the importance of offense in today’s game.

For NFL possibilities, Bowlen could look at Brian Billick, former coach of the Baltimore Ravens. He might look at Darrell Bevell, the Vikings’ offensive coordinator. Chargers defensive coordinator Ron Rivera is among the hot defensive assistants. If Cowboys owner Jerry Jones doesn’t keep Jason Garrett, Bowlen could consider him too.

Normally, owners don’t repeat their approaches when they replace a coach. McDaniels was the hot assistant when he was hired off the New England Patriots’ staff. Giving a top assistant the job and letting him learn on the job might not be the direction Bowlen will head.

That’s why you have to look at college coaches and former NFL head coaches as long as the price is right.

Because of Bowlen, a head-coaching job in Denver has always been considered one of the plum opportunities. McDaniels, however, probably spoiled that. He took an offense that had Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall and Tony Scheffler and traded them away. He switched to a 3-4 defense that has faded in the final months of the season. He drafted Tim Tebow, who at the moment is only good enough to help out on Wildcat and goal-line plays.

That’s why a Cowher, Gruden or Fox might prefer other jobs than the Broncos’ position.

This job search might have to be Bowlen’s most creative.