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Who should the Broncos hire to replace Vic Fangio?

Digging into 12 candidates for head coach.

Denver Broncos vs Los Angles Chargers.
Will Paton hire the right guy?
Photo by RJ Sangosti/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

With 2021 in the rearview mirror, change looms over Dove Valley. The Broncos finished 7-10 after playing one of the easiest schedules in football. A litany of issues with the offense and special teams as well as a weak run defense plagued the campaign, leaving doubt hanging over Vic Fangio’s future. George Paton will soon have to decide if Fangio should return for the last year of his contract. Should he elect to move on, the franchise will find itself back in the market for a new head coach for the third time since Super Bowl 50.

There’s been speculation that the Broncos’ new general manager would replace Fangio as far back as October. KOA’s Benjamin Allbright reported a short list of candidates that came from within the Broncos’ headquarters, so we may already have plenty of clues about who Paton has in mind.

Jonathan Gannon

The sell

The first year defensive coordinator has found a way to make the Philadelphia Eagles competitive on defense with an aging front seven, shaky linebackers, and weak secondary. Just imagine what he could do with George Paton filling out the depth charts.

Upside

The Eagles defense is currently outperforming the Broncos by Football Outsiders’ DVOA and rbsdm’s Estimated Points Added per Play. At 38-years-old, there’s some hope Gannon will improve as he continues to learn and lead in the league. He also has experience on the personnel side, something that could be a big help to the Broncos’ front office post-Elway.

Risk

Gannon is extremely inexperienced. Prior to 2021 he was a DB coach for three seasons. Before that he was an assistant or quality control coach. The Eagles have allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 80%+ of their passes five different times this season, which is historically bad. His ability to maximize a pass rush is worth exploring, as the Eagles did very little to dial up pressure on the games I studied before their matchup with Denver.

Scott Turner

The sell

Turner’s had injury luck similar to the Broncos’ these last two seasons. His Washington Football Team still gave the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a real scare with Taylor Heinicke making his second career start last year.

Upside

The son of longtime coach Norv, Scott is a football lifer who won’t turn 40 until next August. Since he became an offensive coordinator at the end of the 2019, his quarterbacks have included Kyle Allen, Will Grier, Alex Smith, Dwayne Haskins, Taylor Heinicke, Ryan Fitzpatrick (for 16 snaps), and Garrett Gilbert. While the Football Team and Panther offenses didn’t set any scoring records, there’s reason to believe Turner made chicken salad out of spare parts.

Risk

Turner’s never been a head coach. He’s been an offensive coordinator for going on two years and a month after he was the interim OC in Carolina. His offense was the worst in football a season ago and they’re currently the 20th best unit by DVOA and 22nd by EPA/P.

Washington’s offense is subpar, but how much of that is Scott Turner’s fault?

Dan Quinn

The sell

Quinn was the Atlanta Falcons’ head coach when they went to the Super Bowl in 2016. His previous experience suggests he won’t have notable growing pains during his first season with the Broncos.

Upside

Quinn’s shown multiple times that he has the ability to maximize his defensive personnel. His first year as the Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator was the apex of the Legion of Boom: they allowed the fewest points and yards in the league while leading the NFL in takeaways. In fact, they were the first time a team accomplished the feat since the 1985 Chicago Bears. The Dallas Cowboys finished with one of the 10 worst defenses in the league last year, and they’re currently the best in the league by DVOA. There’s no doubt talent is a big part of the equation, but Quinn’s ability to make the most of hybrid talent like Mica Parsons is notable.

Risk

Is Quinn just a good coordinator who can’t handle being a head coach? The Falcons defense was below average for the entirety of Quinn’s tenure. Following the overtime loss in the Super Bowl, Atlanta’s ability to blow any lead was a national story during the 2020 season, and the offense became stagnant after Kyle Shanahan departed for a head coaching job despite players like Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and Calvin Ridley remaining. For as good as the Dallas defense looks, it also features the best edge trio in football.

Jason Garrett

The sell

After taking over head coaching duties from Wade Phillips in 2011, Garrett’s Cowboys went 90-69 over 10 years. He’s the only coach that’s lasted more than seven years in Jerry World.

Upside

He’s already available after the New York Giants fired him in November.

Risk

Garrett’s Cowboys were a disappointment relative to the talent on hand. During his tenure, they had Tony Romo and Dak Prescott starting under center as well as players like DeMarcus Ware, DeMarcus Lawrence, Ezekiel Elliot, Dez Bryant, Amari Cooper, and Jason Witten. They made the playoffs three times in 10 years but never advanced to the NFC Championship game.

Leslie Frazier

The sell

Frazier’s a respected defensive mind who led the Minnesota Vikings to a playoff win in 2012 with Christian Ponder starting at quarterback. Since he took over as the coordinator with the Buffalo Bills, they’ve had a top 12 defense by DVOA four of the last five years.

Upside

Sean McDermott thought enough of Frazier to promote him to Assistant Head Coach in 2020. He’s been a defensive coordinator for four different NFL teams and continues to evolve to keep up in the modern league. He’s made the most of the talent on hand when he arrived in Buffalo despite a lot of roster churn, high variance play, and often ineffective play from the offense early in Josh Allen’s career.

Risk

At 62-years-old, Frazier’s the oldest short list candidate and he hasn’t been a head coach since he was fired after 2013. During his run as Minnesota’s head coach, the Vikings were never better than 14th by DVOA. His offensive coordinator with those Vikings was Bill Musgrave, so there’s some question as to what his new offensive staff would look like.

Darrell Bevell

The sell

The Jacksonville Jaguars’ interim head coach has a Super Bowl ring from when he was Russell Wilson’s first offensive coordinator with the Seattle Seahawks. He also coordinated the Detroit Lions offense when Matthew Stafford had one of the best stretches of his career in 2019.

Upside

From 2012 to 2015, the Seattle Seahawks had one of the five best offenses in the league by DVOA, and Bevell could be a draw if the Broncos are trying to bring Russell Wilson to Denver. His offensive system looks like it’d be an especially good fit for Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick, and Javonte Williams.

Risk

2021 is the first time Bevell’s ever held a top job, and what happens if Wilson doesn’t join the Broncos? Detroit’s offense cratered without Stafford in 2019 and looked pedestrian in 2020. Trevor Lawrence owns a fair share of the Jacksonville Jaguars’ issues this year, but the play calls and personnel decisions warrant scrutiny.

While the Paton short list has drawn a ton of interest (and consternation), so much has changed in the last three months. Knowing what we know now, who else makes sense?

Doug Pederson

The sell

He made the dance three times across five years in Philly with a starting quarterback missing 12 games. With Nick Foles starting for the injured Carson Wentz, Pederson led the Philadelphia Eagles on a magical Super Bowl run in 2017. His ouster in 2020 had as much to do with roster problems as any failings by the coach.

Upside

Pederson’s had three winning seasons in Philly, and one of the exceptions was Wentz’s rookie season. He was willing to play the rookie through his lumps and found ways to win games multiple times with a backup. While there’s always going to be some who believe Frank Reich was the primary reason for Nick Foles’ success, Philly found a way to win a playoff game the Chicago Bears in 2018 while Reich coached the Indianapolis Colts.

Risk

Pederson’s Eagles collapsed to a 4-11-1 record in 2020 and finished last in a putrid NFC East. A clash of wills with Wentz was a huge issue for the Eagles throughout 2020, and it got so toxic that the duo went two months without speaking. While he was an OC for the Chiefs, Andy Reid called plays and Philly’s offense peaked at 7th overall with Reich calling plays in 2017. Foles’ performance in 2017 happened in part because Philly had one of the most talented rosters in the NFL, which contributed to the cap issues they’re currently dealing with.

Nathaniel Hackett

The sell

If Paton hopes to acquire Aaron Rodgers, Hackett probably gives the Broncos their best chance to replicate the Green Bay Packers’ offense after coordinating it since 2019.

Upside

Just 42, Hackett’s already served as an OC for three different NFL teams. While Matt LaFleur is Green Bay’s play caller, this will be the third straight year the Packers are a top 10 red zone offense, and Hackett’s role in that shouldn’t be ignored. He called the plays for two top 13 red zone offenses during his stint with the Jaguars despite having Blake Bortles at quarterback. Doug Marrone thought enough of Hackett’s job as OC in Buffalo that he hired him for the same post in Jacksonville.

Risk

What if Rodgers doesn’t move to Denver? Matt LaFleur and Aaron Rodgers are obviously a huge part of the success in Green Bay and Hackett’s stints with the Jaguars and Bills are mostly disappointing. He’s never been a head coach before.

Kellen Moore

The sell

The 33-year-old wunderkind is coordinating the highest scoring offense in the NFL.

Upside

While the Cowboys’ talent is obviously a huge part of their success, Moore’s offense is hard to defend because there’s so many different parts to it. They’re very good at using tempo, motion, and play action to toy with opponents. He will also go with unconventional looks to stress the rules of a defense. Moore’s run scheme also looks like a clean fit for the Broncos’ core offensive linemen. A former backup quarterback who stuck in the league for six years after going undrafted out of Boise State, he has experiences and perspective that could be an asset to a rookie quarterback.

Risk

Moore began his coaching career in 2018 so there’s a lot of unknowns. He’s never coached for any team but Dallas and the Cowboys have been rich in talent the entire time. The offense cratered when Andy Dalton filled in for Dak Prescott in 2020. While the Cowboys’ currently lead the league by point per game this season, they’re the 15th best red zone offense by DVOA.

Todd Bowles

The sell

He’s a former head coach who played an instrumental role in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Super Bowl win over Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs last season. It also doesn’t hurt that the further we get from Bowles’ time coaching the New York Jets, the better it looks.

Upside

He led the New York Jets to their best season this century with Ryan Fitzpatrick starting at quarterback. Bowles has found success calling plays across multiple spots in the NFL with the Arizona Cardinals and Buccaneers having top 10 defenses by DVOA in each of his seasons calling plays. The young core players on the Broncos’ defense such as Patrick Surtain II, Baron Browning, and Jonathon Cooper look like strong fits for his system.

Risk

Bowles tends to call a very aggressive brand of defense that can lead to big plays for either side in a contest. His 2015 Jets finished with the sixth best defense in the league by DVOA, but they were below average across the rest of his tenure.

Brian Daboll

The sell

Daboll is an experienced play caller who won five Super Bowls as an assistant with the New England Patriots and a National Title calling plays for the Alabama Crimson Tide. The way Daboll’s offense evolved around his core talent in Buffalo provides plenty of hope that he could adapt and thrive with the Broncos’ personnel.

Upside

As Josh Allen improved, Daboll continued to morph the offense around the strengths of his quarterback. Daboll’s one of the more innovative play callers in the league and the Bills frequently utilize RPOs, play action, and motion. The Buffalo run game looks like it’d be a good fit for the Broncos’ personnel up front.

Risk

How much of Daboll’s success as an OC is just Allen being a unicorn? Daboll’s technically a branch off the Belichick coaching tree that’s bore little fruit in the league. While the talent deficiencies certainly played a role, his stints calling plays for the Cleveland Browns, Miami Dolphins, and Kansas City Chiefs were mostly disappointing.

Byron Leftwich

The sell

Leftwich’s ability to blend Tom Brady’s favorite concepts into the Bucs’ vertical passing game was a critical part in the Super Bowl run last season.

Upside

The Buccaneers have had a top three offense each of the last two years and Arians routinely gives Leftwich a ton of credit for their success. The seventh pick of the 2003 NFL Draft has worn a lot of hats since. He’s been a franchise quarterback, a backup, a quarterback coach, and an offensive coordinator. His experiences make an intriguing fit if the Broncos plan to invest a first round pick into a passer.

Risk

Can Leftwich succeed without Arians and Brady? Leftwich remains pretty callow as a coach after joining the Cardinals in 2017. In his one season without Bruce Arians, the Cardinals offense was historically bad. The Bucs offense with Arians, Leftwich, and Jameis Winston finished 2019 with the 23rd best offense by DVOA and the quarterback threw 30 interceptions. An early interviewee with Jacksonville, there’s a realistic possibility he’s locked in on the Jaguars job.

Poll

Who should the Broncos hire as head coach?

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    Jonathan Gannon - Eagles DC
    (13 votes)
  • 0%
    Scott Turner - WFT OC
    (15 votes)
  • 9%
    Dan Quinn - Cowboys DC
    (402 votes)
  • 1%
    Jason Garrett - Former coach
    (51 votes)
  • 0%
    Leslie Frazier - Bills DC
    (32 votes)
  • 1%
    Darrell Bevell - Jaguars OC and interim HC
    (47 votes)
  • 14%
    Doug Pederson - Former coach
    (608 votes)
  • 18%
    Nathaniel Hackett - Packers OC
    (765 votes)
  • 18%
    Kellen Moore - Cowboys OC
    (771 votes)
  • 3%
    Todd Bowles - Bucs DC
    (137 votes)
  • 10%
    Brian Daboll - Bills OC
    (445 votes)
  • 5%
    Byron Leftwich - Bucs OC
    (241 votes)
  • 13%
    Other (please comment)
    (556 votes)
4083 votes total Vote Now