Team owner Pat Bowlen wrapped up his first round of interviews for the Denver Broncos' head coaching vacancy Thursday when he met with Miami Dolphins secondary coach Todd Bowles.
Bowlen and his inner circle will now huddle to determine if any of the seven candidates will be offered Mike Shanahan's old head coaching job or whether a second round — or even a second wave — of interviews is needed.
Bowlen fired Shanahan last week after the Broncos completed the biggest collapse in divisional history, blowing a three-game lead with three weeks go to and finishing 8-8.
Bowlen hasn't spoken publicly about the search since he began interviewing head coach candidates, starting with New York Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels last weekend on the East Coast.
He returned to team headquarters Monday and interviewed defensive coordinators Raheem Morris of Tampa Bay and Leslie Frazier of Minnesota, along with offensive coordinators Jason Garrett of Dallas and Rick Dennison of Denver.
Bowles, 45, joined the Dolphins as assistant head coach in charge of the defensive backfield last season after three years as Dallas' secondary coach and was a part of Miami's historic turnaround from 1-15 to 11-5 and the AFC East title.
He played eight seasons in the NFL with Washington and San Francisco and started at cornerback in the Redskins' 42-10 blowout of the Broncos in the Super Bowl following the 1987 season.
Bowlen stunned the NFL with his firing last week of Shanahan, one of only six coaches in league history to win back-to-back Super Bowls — and the only one to later get fired by the team he led to those titles. Shanahan had three years and $21 million left on his contract.
Denver's is the crown jewel of all the NFL coaching jobs that came open this offseason because of the franchise's tradition, stability, strong regional fan base and an owner that Shanahan called the best boss in sports.
Some of the bigger names out there never came up, however, either because of bad timing or because Bowlen decided to split up Shanahan's duties between a head coach and a general manager. He'll conduct a GM search after he hires a coach.
The Broncos are 24-24 since reaching the 2005 AFC title game, where they lost to Pittsburgh. The primary culprit is a dreadful defense that has gotten worse every year because of Shanahan's poor personnel decisions on draft day and in free agency. Their three-year playoff drought is the team's longest in 26 years.
The Broncos ranked 30th in points allowed this season while managing a measly 13 takeaways and surrendering an NFL-high 448 points under Bob Slowik, the team's third defensive boss in three years.
That negated a lot of good, solid progress on offense, where Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall, members of Shanahan's strong 2006 draft class, earned their first trips to the Pro Bowl.
The Broncos had an injury epidemic last season, and more than anybody they missed star cornerback Champ Bailey, who was sidelined most of the year with a torn groin and dislocated his left elbow on the second play in the season finale, a 52-21 loss at San Diego that at least in part led to Shanahan's firing.
After surgery, Bailey is expected to miss several months of offseason workouts while recovering.
The Broncos' new coach will be asked to keep a half-dozen or so of Shanahan's assistants, most notably quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates and running backs coach Bobby Turner. All members of Shanahan's coaching staff will have their contracts honored through 2009, but they've been given permission to seek employment elsewhere.
Shanahan, 146-91 in 14 seasons in Denver, wants to take a year off before returning to coach another NFL team.