Shanahan fires defensive coordinator Coyer

The collapse of his unit over the second half of the season has cost Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Larry Coyer his job, as the veteran assistant was informed Tuesday morning by head coach Mike Shanahan that he will not return to the team in 2007.

Coyer, 62, served the past four seasons as the Broncos' defensive coordinator and coached the linebackers in Denver for three seasons before that.

"I have the highest regard for him [Mike Shanahan] and have no
choice but to accept his decision and do so with as much dignity
and grace as I can muster," Coyer said in a prepared statement.

It is not yet known if Shanahan has already targeted a successor, possibly an assistant already on staff, or will conduct a search for a new defensive boss. The dismissal of Coyer, a coach in the pro ranks since 1984, was not totally surprising, given the performance of the Denver defense in the final 10 games of the regular season.

Over the first six outings, the Broncos surrendered only 272.0 yards per game and allowed only 44 points, the fewest points permitted in the first six games since the adoption of the 16-game scheduled in 1978. In the final 10 games, however, the Broncos allowed 26.1 points and 359.2 yards per contest.

Part of the unit's problems could be traced to injuries, but Shanahan's decision to fire Coyer suggests there were also philosophical differences between the two men. Denver relied heavily on the blitz in 2005, but was exposed by the Pittsburgh Steelers in an AFC Championship Game defeat, and Coyer reworked the scheme to go with sounder and less risky techniques for 2006.

In the revamped design, the Broncos struggled to create pressure on opposition quarterbacks.

Coyer and Shanahan met Monday and Tuesday and the decision was reached to part ways.

The Denver defense ranked No. 4 in the league overall in Coyer's first two seasons as coordinator, 2003 and 2004, then slipped to 15th in 2005 and was 14th in 2006.

Before joining Shanahan's staff in 2000, Coyer worked with the New York Jets (1994) and with the Michigan Panthers (1984-85) and Memphis Showboats (1986) of the USFL. He has extensive experience as well at the college level.

Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.