After firing Nathaniel Hackett on Dec. 26, the Denver Broncos are in search of a new head coach. As first-year owner Greg Penner takes charge of the process alongside general manager George Paton, the Broncos are going big-game hunting. Experience is a priority for Denver, as evidenced by their initial list of candidates.
Let’s run through where things stand for the Broncos as of Black Monday, including which candidates they’ve already scheduled for interviews.
Latest on the Denver Broncos’ Head Coach Search
Penner and Paton, along with owners Carrie Penner, Rob Walton, and Condoleeza Rice, are leading the Broncos’ second quest for a head coach in as many seasons. Hackett had never been a head coach before coming to Denver, so it’s no surprise that many of the Broncos’ preferred candidates have prior experience leading a team. Here’s who the Broncos are interested in thus far.
Jim Caldwell, Former Colts and Lions Head Coach
Update: Caldwell interviewed with Denver on Jan. 11.
If the Broncos are looking for a veteran head coach, Jim Caldwell makes sense given that he’s led two NFL teams in successful stints. The former Colts and Lions HC interviewed with Denver on Wednesday, reports Josina Anderson CBS Sports.
Caldwell, 67, went 26-22 as Indy’s head coach from 2009-11, then compiled a 36-28 record with Detroit while making two playoff appearances. He also took over as the Ravens’ offensive coordinator just before their playoff run that culminated with a Super Bowl 47 trophy.
Since leaving the Lions, Caldwell has interviewed for head coaching positions with the Green Bay Packers, New York Jets, Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Chicago Bears but has yet to land another HC role.
Ejiro Evero, Broncos Defensive Coordinator
Update: Evero interviewed with Denver on Jan. 10.
The Broncos initially offered Ejiro Evero the interim head coach label after firing Hackett, but he declined the job out of loyalty to Hackett, his former college teammate. Denver is still interested in Evero for the full-time job, and he’ll be the club’s first interviewee at some point this week, per Klis.
Evero only has one year of experience as an NFL coordinator, so he might not be the veteran coach the Broncos are looking for. But he does have a connection with the Denver locker room and could be a candidate for head coaching jobs elsewhere throughout the league.
The Broncos’ defense fell off down the stretch as injuries ravaged the roster and their schedule got tougher. But Evero’s unit still finished top 10 in yards allowed, points allowed, and defensive efficiency.
Jim Harbaugh, University of Michigan Head Coach
Update: Harbaugh interviewed with Denver on Jan. 9 but later announced he’ll be staying at Michigan.
Jim Harbaugh is clearly interested in returning to the NFL after spending the past eight seasons with the Wolverines, and the Broncos have already set up a virtual meeting with the former 49ers head coach. That interview is expected to take place at some point this week.
Harbaugh went 44-19-1 and took San Francisco to three consecutive NFC Championship Games during his last NFL stint, but conflicts with 49ers general manager Trent Baalke eventually led to his ouster. After interviewing with the Vikings last offseason, Harbaugh might flee the NCAA ranks now that he’s under investigation for potential rules violations.
Given that he has a prior relationship with both Rice and former Broncos general manager John Elway through their Stanford ties, Harbaugh could make for a cozy fit in Denver. If he takes the Broncos job, Harbaugh could retain incumbent defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero, who served as a quality control coach and offensive assistant on Harbaugh’s 49ers staff.
Raheem Morris, Rams Defensive Coordinator
Update: Morris interviewed with Denver on Jan. 17.
Raheem Morris is another name to keep an eye on, as the Broncos have requested permission to interview the Rams DC, reports Mike Klis of 9News.
With rumors that Sean McVay could step away from coaching in Los Angeles, Morris could ascend to the head coaching position with the Rams. But if McVay stays in town or LA goes with another replacement, Morris could look elsewhere.
Morris has done it all in the football world. He became one of the NFL’s youngest coaches of all time when he took over the Buccaneers at 32 years old. He coached on the offensive side of the ball as the Falcons’ passing game coordinator from 2015-19 and spent five seasons at the collegiate level.
Although injuries decimated the Rams’ roster, Morris’ unit remained respectable throughout the season. Given his wealth of experience, he’s more than ready for a second shot as an NFL head coach.
Sean Payton, Former Saints Head Coach
Update: Payton interviewed with Denver on Jan. 17. A second interview had been scheduled for Jan. 25 but is now on hold.
Sean Payton is perhaps the most significant name on the 2023 head coaching circuit, as the former Saints head coach is ready to get back on the sideline after taking a year away. Because Payton is still under contract with New Orleans, Denver had to formally request permission to interview him, which they have received, per Adam Schefter of ESPN.
The NFL has ruled that Payton cannot meet with the Saints in person until Jan. 17. According to NFL Media, New Orleans is only willing to grant interview permission to teams comfortable with their asking price, which is believed to be a “first-round pick and more.”
Payton confirmed on FOX that he’s already had a phone conversation with Broncos ownership. As a future Hall of Famer with a .631 career winning percentage and a Super Bowl trophy, Payton would offer Denver the clout they’re apparently searching for in the next head coach.
Dan Quinn, Cowboys Defensive Coordinator
Update: Quinn interviewed with Denver on Jan. 19.
Dan Quinn is no stranger to the Broncos’ coaching search process. Along with Hackett and Kevin O’Connell, Quinn was reportedly one of Denver’s three finalists last offseason. He also interviewed with the Bears, Dolphins, Vikings, and Giants last year before accepting a multi-year contract extension to remain with the Cowboys.
Thus, it’s no surprise that the Broncos have requested permission to meet with him again, as Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reported. Because Quinn’s Cowboys are playing in the Wild Card round, he cannot meet with Denver until the following week. An interview could take place on either Jan. 16 or Jan. 17.
Quinn has the experience the Broncos are looking for, as he guided the Falcons to a 43-42 record and nearly won a Super Bowl. As a coordinator, there hasn’t been anyone better than Quinn over the past two seasons, when the Cowboys’ defense has ranked first in defensive efficiency.
Jerry Rosburg, Broncos Interim Head Coach
Update: Rosburg will not be Denver’s next head coach, but there’s a chance he will return to the Broncos as a member of their new staff.
Jerry Rosburg initially joined the Broncos’ staff in September as a senior assistant tasked with assisting Hackett in game management. Once Hackett was fired, Rosburg became Denver’s interim head coach for the final two games of the season.
Per ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, Rosburg met with the Broncos management at the end of the year and expressed his interest in taking over as the full-time head coach, and Denver will consider him moving forward. Still, it seems unlikely the 67-year-old Rosburg — who’s never been a head coach, offensive coordinator, or defensive coordinator at any level — will emerge as the Broncos’ top option.
DeMeco Ryans, 49ers Defensive Coordinator
Update: Ryans interviewed with Denver on Jan. 19.
DeMeco Ryans might have become a head coach last year had he accepted a second interview with the Vikings, but he opted to remain in San Francisco for at least one more season. Denver will become the latest team to attempt to lure him away, as Klis indicates the Broncos have requested permission to interview Ryans.
Only 38 years old, Ryans doesn’t have the head coach experience Denver is searching for, but he’s garnered the respect of veterans in San Francisco. As a former player, Ryans has the ability to connect in the locker room and on the sideline — even when things weren’t going great.
“I think the best thing he did was remain the exact same person every day, through the highs and lows,” 49ers linebacker Fred Warner said, referencing Ryans’ demeanor after the 49ers’ defense struggled early in the 2021 season. “… Even though we had some rough patches, we had the right foundation, so over time, with more repetition, you’re going to get better.”
San Franciso’s defense finished first in EPA per play by a wide margin, and they also topped the league in points allowed. Defense isn’t necessarily a problem in Denver, though, and Ryans would need to make sure he can find an offensive coordinator capable of helping Russell Wilson turn his career around.
David Shaw, Former Stanford University Head Coach
Update: Shaw interviewed with Denver on Jan. 11.
Former Stanford head coach David Shaw had always declined NFL inquiries in the past, but he finally took an interview with the Broncos on Wednesday. Shaw, 50, had been with the Cardinal since 2007 — and served as head coach since 2011 — before resigning his position in November following consecutive 3-9 campaigns.
Like Harbaugh (his former boss), Shaw’s Stanford ties could help him connect with Elway and Rice, two key individuals in the Denver organization. Shaw is far from an NFL neophyte, as he served in various offensive roles with the Eagles, Raiders, and Ravens from 1997-05.