A year ago, the Denver Broncos entered the market in search of a new head coach, one they hoped would provide long-term stability that could attract and support a veteran quarterback and return the franchise to Super Bowl-contention status.
That, of course, did not transpire. Nathaniel Hackett, the coach the Broncos tabbed to run the team, didn’t even survive the entire season, losing his job with two games remaining. The signal-caller acquired soon after Hackett’s arrival, Russell Wilson, delivered the worst campaign of his career by a significant margin. The two came to exemplify Denver’s failures in 2022.
With the Broncos again looking for a new direction, they have cast a wide net as it pertains to candidates ranging from former Super Bowl winners to potential first-time head coaches. General manager George Paton remains in place and will influence the direction of the search, but the team’s new ownership group appears likely to take a more hands-on approach given the circumstances.
A head coach with the Indianapolis Colts and Detroit Lions, Jim Caldwell would provide the Broncos with experience and a steady hand. That seems especially noteworthy given the team’s last three hires took the job without ever previously holding a head-coaching position. Caldwell's best season in the big chair remains his first — a 14-2 Colts squad that reached the Super Bowl — but that came with league MVP Peyton Manning under center. Squeezing comparable play out of Wilson will prove more difficult.
Despite all of the Broncos’ issues in 2022, the defense performed impressively throughout. That play came in large part thanks to defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero. When Denver removed Hackett with multiple weeks left in the season, the team initially turned to Evero to replace him on an interim basis. Evero reportedly declined in order to focus on the defense and limit disruption. Regardless, he has garnered interest from multiple franchises in this cycle, not just the Broncos.
The defensive coordinator on the reigning Super Bowl champions, Raheem Morris has interviewed for head-coaching positions for three consecutive cycles. Though only 46, Morris has actually served as a head coach before, holding the position with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2009-11. Morris has grown since then and seems more ready to handle the job this time around.
The belle of the ball, former New Orleans Saints headman Sean Payton has received interview requests from nearly every team with an opening. Payton has a well deserved reputation as one of the game’s premier offensive minds and a Super Bowl ring on his résumé. Because he remains under contract with the Saints, any club interested in hiring him will have to provide compensation (presumably draft picks) in addition to the hefty salary Payton will command. Denver already lacks a first-round pick in the upcoming draft due to last year’s trade for Wilson, so losing more selections would put the team into an even larger bind.
After fizzling out as the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, Dan Quinn has resurrected his reputation over the past two seasons with the Dallas Cowboys. No longer running a copy of a copy of the Legion of Boom-era Seattle Seahawks defense, Quinn has resurfaced as a viable head-coaching candidate. He interviewed for jobs last offseason before ultimately pulling out of consideration. This year feels like the time for the veteran coach to land back in the big chair somewhere.
In a short amount of time, DeMeco Ryans has established himself as one of the NFL’s premier defensive coordinators with the San Francisco 49ers. The team has reached the NFC Championship Game for the second straight year thanks in large part to Ryans’ unit. And while the 49ers possess immense talent on defense — including Defensive Player of the Year front-runner Nick Bosa — Ryans’ play-calling and in-game tweaks have largely negated weaknesses in the secondary. Ryans drew interest for head-coaching positions last year and has interviewed for multiple teams in this cycle.
Who should the Broncos hire as their next head coach?
Though the inherent financial and draft-pick cost of acquiring Payton should give the Broncos some pause, he remains the option with the highest upside. His track record with building offenses and leading a team rank second to none in this cycle, and Denver could use his experience as it navigates under new ownership. The team would have to restructure its organizational chart to fit Payton’s needs, but as long as Paton can accept those changes, Payton seems like the call.