For all of his failures this season (and there are too many to count), Denver Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett deserves credit for one undisputed home run of a move: bringing in former secondary coach and passing game coordinator Ejiro Evero to run his defense.
The rookie defensive coordinator has been nothing short of phenomenal for the Broncos, as despite the 3-6 record sitting next to the team’s name, Evero’s defense has put them in position to win nearly every game. The team is literally 18 points away from being 8-1 on the season, but alas, as great as the defense is, the offense is equally terrible.
Regardless of offensive woes and a losing record, the team still sits at the top of the league’s defensive ranks. Following the team’s most recent loss to the Tennessee Titans, Evero’s unit finds themselves ranked second in total defense, first in passing defense, 13th in rushing defense, and first in scoring defense, allowing just 16.6 points per game.
More impressive, he has led the unit this far while fighting injuries to key players all season. Star safety Justin Simmons had to be placed on IR after a week 1 injury and could not return until the week 6 matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers. His partner at the back of the defense, Caden Sterns, who had been having a breakout second year, went down at almost the same time Simmons returned and officially hit IR on October 28th. Offseason pass rushing signee Randy Gregory would hit IR following a week 4 injury against the Las Vegas Raiders, and another sophomore breakout star, pass rusher Baron Browning went down in week 7 vs the New York Jets. Middle linebacker Josey Jewell has also been forced to miss time.
And yet? The defense soldiered on, so much to the point that even without Browning, Gregory, the recently traded Bradley Chubb, and a coming-off-a-nasty-illness Nik Bonitto, the team held superstar running back Derrick Henry to just 58 yards on 19 carries last week. And remember, based on the NFL statistical rankings, the run D is the unit’s “weak link”. Not too shabby.
As a result of these successes, Evero’s name has begun to surface as a potential offseason target for teams looking for a head coach. At 41 years old, he is young, but not inexperienced, and he has cut his teeth in the league for 15 years. That experience along with his product on the field this season has people talking, most recently Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network, who dropped Evero’s name as one to watch in the offseason.
Here’s what he had to say:
Broncos DC Ejiro Evero, 41: Evero’s defense has been a bright spot in a frustrating season for Denver, allowing 19 points or fewer in eight of nine games. Born in Colchester, England, Evero grew up in California, played safety at UC-Davis and signed with the Raiders as an undrafted free agent (they released him a few months later) before embarking on a coaching career. He has coached all three phases — offense, defense and special teams — at various spots and been well regarded at each stop over 15 NFL seasons, including the past five with the Rams, winning a Super Bowl last season as Los Angeles’ secondary coach/passing game coordinator. This is still just Evero’s first year as an NFL coordinator, but he doesn’t get rattled and has shown a knack for adjusting on game day. Learning from the likes of Vic Fangio in San Francisco, Mike McCarthy and Dom Capers in Green Bay and Sean McVay with the Rams has given Evero a unique blend of perspectives.
Given the horrid path the season has taken for the Broncos as a result of offensive ineptitude and mismanaged game plans, it is becoming less of a possibility and more of a certainty that Nathaniel Hackett will not return for a second season as head coach. Should the team lose at home to the hapless Las Vegas Raiders, who just lost to a team coached by an ESPN analyst who had never coached a game, it would not be surprising to see the plug pulled not long after.
One name being floated as a potential replacement is the man who many thought would get the job this past offseason, Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who could possibly bring Brian Schottenheimer with him to run his offense. Schottenheimer, an analyst for the Cowboys this season, was the Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinator from 2018-2020, a period when the ‘Hawks put up some silly video game offensive numbers with Russell Wilson.
Quinn could also potentially retain Evero if this were indeed the case, as speculated by Broncos insider Benjamin Allbright.
I wanted Dan Quinn last cycle. Likely brings Brian Schottenheimer with him and keeps Evero. https://t.co/059rHgGnRI— Benjamin Allbright (@AllbrightNFL) November 15, 2022
It was gossiped at the time when Schottenheimer made his exit from Seattle that Wilson was less than content with his coordinator, but Allbright says that is not the case.
I can tell you this is absolutely false.— Benjamin Allbright (@AllbrightNFL) November 15, 2022
Russ and Schotty were on the same page, it was someone else that wanted him gone. https://t.co/b7K0swaQA6
Even if it wasn’t a nothing burger, and Wilson was unhappy, one would think after this season he would embrace his return to his side like a long lost brother.
Back to Evero, though, it would be the best possible scenario if Denver could both bring in an experienced head coach, a dynamic offensive play caller while retaining their superstar defensive coordinator. If the defense keeps showing out, though, Evero’s star will continue to rise, and he may very well entertain multiple opportunities to be a head coach.
If Hackett lasts the season, it is difficult to see the Broncos hiring from within, as the new ownership group will not want to take any chances of anything from this season carrying over, even if the team will be led by the one legitimate coach. However, should Hackett be removed early, it would be the perfect opportunity to see what the Broncos have.
Senior defensive assistant Dom Capers at one time seemed like the most likely interim candidate if a midseason firing took place, as he is the most experienced in the building and has extensive experience as a head coach. But if the Broncos are at risk to lose Evero in the offseason, why not see what he can do when he is the one making all the calls?
The season is almost certainly no longer salvageable, so making the interim decision on who has the most experience seems like a waste. Elevating Evero (sounds like a great name for a feel-good underdog movie, by the way) would be a win-win for the team.
If he can’t get anything going, and the team looks just as dysfunctional on the offensive end, no harm no foul. But if, say, he turns play calling duties over to quarterback coach Klint Kubiak, and the offense starts to find their rhythm, Wilson starts playing better, and the game management is drastically improved, the team may have unearthed a gem.
The risk, of course, with making him interim and seeing success would be that he would have his pick of jobs after the season, and there’s no guarantee he would want to stay in Denver. He grew up in California, so who’s to say he wouldn’t want, say, the Chargers job if the team moves on from Brandon Staley?
Yet, given his familiarity with his team now, it’s hard to picture the Broncos at least not being given first right of refusal by him and his camp. And after all the awfulness of the season, it wouldn’t be the worst thing if something great came out of it.
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