As the Broncos' president and a longtime trusted employee of owner Pat Bowlen for three decades, Joe Ellis has been around his share of leaders.
He has worked with ticketing directors, market executives, stadium construction foremen and head coaches who also ran the Broncos' football department such as Dan Reeves, Wade Phillips, Mike Shanahan and Josh McDaniels.
For the past three years, Ellis has observed John Elway lead the Broncos' football operations department. Ellis was asked: What makes Elway's leadership style unique?
"He is steady under fire," Ellis said immediately. "That doesn't happen with everyone who leads football teams. Even the best of people sometimes lose track of their composure. That doesn't happen with John Elway. He knows how to push all the right buttons, and he stays calm and collected. It's an impressive character trait. It's one he had as a player, and it's one he has an executive."
The Broncos rewarded Elway with a three-year contract extension Wednesday while also tacking on the title "general manager" to his current position of executive vice president of football operations.
Until the new deal, Elway was entering the final year on the original contract he signed with Broncos owner Pat Bowlen in January 2011.
Ellis ripped up the final year of Elway's old contract and gave him a four-year deal that runs through 2017.
"It seemed like not a very hard decision to make," Ellis said. "Whatever learning curve there was for John Elway, it didn't last very long."
To think people wondered if Bowlen merely hired Elway as a figurehead when he gave him the grandiose front-office title three years ago.
"I am grateful for the opportunity that I've been given with the Broncos," Elway said in a statement. "Our goal is to continue building on the culture of winning established by Pat Bowlen, and we remain relentlessly committed to delivering a world championship to our fans."
"General manager" is a term commonly given to those with final-say authority on building the rosters of sports teams. Which is what Elway has done. And continues to do.
"We think it solidifies his standing across the league and emphasizes he oversees everything as it has to do with Broncos football," Ellis said. "So when people around the league want to do business with the Denver Broncos, they know — not that they wouldn't know, but just to be sure — they'd know they're talking not only to the top guy, but also the general manager at all levels in terms of decision making on the football side."
At the Broncos' Dove Valley headquarters this week, there are sounds of jackhammers and bulldozers as a new fieldhouse is getting built and the team's existing office building is undergoing major reconstruction.
In his upstairs office, Elway has been working 10- to 12-hour days this week. His Broncos reached the Super Bowl, only to get whipped 43-8 by the Seattle Seahawks on Feb. 2 in New Jersey.
"There are some changes we've got to make, and we'll make those." Elway said last week at his postseason news conference with coach John Fox.
The offseason has meant four days off for Elway and his staff. They have been evaluating potential free agents and draft prospects for the upcoming 2014 season.
As a Broncos quarterback from 1983-98, Elway became a first-ballot Pro Football Hall of Famer, leading his team to five Super Bowl appearances and two world championships.
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Remarkably, Elway has had more immediate success as an executive. After inheriting a team that had finished 4-12 in 2010 under McDaniels, Elway's first move was to hire Fox as head coach. The Broncos have since won three consecutive AFC West titles for the first time in team history, posting a combined 34-14 regular-season record.
While it's premature to evaluate his draft picks, Elway has excelled in free agency. The Broncos are the only team to sign an all-pro player from free agency in each of the past two years — Manning in 2012 and right guard Louis Vasquez in 2013.
In each of those three seasons, the Broncos have advanced to at least the Elite Eight of the NFL playoffs. This season, the Broncos broke through with playoff victories against San Diego in the divisional round and New England in the AFC championship game.