The Denver Broncos announced Monday that they’ve fired head coach Nathaniel Hackett just 15 games into his tenure with the team. The Broncos are the third NFL club to part ways with their head coach this season, joining the Panthers and Colts. With more vacancies expected around the league, Denver will get a slight head start on its coaching search. Let’s take a look at the top candidates to replace Hackett in the Mile High City.
Head Coach Candidates the Broncos Should Consider
A lack of results with Russell Wilson, horrendous game and clock management, and in-fighting in the locker room and on the sideline all contributed to Hackett’s downfall. What will the Broncos look for in their next head coach?
Dan Quinn, Dallas Cowboys DC
When Broncos general manager George Paton conducted his coaching search last offseason, there were reportedly three names on the finalist list: Hackett, Kevin O’Connell, and Dan Quinn. Denver’s ownership has expressed confidence in Paton moving forward, and if he’s leading the search again, it stands to reason that many of the same candidates could be involved.
Quinn has been outstanding as the Cowboys’ defensive coordinator over the past two seasons, but he also offers something Hackett didn’t: extensive head coaching experience. He went 43-42 as the Falcons’ head coach from 2015-20 and nearly won a Super Bowl trophy.
Quinn has handled the ups and downs of serving as an NFL head coach and could help the Broncos bounce back from their dreadful 2022 campaign. He’ll likely be one of the first calls Paton makes as he assembles a new roster of HC candidates.
Sean Payton, Free Agent
If he decides to return to the sidelines, Sean Payton will likely be the most coveted coach on the market. As a future Hall of Famer with a Super Bowl ring, Payton will be enticing to nearly every team searching for a head coach.
Payton could help Wilson get out of his funk and design an offense that works to his strengths. And given his longstanding NFL connections, Payton would likely construct an all-star coaching staff.
However, Payton may not be interested in joining the Broncos. He’d be tied to Wilson for at least one — if not two — more years, and if Payton doesn’t believe Wilson’s issues can be fixed, he could be reticent about heading to Denver. Plus, Payton might want carte blanche to rebuild his own decision-making structure, an opportunity he likely wouldn’t receive if Paton sticks with the Broncos.
Plus, the Saints still technically hold Payton’s rights. New Orleans general manager Mickey Loomis is close friends with Payton, so he may want to help Payton get to his preferred destination and be willing to accept reduced compensation in a trade. However, if the Saints hold out for premium picks, the Broncos — who sent two firsts and two seconds to Seattle for Wilson — may not be able to compete in the Payton sweepstakes.
DeMeco Ryans, San Francisco 49ers DC
While DeMeco Ryans received only one head coaching interview during the last cycle, he’ll likely be approached by nearly every team with an opening this time around. He’s well-respected in the 49ers’ locker room, and his on-field results are inarguable.
San Francisco ranks first in the NFL in points allowed, yards per play, and expected points added per play. Their opponents have scored on just 24.5% of their drives, the best mark in the league. Who wouldn’t want to see what Patrick Surtain Jr., Justin Simmons, Randy Gregory, and Baron Browning could do in a Ryans-led defense?
Shane Steichen, Philadelphia Eagles OC
There may not be a coordinator who has improved his stock more this season than Shane Steichen, who has turned the Eagles’ offense into a juggernaut. After transforming Philadelphia into a run-heavy team last year, Steichen has helped move Jalen Hurts into MVP territory while seamlessly integrating A.J. Brown into the Eagles’ scheme.
Steichen isn’t tied to any specific system. Thus, he might be able to assess Wilson and design a scheme that will fit both him and the rest of Denver’s offensive core. However, the Broncos might be wary about turning to another young, unproven head coach, given how their experience with Hackett turned out.
Brian Callahan, Cincinnati Bengals OC
The Broncos interviewed Brian Callahan last offseason, and the Bengals offensive coordinator reportedly impressed Paton and Co. Denver might have the same concerns about Callahan they could about Steichen — Callahan is just 38 years old, and unlike Steichen, he’s never even called plays.
Still, Callahan is crucial to Cincinnati’s weekly game-planning. The Bengals are one of the more adaptable teams in the NFL — they constantly tweak their ideas based on their upcoming opponent, and Callahan is a critical part of that effort. He also worked for the Broncos from 2010-15 and could earn a recommendation from Peyton Manning.