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Who Should be the next Head Coach of the Denver Broncos?

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Who should Elway hire to replace Vance Joseph?

Cincinnati Bengals v Cleveland Browns
If Elway’s after a cutting edge offense, he should break Cleveland’s heart again.
Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

With the merciful end to the Vance Joseph era upon Broncos Country, it’s time to look ahead to 2019 and beyond. This could be a make or break hiring for Elway’s tenure in the Post Manning era, and he’s entering a coaching market that some say is “tapped dry”

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One prominent agent said he regards the 2019 crop of prospective head coaches the weakest he’s seen in decades. That situation, I’m told, was part of the reason Baltimore slammed the brakes on the persistent buzz that it would part ways with John Harbaugh after the season. Why make a change, after all, when the most attractive candidate for an opening is already on your payroll?

As I worked on this list, I had a hard time seeing Breer’s point. There’s plenty of names out there, and Elway has the opportunity to make the kind of move that could put Denver back into the AFC West mix.

So with that in mind, a look at the horses on this coaching carousel.

Veteran Offensive Guys

Reports surfacing before the Chargers game suggested that Elway is fully aware of the team’s need to fix the offense. That means chances are good that the candidate who succeeds Vance Joseph will probably have experience on that side of the ball.

Mike Shanahan, Former Broncos and Washington Head Coach

With the way reports surfaced in the middle of December, this wouldn’t be a shocking move in the slightest. The national media would go pretty nuts with it because Shanny last coached when the zone read was getting RPO treatment by announcers. I shared my thoughts on the move two weeks ago, but I don’t hate it as much as some of the other names out there. It really comes down to his coordinators, especially on the defensive side of the ball.

Adam Gase, Miami Dolphins Head Coach

There’s reason to believe Gase could get a call from Elway. He’s previously worked under the Broncos GM as both a quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator. Despite the fact that Gase is only 40 years old, he’s been in the league since 2003 and has had success at multiple stops, including the best statistical season of Jay Cutler’s career. Denver could do a whole lot worse.

Dirk Koetter, Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach

Another guy with previous ties to Elway, Dirk Koetter actually interviewed for the Broncos vacancy back in 2011. He eventually landed with the Bucs and took over the top spot from Lovie Smith when the Glazer’s feared another team would poach him as the “next” offensive mastermind. He’s seen his star fade in recent years, but may give the offense a shot in the arm. I personally like him more for a coordinator role than head coach.

Mike McCarthy, Former Green Bay Packers Head Coach

It’s hard to dismiss his 135–85–2 (.613) record that includes a Lombardi, even if Aaron Rodgers and Brett Favre helped a bunch. In many aspects McCarthy would be a lot like the John Fox hire back in 2011, a highly regarded veteran coach that would bring with him an air of program stability. It wouldn’t come without serious questions though: Detractors say his offense has fallen behind the times in recent years, as he adopted a scheme that heavily relied on his players to win isolation routes. He’ll need to go back to his early well of ideas or find a strong offensive coordinator to succeed without Rodgers, but he’ll probably have his pick of interviews as rumors already suggest the Jets, Browns, and Bucs are very interested.

Jim Caldwell, Former Detroit Lions Head Coach

The man, the meme, and the one coach who finished his Lions career with a winning record in the last decade plus. Peyton Manning helped Caldwell to the brink of a Lombardi his first season in Indianapolis but he has found earned a commendable reputation since. He wouldn’t be the splashy name, but Caldwell could bring a lot of the same kind of stability McCarthy does without all of the questions.

Mike Munchak, Pittsburgh Steelers Offensive Line Coach

A Pro Football Hall of Famer and former Head Coach of the Tennessee Titans, Munchak has done a masterful job with the Steelers line. Don’t let the 22–26 scare you yet, as both years with the Titans Munchak was chained to Jake Locker; who retired at 26. Word is he’s still in good graces around the league, eventually turning down the Cardinals job that went to Steve Wilks last season. His coordinator hires would be important as his Titan teams had Chris Palmer and Jerry Gray in the those roles, hardly inspiring.

“Newbies”

Eric Bieniemy, Kansas City Chiefs Offensive Coordinator

If you’ve watched Patrick Mahomes tear up the league this year you’ve witnessed Bienimy’s work. Even as Andy Reid has continued to call the plays on Sunday his assistant has done a masterful job with all of the work behind the scenes that makes the NFL’s best offense all but impossible to defend. He’s the next guy on a growing list of successful Reid proteges and would be coming home to Colorado after a collegiate career with the Buffs.

Matt LaFleur, Tennessee Titans Offensive Coordinator

The 39-year-old coordinator has worked under both Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay. He’s highly regarded for his offensive mind, and has coached in the NFL for a decade except for a one year stint at Notre Dame in 2014. He was the QB coach for Robert Griffin, Matt Ryan, and Jared Goff during the best seasons of their careers. Some question him because the Titans offense has been unsteady at times, but don’t forget that they’re 9-7 despite the fact that Marcus Mariota had injury issues all year.

Zac Taylor, Los Angeles Rams Quarterbacks Coach

The closest thing Sean McVay has to an offensive coordinator since losing Matt LaFleuer to the Titans. He has a similar role in L.A. that Bieniemy has in K.C, but Taylor does have previous play calling experience from his time as an interim with the Miami Dolphins. Just 35, he would directly benefit from teams turning over rocks to find the next McVay. Has coached in the NFL since 2012, when he came to South Beach from his graduate assistant job at Texas A&M.

Pete Carmichael, New Orleans Saints Offensive Coordinator

He’s worked for Sean Payton since 2006 and has served as offensive coordinator the last 9 years. That’s about as close to picking Payton’s brain as Elway could do without throwing a boat load of draft picks to Micky Loomis. Carmichael is 47 and has coached in the NFL since 2000. While he doesn’t call the play calls in the Big Easy, he’s an underrated part of the process.

Freddie Kitchens, Browns Offensive Coordinator

A bit outside the box as Kitchens only took over play calling duties when Todd Haley and Hue Jackson were given walking papers, but if Cleveland won’t seriously consider him for their vacancy Elway should. What he’s done with Baker Mayfield has been nothing short of incredible and since the Broncos are certainly going to draft a signal caller this year or next, a QB whisperer should be in high demand. If Elway really is after a “cutting edge” offense Kitchen’s should be the top guy on his list. Forgive the pun, but Cleveland really has thrown a kitchen sink at opposing defenses under their new OC.

You want cutting edge? 4 receivers to one side just sliced up the Ravens #1 ranked defense.

Yes he’s inexperienced, but so was Anthony Lynn. Ask a Chargers fan (if you can find any) how that’s working out.

Todd Monken, Tampa Bay Buccaneers Offensive Coordinator

He’s been floated a bit and could be on the radar if Elway is set on patching the offense. Koetter did a bit of a yo-yo game with him, taking away play calling duties before handing them back to Monken in November, but the Bucs Qbs combined for over 5000 yards and 30 touchdowns this yea. Courtland Sutton would look pretty good playing the Mike Evans role in Monken’s vertical offense.

John Defilppo, Former Minnesota Vikings Offensive Coordinator

A long shot given that he was relieved of his duties after 13 games by Mike Zimmer, but he went into 2018 as one of the hottest up and comers. He and Frank Reich worked some serious magic with Carson Wentz and Nick Foles last year and it wouldn’t be the craziest thing if he interviewed.

Veteran Defensive Guys

With the way the Broncos offense has looked for a number of years, I would put the odds on Elway chasing a coach with an offensive background in order to stabilize Denver’s weaker unit. That doesn’t mean there aren’t worthwhile names to explore on the defensive side of the ball, but the coaches below probably have lower odds of piquing the Broncos interest.

Dennis Allen, New Orleans Saint Defensive Coordinator

Another former Bronco, Allen has done the full return to relevance since washing out of his Oakland Raider gig. He’s still just 46 and has helped turn the New Orleans defense into the kind of unit that can carry a 39-year old Brees on his worst days.

Jim Schwartz, Philadelphia Eagles Defensive Coordinator

Schwartz was 29-51 when he was the head coach of in Detroit, but he’s had success with the Buffalo Bills and Philadelphia Eagles since. Last year he was considered a contender for vacancies, but what’s he’s done this season has been far more impressive. Injuries have robbed him of Ronald Darby and various other members of the secondary each week but the D still did enough to limit the Rams to 23 points in order to keep Philly’s playoff hopes alive. One thing that leaves me intrigued with him is how multiple he’s been with his defenses dating back to his days with the Bills, something that could be useful with Bradley Chubb and Von Miller as chess pieces.

“Newbies”

Brian Flores, New England Patriots Defensive Coordinator

The latest in the long line of Belichick disciples that have gone on to garner head coaching interest. Elway’s interest in Flores was announced within minutes of the Vance Joseph firing.

He started with New England as a scouting assistant in 2004 before working his way up. He has worked as an assistant on offense and special teams but most of his experience is coaching the secondary, and linebackers. He’ll be 38 years old during the 2019 opening kickoff.

Vic Fangio, Chicago Bears Defensive Coordinator

Quick aside: for a Christmas gift for my cousin this year I broke down defensive highlights from every Bears game this year. This year’s squad is that perfect mesh of scheme and talent that hasn’t hit the league since Wade’s No Fly Zone in 2015. They’re unlikely to replicate it next year and I have my doubts that Fangio could turn the Broncos D into a Monsters of the West in one year, but he can’t be discounted as a serious candidate.

If you’re someone who discounts what Colin Kaepernick did with the San Francisco 49ers you’re probably already aware of this, but Fangio was the architect behind the Patrick Willis defense that ranked 3rd in the league en route to the Super Bowl against Baltimore in 2013. Many have compared Fangio to Bruce Arians, who was an older candidate but a worthy one, including Bobbie Massie who played under both.

“Similar in ways, I would say. Bruce thought he was the coolest coach in the league and on the team with us, we just had a swagger in Arizona and he was the reason for that. I wouldn’t say Vic is cool, but he has his own personality and that shows through the way the defense plays.”

Don “Wink” Martindale, Baltimore Ravens Defensive Coordinator

Since Wink left the Broncos he has coached his way back to relevance, working under Dean Pees for a number of years before taking over as defensive coordinator this year. While Lamar Jackson and the offense has garnered a lot of the headlines, Baltimore wouldn’t be a playoff team without Wink’s defense. He runs the kind of multiple scheme that can slow down Mahomes and maximize Denver’s defensive talent.

Matt Eberflus, Indianapolis Colts Defensive Coordinator

Eberflus seemingly came out of nowhere to turn the Colts defense into a legitimate unit, but he’s been in the league for almost a decade as a linebacker coach. So it should come as little surprise that the big name showing out in the Eberflus defense is Darius Leonard, who has been a serious contender for Defensive Rookie of the Year. That’s hardly the end of the Eber-effect though. Margus Hunt was always one of those guys who rocked in an old Madden franchise for me, but he’s played winning football in 2018. That secondary has become a solid unit despite the fact that few outside of Indiana can name one player besides Malik Hooker.

Kris Richard, Dallas Cowboys Passing Coordinator/DB Coach

Worked for a number of years under Pete Carrol with the Legion of Boom and has since taken over as the playcaller in Jerry World. He’s only 39 but has worked in the NFL since 2010 and already interviewed for the Buffalo Bills and Indy jobs in recent years. My guess is Elway goes a different direction, but Richard has a noteworthy resume and shouldn’t be dismissed.

Other

Bruce Arians said he will only return for Baker Mayfield, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t names outside of the OC/DC pipeline that could garner a call from the Broncos management. One rumor that was floating around in recent days is that John Harbaugh did not sign an extension yet, which sparked intrigue that another team may be able to trade for the Ravens head coach. Keep an eye on that as Denver has a Kubiak connection dating from Kubes days as offensive coordinator in Baltimore.

The most likely scenario is that Harbaugh’s representatives or the Ravens were floating the rumor as the two work out a long term extension. Considering the asking price was 2 first round picks, noone really expects Harbaugh to move.

Dave Toub, Kansas City Chiefs Special Teams Coordinator

Another guy who’s already on Elway’s radar after interviewing for the job that went to Vance Joseph. He’s a dark horse favorite this time around. Reports at the time suggested that the Broncos brass thought a lot of him and he’s been highly regarded for a number of years now. Toub has had success in both stints with the Bears and Chiefs and the league office thought enough of him to bring him on to help redesign kickoffs prior to the 2018 season.

Raheem Morris, Atlanta Falcons Assistant Head Coach

If you’re like me, you remember Morris from his forgettable stint as a young head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the Josh Freeman era. After that ended, he worked as a defensive assistant for Washington and Atlanta before something unconventinonal happened. In 2016 Morris retained his Assistant Head Coaching title, but moved from a defensive backs coach to wide receiver coach. Of course, that was the season the Kyle Shanahan offense helped the Falcons make it to the Super Bowl and Morris has continued to work with Julio Jones in recent years. Still just 42, he isn’t on most people’s radar but has previous experience in a top job with a young quarterback and has worked on both sides of the ball.

The College Guys

Let’s be real: Lincoln Riley isn’t coming to the Broncos. Jim Harbaugh isn’t going to stake his next NFL gig on Case Keenum. There are some other intriguing names here, such as Stanford’s David Shaw, Iowa State’s Matt Campbell or Washington’s Chris Petersen but all are longshots. It’s unlikely at best that Elway goes that far outside the norm for what may be the biggest decision of his post-playing career.