One year after hiring Nathaniel Hackett as their head coach, the Denver Broncos are at it again. Hackett didn’t even last one full season, so general manager George Paton and the rest of Denver’s decision-makers are conducting the second Broncos head coach search in as many years. With new ownership in place, the Broncos are going big-game hunting and trying to land a high-profile coach.
Denver Broncos Head Coach Candidates Ranked
Money is no object for the Broncos’ owners, as the Walton family is the richest ownership group in the NFL. With Jim Harbaugh staying at the University of Michigan, Denver now has seven coaches on its interview list. Let’s rank the Broncos’ head coaching candidates as their search ramps up.
1) Sean Payton, Former Saints Head Coach
Sean Payton‘s potential return to the NFL sidelines has been fascinating to watch. Not only is Payton about to embark on the head coaching interview circuit, but he’s also a member of the media with FOX Sports. On Monday, Payton spoke candidly about the process with Colin Cowherd, reiterating that stable ownership is his top priority.
Payton, who is still under contract with the Saints, also confirmed reports that New Orleans will likely want a mid-to-late first-round pick in exchange for his rights. The Broncos traded their first-rounder to the Seahawks as part of the Russell Wilson package, but they picked up another first-round selection when they sent Bradley Chubb to the Dolphins at the trade deadline.
Denver is a well-respected, legacy franchise in the NFL, and the club’s new ownership makes the Broncos an appealing landing spot. But although Denver has a lot of interesting pieces on its roster, Wilson’s massive contract and poor play ould conceivably make Payton wary of heading to the Mile High City.
Still, the Broncos planned to be “ultra-aggressive” in their head coaching search, and Payton is the most accomplished coach on the market. It still seems possible Payton could wait until 2024 to make his NFL return, but he does appear to be the leading candidate for the Broncos, per the Washington Post’s Mark Maske, who also reports Payton would be “happy to work with” Wilson.
2) Dan Quinn, Cowboys Defensive Coordinator
If Payton lands with another club, Dan Quinn will likely be the Broncos’ preferred choice as head coach. Denver is searching for someone with previous head coaching experience, which Quinn — the Falcons’ head coach from 2015-20 — can boast.
Additionally, Quinn was considered an early frontrunner for the Broncos’ top position last offseason before Denver ultimately landed on Hackett. If Paton was a fan of Quinn last season, the Cowboys’ defensive coordinator could have a leg up on the rest of the competition. However, it must be noted that new Broncos CEO Greg Penner will be leading the interview process, with Paton advising.
Since joining Dallas, Quinn has been open about his changing approach and growth mindset. He honed in on the weaknesses of his Seahawks-based defensive scheme and was willing to change his stripes with the Cowboys, and that willingness to adapt should make Quinn a hot commodity this cycle.
3) DeMeco Ryans, 49ers Defensive Coordinator
Unlike nearly every other candidate on Denver’s list, Demeco Ryans has never been a head coach. Still, he’s a well-respected leader and coordinator, and four of the five teams with vacancies have expressed interest in interviewing him this offseason.
As a former player who retired just eight years ago, the 38-year-old Ryans is well-equipped to relate to and manage today’s NFL players. Given some of the intrapersonal conflicts that have reportedly arisen in the Broncos’ locker room, Ryans might be an ideal candidate to mediate any problems that arise.
Of course, he’s not too shabby as a defensive coordinator, either. No team gave up fewer points this season than San Francisco, and they also ranked first — by a wide margin — in expected points added per play.
Defense wasn’t necessarily an issue for the Broncos last season, so Ryans would need to prove he can bring in a solid offensive staff. Coming from the 49ers, Ryans likely has a large Rolodex of Kyle Shanahan-inspired offensive coaches he could call on.
4) Ejiro Evero, Broncos Defensive Coordinator
After firing Hackett, the Broncos wanted to make Ejiro Evero their interim head coach for the final two games of the season. However, Evero declined the opportunity due to loyalty to Hackett, his former college teammate and one of his best friends.
The Broncos are trying to forget about the Hackett fiasco, so it would be a little odd for them to retain Evero as their full-time head coach. Evero undoubtedly did a wonderful job last season, as Denver ranked inside the top 10 in most defensive metrics. But the Broncos would be better served to clean house.
Evero is interviewing with the Colts, Texans, and Panthers, so he could land a head coaching job with another franchise. If he doesn’t, he’ll likely become one of the highest-paid coordinators in the NFL.
5) Raheem Morris, Rams Defensive Coordinator
Raheem Morris has done a little bit of everything in the NFL. He became one of the youngest NFL coaches in league history when he took over the Buccaneers at age 32. He has experience on the offensive side of the ball, and he also spent five years as a collegiate coach.
Morris may have had a chance to ascend to the Rams’ head coaching position had Sean McVay opted to retire, but McVay decided to return for 2023. Morris, who garnered just one interview among nine vacancies last season, is on two of the five lists this year (Denver, Indianapolis).
The only problem with hiring a defensive mind like Morris, Evero, or Ryans is that the Broncos’ problems are on the offensive side of the ball. Fixing Wilson — or, at least, trying to work through his issues before blowing things up in 2024 — is the No. 1 item on the docket for the next Denver head coach. Morris would have plenty of OC contacts to choose from, but that’s not the same as hiring a proven offensive whiz.
6) Jim Caldwell, Former Lions/Colts Head Coach
Hackett clearly wasn’t ready to be an NFL head coach, but that wouldn’t be a problem for Jim Caldwell, who has a .554 winning percentage in 112 career games in charge. Caldwell, who is also interviewing with the Panthers, would bring an air of stability to the Broncos’ sidelines and locker room following Hackett’s tumultuous run.
However, Denver appears to be searching for more high-profile candidates. Caldwell could get things back on track in Denver, but he wouldn’t bring the fireworks that a Payton hire would.
7) David Shaw, Former Stanford Head Coach
After years of living on the periphery of the NFL interview circuit, David Shaw waited until he resigned from Stanford before finally taking a pro meeting. At present, the Broncos are the only team known to have expressed interest in Shaw.
Shaw posted a great run of success for the Cardinal, but he hadn’t won more than four games in a season before exiting the university last November. While he does have previous NFL experience as an offensive assistant for the Eagles, Raiders, and Ravens, his last gig in the league was in 2005. Twenty years is a long time to be away from the NFL.