When John Elway joined the Denver Broncos' front office back in 2011, he did so as the team's Vice President of Football Operations. Not long after, Elway garnered the additional title of 'General Manager' after Brian Xanders was jettisoned in 2012.
In 2017, Elway was promoted further, becoming a team President (Football Operations). Any VP executive designation comes with a symbolic gravity and one heck of a promotion.
On Friday, the Broncos announced eight new changes to the front office and personnel department. To wit:
Matt Russell | Vice President of Player Personnel
Russell has been the day-to-day overseer of operations on both the pro personnel (free agency) and college scouting (draft) departments for the past seven years. He was Director of Player Personnel during that stretch and Elway's right-hand man.
Now in his 12th season with the club, Russell received an executive promotion and will continue to help Elway with the daily grind of scouting and personnel. With eight years under their belt working together in the Broncos' front office, Elway and Russell have established a level of continuity matched by only two other NFL teams — New England and Dallas.
With Russell working in tandem alongside Elway, the Broncos have posted the seventh-most overall wins in the league, bringing home five AFC West crowns, two AFC titles, and on Super Bowl win.
has overseen the day-to-day operations of the pro personnel and college scouting departments since 2012 as director of player personnel, has been promoted to Vice President of Player Personnel. In his 12th season with the organization, Russell will continue to assist Elway and initially joined the Broncos as director of college scouting in 2009.
Only two other teams (New England & Dallas) have had the continuity at the top of their personnel department than the Broncos with Elway and Russell (8 yrs.). During the last nine seasons, the Broncos have posted the seventh-most overall wins (91) in the NFL while capturing five AFC West Division titles, two AFC Championships and a victory in Super Bowl 50.
Although the Broncos' results in the draft got a little sketchy and touch-and-go for a few years following Super Bowl 50's triumph, Elway and Russell have since found their groove over the last three years. The Broncos have been lauded for their draft hauls in 2018, 2019, and 2020, with core players such as LB Bradley Chubb, WR Courtland Sutton, RB Phillip Lindsay, TE Noah Fant, OG Dalton Risner, and QB Drew Lock representing Elway and Russell's success.
With Russell taking on more and more of a public posture, giving interviews and making appearances on Broncos TV on the team site, it seemed as if he was being groomed for a larger role. Some have speculated, including yours truly, that Russell has some sort of part to play in Elway's succession plan.
Elway's contract with the Broncos expires following the 2021 season. If he remains with the club, I could see him staying on as President of Football Operations while officially handing off the title of GM to Russell. This supposes no change to the current ownership situation, of course.
If the Broncos' ownership situation does change, whether that's via Brittany Bowlen officially winning the Bowlen family's 'Game of Thrones' or if the team gets sold down the road, that could shake up any future plan Elway and team President and CEO Joe Ellis might have for Russell. With no apparent end in sight, though, the Broncos' ownership situation isn't likely to change any time soon.
A former player, Russell won the 1996 Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker at the University of Colorado, where he is also in the school's Athletic Hall of Fame. He would later be selected by the Detroit Lions in the fourth round of the 1997 NFL Draft.
Russell is entering his 20th season working in NFL personnel with previous stops in New England (2001-05) and Philadelphia (2006-08). His teams have made 11 playoff appearances while winning four Super Bowls (XXXVI, XXXVIII, XXXIX & 50) and six Conference championships throughout his personnel career.
Mark Thewes | Vice President of Football Operations and Compliance
Thewes started as an assistant to the head coach in 2009 but has spent the last eight years as the Broncos' Director of Team Administration.
With his new title, Thewes coordinates the football operations and serves as the liaison to the NFL office to ensure the Broncos' compliance with the collective bargaining agreement, roster management, reporting, scheduling, officiating and discipline.
Tony Lazzaro | Senior Director, Football Technology and Research
Lazzaro now leads Denver's Football Information Systems and Football Analytics departments, which help football operations with deep-dive analytics and research. Now in his 19th season with the Broncos, he previously serves as the team's Director of Football Information Systems and Manager of Football IT.
Darren Mougey | Assistant Director of College Scouting
Mougey formerly worked as Western Regional Scout but will now work more directly with Russell and College Scouting Director Brian Stark on the college scouting process while also maintaining his Western region purview. Joining the Broncos as a personnel intern in 2012, Mougey has held several positions with the team in both the pro and college scouting departments.
Karl Schreiner | Director, Football Information Systems
Schreiner is in his fifth year with the Broncos and will design, build, and maintain all internal systems supporting personnel, coaches, trainers, and the strength and conditioning staff.
Scott Flaska | Senior Manager, Football Analytics
Flaska is entering his fifth season with the Broncos and works within the football operations department to design and implement data-driven research and solutions.
Richard Hildebrand | Senior Software Engineer
Now in his third year with the Broncos, Hildebrand's contributions are to the team's software development.
Emily Kuehler | Data Scientist
With the Broncos parting ways with ex-czar of Football Analytics Mitch Tanney, the rebuild to the department is now complete. Kuehler is in her second year with the team, assisting the Football Technology and Research Department with data collection and analysis.