Jack Dempsey
December 29, 2014

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Peyton Manning confirmed last week he plans to return to Denver in 2015. It might just be without the man who's in his earhole every Sunday.

With Black Monday came word that the San Francisco 49ers and Atlanta Falcons want to speak with Adam Gase, the Broncos' 36-year-old offensive coordinator, about their head coaching vacancies.

The Broncos (12-4) will allow Gase to interview with those teams and any other suitors in Denver later this week. Players have Thursday, Friday and Saturday off after earning a first-round bye in the AFC playoffs.

''We've been through this many times,'' said coach John Fox, who lost coordinators Dennis Allen to the Raiders and Mike McCoy to the Chargers in recent years. ''It'll be done in a way that they've got to come here. And it won't bother our coaches as far as their prep, and all their focus is on what we're trying to accomplish. During the bye week, I think it's an opportune time to do those things.''

Gase was pursued last year, too, but he rejected overtures from the Cleveland Browns in part because he wanted to devote his full attention to the Broncos' Super Bowl quest.

Gase has proven adept at handling quarterbacks as varied as Manning and Tim Tebow, whom he got eight wins out of back in 2011, including a stunning playoff victory over Pittsburgh.

After Denver scored an NFL-record 606 points last season, Gase's unit has become as much run-oriented behind C.J. Anderson, the first undrafted running back to score seven TDs in a month since Priest Holmes in 2004, as Manning-oriented.

The Broncos tied for the league's best record for the third consecutive season with Manning as their QB, and their 30.1-point scoring average trailed only Green Bay's 30.4.

Gase's troops are more than happy to give testimonials on his behalf.

''I think he's used the knowledge of the coaches that he's worked with, you know, the offensive coaches especially, and the Nick Sabans that have been instrumental in some of his coaching philosophies,'' Manning said recently. ''He's used those to apply to his coaching style and it's helped him a lot.''

''He's a coach that you want to play hard for,'' backup QB Brock Osweiler said Monday. ''He treats you with respect. He makes it fun coming to work and he's brilliant at what he does. I hope we're able to keep him here.''

Wide receiver Bubba Caldwell said it would be bittersweet to lose Gase.

''I'm happy for him getting interest and the potential to make more money and get a better position in the league,'' Caldwell said. ''But I'm bitter because he'd be leaving us.''

Caldwell said Gase certainly has the chops for a head coaching gig, though.

''He's a good guy. He knows the game up and down, back and forth,'' Caldwell said. ''He's a great football mind. He's studied under a lot of great coaches like Mike Martz. And he's a people person. He knows how to interact with his players and he knows how to get the best out of them.''

Denver defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio's name might also come up in coaching searches - a signature performance in the playoffs would certainly burnish his credentials.

Del Rio went 69-72 in 8 1/2 seasons as Jacksonville's head coach from 2003-11, a mark that looks better and better as the Jaguars have gone 11-42 since his firing. Del Rio also guided Denver to a 3-1 record last year after Fox underwent heart surgery.

Nose tackle Terrance Knighton said he wouldn't be surprised to see Denver lose both coordinators. After all, the Broncos finished fourth in the NFL in offense and third in defense.

''You've got two great coordinators who have had a lot of success. Eventually, they're going to get their shot,'' Knighton said. ''Specifically, Coach Del Rio, a guy who drafted me as a head coach, he's definitely still a head coach in my mind. And I feel like we have two head coaches on the staff with him and Coach Fox. So, I'm pretty sure they're high on a lot of people's lists because of the success they had.''

Like Manning, Knighton is on record saying he wants to return to Denver in 2015. Yet, when asked Monday if he was torn in wanting Del Rio to get another head coaching job and preferring he stuck around Denver, Knighton smiled.

''I want to be wherever Jack is,'' he said. ''I'll just leave it at that.''

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