ENGLEWOOD – Jerry Rosburg was more than three years into his retirement following a 40-year career as an assistant coach when a phone call in mid-September interrupted his morning coffee as he sat on his lakeside deck in Florida.
It was his old friend George Paton, who needed a favor: Would Rosburg come to Denver to handle game management duties for Nathaniel Hackett, who had stumbled through his first two games as the Broncos' coach?
Rosburg accepted the offer and the challenge, setting in motion an unimaginable journey that led to an even bigger request from Paton this week.
Several years after giving up his dream of ever becoming a head coach, the 67-year-old special teams sage was asked to lead the Broncos over the final two weeks of the season following Hackett's dismissal Monday when defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero passed on the opportunity so he could continue running the defense.
Again, Rosburg said yes.
After all those gigs as an assistant, starting at Shanley High School in Fargo, North Dakota, and continuing in college at Northern Michigan, Western Michigan, Cincinnati, Minnesota, Boston College and Notre Dame and then in the NFL with the Browns, Falcons, Ravens and Broncos, Rosburg is finally the one calling all the shots.
The theme of his first meeting with his players Wednesday was based on his philosophy that combining humility with confidence can produce greatness.
“I’m humbled by this opportunity,” Rosburg said. “At the same time I’m confident I can do this job.”
And what's up first for Rosburg?
A visit to Kansas City, where come kickoff Sunday, the Chiefs (12-3) will have gone 2,664 days since last losing to Denver (4-11).
“Who would sign up for this?” Rosburg asked.
He raised his right hand.
“Here I am.”
And he didn't wait until game day to start calling his shots.
Shortly after accepting the interim title, Rosburg fired special teams coordinator Dwayne Stukes and offensive line coach Butch Barry, whose units have proven to be major weaknesses this season.
Rosburg said he always aspired to become a head coach but he demurred when asked if he wants the job full time, saying he's only focused on beating the Chiefs on Sunday and the Chargers at home next week.
“I'm not trying to build a resume,” Rosburg said. “I haven’t had a resume for 15, 17 years. I haven’t needed one. So I’m not trying to enhance any kind of reputation that I may or may not have.”
Rosburg served as the Ravens' special teams coordinator from 2008-18, and Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said he was thrilled Rosburg was finally getting this opportunity.
“I always believed Jerry Rosburg would’ve been, could’ve been, can be a great head coach,” Harbaugh said. “He and I, we were shoulder-to-shoulder really in everything we did here all those years. Just a great football man, great leader, has every quality, every trait for it.”
In addition to shaking up his staff, Rosburg met with two players whose actions off the field exacerbated the embarrassment of the team's 51-14 loss to the Rams on Christmas that prompted team CEO Greg Penner to fire Hackett.
Left guard Dalton Risner shoved backup QB Brett Rypien when he misunderstood Rypien's plea for the O-line to help quarterback Russell Wilson to his feet following sacks. The two later hugged it out.
Then, in the postgame handshake line, linebacker Randy Gregory punched a Rams offensive lineman in the helmet, drawing a one-game suspension that was overturned upon appeal and replaced with a $50,000 fine.
Rosburg said he met individually with Gregory and Risner and collectively as a team, declaring there will be no similar shenanigans under his watch.
Both met with reporters after practice.
“I just took the frustration a little bit too far,” said Gregory, who also apologized on social media and said he wanted to be a “part of the solution and not the problem going forward.”
Risner also stepped to the podium for a mea culpa, although he took shots at reporters for focusing on his shove and heated taunting of Rypien and not the pair reconciling their spat shortly afterward.
“Brett's my boy,” Risner said. “One thing that's not been covered is me and Brett making up a minute later, and that's just how the media goes, which is fine. But on Sunday there's a lot of frustration losing 51-14 and we're both very competitive guys.”
Rosburg said he plans to play Gregory if he can Sunday. Gregory was held out of practice Wednesday to lighten the load on his surgically repaired knee that sidelined him for two months.
Rosburg also said he won't sit Wilson, whose season-long struggles were a major factor in Hackett joining Urban Meyer as the only first-time head coaches since 1978 to get fired before they completed their first seasons.
Wilson, who has thrown for just 12 touchdown passes and been sacked 49 times in the worst season of his 11-year career, said he was devastated over Hackett's dismissal.
“I wish I could have played better for him,” Wilson said. “I wish I could have played at the standard and the level that I've always played at.”