I have sat in on ZERO interviews with the Broncos’ head coaching candidates.
My one insider tip on the Broncos’ leanings is that Dan Quinn might be the best chance for luring a new head coach into an owner-less team because he and George Paton have a good history together.
And the most research I’ve done on each of the candidates is reading others who have taken the real time to look at past coaching histories, coaching trees, tendencies with scheme, success at various levels, etc. as well as listening to conversations of reporters with teams whose coordinators are being sought after by the Broncos.
So all that is my caveat that not only do I not know which of the 10 candidates the Broncos are leaning toward as head coach, I don’t know for certain which of them would be the best for this franchise.
But based on my cursory level of research and listening/reading others who have more intimate knowledge about the various candidates, I have some that really intrigue me.
And one of them is surprisingly Jonathan Gannon.
Who is Gannon again?
Well, he’s the Eagles’ defensive coordinator, but that’s not important right now. He’s also the only one of the 10 Joe Rowles didn’t offer any discussion on and who got only 20 votes out of more than 7,000 in our highly unofficial poll, earning him essentially 0% of the votes. LOL (though he fared better in a poll just listing the seeming top five candidates after all initial interviews were completed, moving up to a whopping 6% and fourth out of five among our voters).
And he’s definitely not a favorite of Joe’s, and AJ is understandably concerned about going with a first-time head coach again. Yet many are reporting that Gannon impressed George Paton - as well as search committees at other teams looking for a head coach - and may very well be in Denver’s top three.
I'd suggest the Broncos HC finalists after wrapping their 10 interviews yesterday are Dan Quinn, Jonathan Gannon and Nathaniel Hackett.— Benjamin Allbright (@AllbrightNFL) January 22, 2022
So Gannon is a dark horse candidate with just one year of coordinator experience and heading up a defense this season that finished 25th in overall DVOA.
But the former high school basketball standout, who played safety for one year in college before a hip injury ended his playing days, has been coaching in the NFL since 2007 - and even has three years scouting experience, which is notable.
He began with a brief stint at the Falcons as a defensive quality control coach before scouting college and pro players three years for the Rams. Gannon then moved up the defensive ranks, beginning with the Titans, Vikings and finally Colts - eventually following Nick Sirianni from Indianapolis to Philadelphia in 2021.
The naysayers point to his lack of significant NFL coaching experience, including no head coaching experience. Or they look at the 2021 Eagles’ defense ranking near the bottom.
Obviously both “flags” require further investigation to be weighed against the coaching qualities Gannon has that are apparently in line with what Paton wants.
EJ Smith of The Philadelphia Inquirer told DenverBroncos.com Gannon is probably the kind of leader the Broncos GM will be looking for.
“I do think [he has] the intangibles — there’s a lot that goes into being a head coach that’s not just on-the-field production and X’s and O’s,” Smith said. “It’s a lot about people management and being a CEO and stuff like that. You notice it from the second you have a conversation with Jonathan Gannon that he has a lot of those traits.”
Why Gannon intrigues me
I’m not as hesitant as some to hire a first-time head coach, especially if he’s considered one of the rising stars in the league. I’d rather put up with some “rookie mistakes” from a first-time head coach who is possibly going to be one of the next great football minds than take another coach who is hired because he is friends with the right people.
And I don’t think looking at the Eagles’ defensive DVOA after one year is probably a fair assessment of Gannon’s ability - especially when you look at the lack of talent on his roster.
Not to mention that just because a candidate’s previous team’s offense or defense might have ranked high does not make it a prime indicator of how he will do as a head coach for a new team.
Not that a coach’s previous performances aren’t notable or important; they are. But Broncos Country has learned the hard way that just because a guy’s defense is amazing or offense is stellar doesn’t automatically make him head coach material (Hello Josh McDaniels, Vance Joseph, Vic Fangio).
And that’s because while it can certainly be an advantage to be a “guru” for one side of the ball, the head coach’s daily job goes way beyond calling offensive plays or determining the defensive look.
From a management standpoint, it’s may even be better if the head coach doesn’t see himself as the primary play caller for either the offense or defense and instead hires great coordinators, whom he trusts, so he can be most effective leading the team - organizing the practice assignments, handling the media, managing in-game decisions (including finding someone who knows when - and when not - to challenge a flag!).
Mike Kaye of nj.com who covers the Eagles said on KOA’s “Broncos Country Tonight” that while Eagles fans have been mad about Gannon’s defense - which got better mid-season, partly due to easier opponents - many people around the league recognize the true fault in the Eagles’ D was lack of personnel to run his more aggressive-style.
“The Eagles ran more of a prevent-style, soft cover-2-esque defense, but that was due to his lack of talent.,” Kaye said, noting injuries, declining play from vets and a “who’s who of who you don’t know” among the linebackers. “He comes from a background of very good linebacker play and very good safety play - something the Broncos know something about.”
So Kaye agrees that Gannon has a little bit of that “CEO-type” of coaching personality, which is partly why he’s getting so much attention around the league despite just one year as a coordinator.
“While he’s young, he’s kind of experienced everything and has had stops with a lot the great defensive minds in this league,” Kaye said, noting that he’s been described as kind of the “defensive Sean McVay.”
I think he would do well with the secondary and linebackers they have in Denver. Ditto in Minnesota.— Mike Kaye (@mike_e_kaye) January 22, 2022
Don’t think it’s wrong to criticize the performance and approach of the defense in Philly, but I also don’t think he had the personnel for what he wanted to run this year either https://t.co/QuVVOgVv8S
Kaye, who covered Nathaniel Hackett in Jacksonville, said the two coordinators are very similar - which may explain some of the Bronos’ high interest in both.
“They don’t get too low, ever. You don’t see them blink. They can explain things on both a micro and macro level. Both are very intelligent and very communicative,” Kaye said. “These are guys who can related to anyone in the room.”
Kaye also thinks Gannon - and a lot of the “up-and-comers” in the league - are sought after because of their ability to relate to today’s NFL player. There are plenty of old school guys who have been able to do that, but the young coach who can teach is a big draw, according to Kaye.
“We’ve seen guys be great at Xs and Os, we’ve seen guys be smart, crafty play designers or callers and just not work out,” he said. “It’s really about that personal touch now. It’s more about how you can keep a locker room together as opposed to how you can set up an offense or defense. ...Owners want people who are emotionally intelligent - they may not come off as super charismatic but they know how to relate to players.”
Also, Gannon’s own linebackers coach noted that he listens to everyone and is open to any good idea.
“He is very open-minded,” Nick Rallis said ealier this spring. “He is going to listen to every single coach on the staff and that’s been great to work with because I feel like if I have a great idea, I know Jonathan is going to listen.”
And Gannon himself pointed out when he first went to the Eagles that he didn’t have a scheme he was going to enforce because he wanted to see what was best for the players. Given their lack of talent, simple was better. It worked on Denver this past season.
“I’m excited to figure that out with our guys,” Gannon said in May. “Hey, like what is the best way to defend the team that we’re playing? And which guys kind of do one or the other better and put them in those spots?”
How refreshing that kind of approach would be - even from the head coach.
And Rallis noted back then that Gannon gave his position coaches a lot of autonomy.
“He lets me take ownership in the linebacker room.,” Rallis added. “How do you want to do this? How do you want to do that? He knows that if he just stuck to his knowledge, we’re only going to go as far as his knowledge. So he not only utilizes his knowledge but everyone else’s on the staff. And now the room for growth is that much greater. Jonathan from a defensive coordinator standpoint, to me, is an excellent leader because he’s going to maximize everybody’s talent from the coaches to the players.”
All signs still point to Dan Quinn in Denver
Quinn is still widely seen as the favorite in Denver, and I’m not against his hire. Plus the Texans are already requesting a second interview with Gannon, so it’s very possible he’s not available to the Broncos by early this week.
But if Quinn doesn’t choose Denver and another candidate doesn’t impress the Broncos’ admins, I wouldn’t mind taking a chance on a guy that wowed the room with his preparation for how he’d run the team.
We could use some of that.
Could more than 6% of you handle Gannon as head coach if Paton went that direction?
This poll is closed