Nathaniel Hackett is out and the Denver Broncos are once again in the market for a Head Coach. We have two weeks left in the regular season and no names have been officially announced as coaches who are interested or will interview, but plenty of rumors and discussions are happening.
The Broncos Head Coaching search will be led by new Owner/CEO Greg Penner and their deep pockets open up plenty of options for them. He noted that leadership and culture will be key attributes he will be looking for during the interview process. He also noted that the new coach will report directly to him which indicates that the new coach will have more power than the previous coaches.
So, with all that known, I am going to rank my top 10 choices for the next Denver Broncos Head Coach. I am combining my preferences with what is realistic to come up with this list. Remember, this is all hypothetical since no reports of actual candidates have come out, but for discussion's sake, I am going to take a shot at ranking the potential candidates.
1. Michigan Head Coach, Jim Harbaugh
It just makes too much sense.
Penner wants a “CEO type” as his Head Coach. He wants someone to set a culture, oversee all aspects of the team, and obviously be a winner. Harbaugh checks all these boxes. He is a proven winner in the NFL and he could help “fix” or develop a scheme that could get the most out of quarterback Russell Wilson or whoever is under center for the Broncos.
It is no secret that Harbaugh wants back in the NFL. He interviewed for the Vikings job last year and wants to win a Super Bowl still. So, if the right job opens up, he could be persuaded to leave Michigan and coach in the NFL once again. He also has a buy-out in his contract which is another sign of his willingness to potentially leave Michigan.
Another reason this could happen is his relationship with the part owner, Condoleezza Rice. They have a connection and friendship dating back to their time at Stanford. She would help him with recruiting and now, Rice will be part of the Broncos' Head Coaching search. So, her involvement in the search and as part owner of the team could help sway him as well.
Finally, and probably the most important thing when it comes to persuading Harbaugh is money. He is making $7 million dollars at Michigan. The Broncos could easily double or triple that or even make him the highest-paid coach in the NFL right now. We don’t know how aggressive or free the new owners will be with their money, but it seems like they’ll do what it takes to get what they want.
When you are by far the wealthiest owners in the NFL, you need to flex that financial muscle when you can and I think they will here. Will it all be enough to convince Harbaugh to leave Michigan? We shall see.
2. Retired Head Coach, Sean Payton
This seems like a pipe dream and unlikely to happen realistically, but the aggressive ownership could push for a high-profile coach like Payton to turn things around.
Like Harbaugh, Payton checks all the boxes. He is proven, has the experience, will bring culture and likely success with him, and is likely a coach who can make a quick turnaround with this team. However, there are some annoying hurdles that make Payton seem unlikely.
Early speculation is linking Sean Payton to the Broncos. Would Payton want the job? Here are a look at some of the potentially relevant factors. https://t.co/A1WsQAlsZ5— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) December 27, 2022
He is still under contract with the Saints so any interested team would need to make a trade for him. This would likely cost a first-round pick or more to acquire his services and the Broncos have already traded away two first-round picks last year. So, would it really be worth it to trade away even more assets to acquire a coach like Payton? Short-term, it will sting, but long-term, it would likely be worth it.
Now, would Payton even want to come here? There are reports out there, especially by Benjamin Allbright stating that Payton doesn’t want the Broncos. So, there is that as well.
Now, despite all this, I have Payton ranked second. I am doing this because outside of Harbaugh, there are not many other experienced options out there who would be hired and given the power over GM George Paton and expected to change the culture and have success in year one. So, if it’s not Harbaugh, it has to be Payton, right?
3. Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator, Dan Quinn
There is a big drop-off after the first two, but the next best-experienced candidate is the current Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator, Dan Quinn.
He was the favorite for the Broncos job last year, but ultimately dropped out of all Head Coaching searches and decided to return to the Cowboys for one more year. Now, he is expected to be one of the top candidates available once again this year. So, will the Broncos have the same level of interest?
I say this because the big reason for the connection was Quinn’s connection with GM George Paton. Now, with Paton not running the search, and the Head Coach having more power than the GM, it doesn’t make sense for Quinn to be their guy.
However, he fits the experience/culture role that Penner is looking for. He led a team to the Super Bowl, has some familiarity with quarterback Russell Wilson and can bring staff members who have worked with Russ as well. So, because of all that, I have him third on this list. If we take away the experience boost, I would lower Quinn to the bottom of this list.
4. Former Stanford Head Coach, David Shaw
When I made my initial list of possible candidates, I left Shaw off it. To be honest with you, I didn’t think of him, but since then, I have seen his name mentioned, and it makes a lot of sense.
David Shaw is a well-respected college coach who has NFL coaching experience as well. He was never a Head Coach in the NFL, but he spent about a decade in the NFL as a coach. So, he wouldn’t be one of those college coaches trying to transition to the NFL without any experience at this level.
The reason I have him this high is that he checks a lot of boxes that Penner and the Broncos are looking for. He can be the “CEO” of the team, allowing his coordinators to do their job while he is the Head Coach. He can set a culture as he did at Stanford and that Stanford connection should help his case as well.
There are some drawbacks. His lack of innovation while at Stanford was a common complaint by fans and the Stanford program has not been good recently. He resigned from his job earlier this year as well. So, there could be some risk here as well.
He might be a tad high on this list, but I can see him being considered by the Broncos.
5. Denver Broncos defensive coordinator, Ejiro Evero
I didn’t know where to rank the in-house candidate, so I put him in the middle.
Evero is the Denver Broncos' defensive coordinator and is enjoying a successful first season in that role. He was brought in by recently fired Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett and the two are best friends. This relationship is reportedly why Evero turned down the chance to be the interim Head Coach. Under that logic, why would he interview for the Head Coaching job? General Manager George Paton did say they “hope” to interview Evero for the vacancy, so we shall see if that happens or not.
GM George Paton said the Broncos hope to interview Ejiro Evero as one of the candidates for the head-coaching vacancy.— Aric DiLalla (@AricDiLalla) December 27, 2022
Evero is expected to be a hot coaching candidate this year but doesn’t really seem like a fit for the Broncos' job. He is just finishing up his first year as a defensive coordinator and has no head coaching experience in his background. So, he doesn’t have the experience that the Broncos are looking for. As they said, it’s not required, but it will be something they value.
Also, I do not see them taking power away from General Manager George Paton, who has been Evero’s boss, and giving it to an inexperienced first-time coach like Evero. That just doesn’t make much sense. So, I think the Broncos hope Evero sticks around as defensive coordinator or nets them two third-round selections because of the Rooney Rule compensation rule.
6. Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator, Shane Steichen
Of all the first-time coaching candidates, Steichen is my personal favorite. He has called the plays for the Eagles these past two seasons and has had great success with that. He helped lead the Eagles into the playoffs last year and this year, the Eagles are the number one seed in the NFC and quarterback Jalen Hurts is an MVP frontrunner.
Also, Steichen’s work with Jalen Hurts is a big reason why he’s a popular head coaching candidate this year. He helped turn what many believed to be a “run-first quarterback” into a well-rounded passer who quickly turned into one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. Another trait Steichen has shown is his ability to create an offense that fits the strengths of his players. This is something that should be enticing for the Broncos who currently have the league's worst offense and a broken quarterback on the roster currently.
While he lacks the experience likely needed for this job, he does seem like someone who could impress during the interviews and win a team over. Especially one that needs a lot of help on offense and at quarterback like the Broncos do. However, I am not sure about his leadership/culture-changing ability. He seems like an X and O’s guy who might not fit the “CEO” type coach many believe the Broncos are looking for.
If it didn’t seem like the Broncos would be chasing an experienced flashy hire, I would have Steichen much higher on this list. He’s my personal favorite and I’d rank him ahead of Dan Quinn and others.
7. 49ers defensive coordinator, DeMeco Ryans
Ryans is another popular first-time head coaching candidate that is expected to make the rounds during the interviewing process. The former NFL linebacker has the 49ers' defense playing at a high level and he is looking like a bright and up-and-coming coaching candidate.
Another thing that makes Ryans enticing is that he is coming from the Kyle Shanahan coaching tree. You are seeing a lot of successful coaches in the NFL who have either coached with or under Shanahan during their careers. I fully believe Ryans is the next successful one.
Now, like Steichen, he lacks the necessary experience they are looking for as Head Coach. However, as a former player/Pro Bowler, he may have the leadership and culture-building qualities that they desire. Add in what he has learned from Shanahan, and you have an intriguing candidate here.
It would be odd to see the Broncos hire Ryans over Evero when both are comparable and Evero is already in the building. Also, like all the other potential first-year candidates on this list, it doesn’t make sense to give such an inexperienced candidate so much power from the start. So, while I think he may get a look, I don’t see him as a likely candidate with everything we know currently.
8. Former Colts Head Coach, Frank Reich
Reich, the mastermind behind the Eagles Super Bowl run with Nick Foles was fired by the Colts earlier this year. However, he is still an intriguing experienced coach who could be just what the Broncos need at Head Coach and on offense.
I have Reich this low because it just seems like an underwhelming hire. Also, watching his Colts teams lose to a bad Jaguars team last year in the season finale that knocked them out of the postseason has left a bad taste in my mouth as well.
Don’t get me wrong, Reich is a good coach and may very well be a good Head Coach in the NFL still, but I just don’t see him being the coach the Broncos want. He is more known as an offensive guru than a leader and his culture-building skills are debatable after witnessing what happened in Indy that led to his firing.
However, he is an experienced coach who could help this offense and stabilize that position within the organization. With all that said, I just see the Broncos swinging for something better than Reich. He may need to re-prove himself as an offensive coordinator again before he gets another crack at a head coaching gig anyway.
9. Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator, Leslie Fraizer
This seems like John Fox 2.0
Fraizer is a good coach, is a former Head Coach, has a connection with Paton, and likely deserves another crack at being a Head Coach in the NFL. He has the experience that the Broncos are looking for, he can build a winning culture in that locker room, and just be a professional “CEO” type coach for the Broncos.
It won’t be flashy, and his coordinator picks will be key, but like John Fox, he is the type of coach you need after how abysmal Nathaniel Hackett was, but it would just seem underwhelming.
If the Broncos swing and miss at the top sexy options and are facing the options of a first-time Head Coach or a coach like Fraizer, I can be talked into it. However, I just do not see the offense really getting fixed in a scenario like this.
10. New England Patriots inside linebacker’s coach, Jerod Mayo
My final pick is a total wild card. He is inexperienced and has never even been a coordinator, let alone a Head Coach, but he just fits the mold of what they want.
Mayo interviewed for the Broncos job last year and reportedly impressed the search committee and I could see them visiting with him again this time around.
What makes Mayo a potential candidate is his leadership, businessman background, and the potential to be a culture-building coach for the Broncos. He was a team leader, Pro Bowler, All-Pro, and Super Bowl-winning player for the Patriots during their dynasty run. He knows what it takes and should have no issues earning the respect of a locker room.
All that will be attractive to Penner and the Broncos. Another thing that could be a draw for Penner is Mayo’s experience in the corporate world. After retiring, he worked in financial services for a bit before returning to football and coaching with the Patriots.
He would be a risky hire, but he does check a lot of boxes and has impressed many executives during previous interviews. The Broncos are looker for a leader, culture changer, and someone to lead their team and Mayo could be the unexpected fit for them.