The Broncos made what they hoped would be a long-term coaching hire during the 2022 NFL offseason when they named Nathaniel Hackett the successor to Vic Fangio.
Hackett was fresh off a three-year run with the Packers during which he helped Aaron Rodgers win back-to-back MVPs. He was supposed to help the Broncos provide an upgrade to their stagnant offense, but he was unable to do so.
Denver scuffled out of the gate and never got in a rhythm on offense despite trading for Russell Wilson. The Broncos averaged an NFL-worst 16.9 points per game during the 2022 season, and Hackett was given the axe after a 51-14 loss to the Rams on Christmas Day. His tenure lasted just 15 games, and he posted a 4-11 record in those contests.
With Hackett gone, the Broncos are going back to the drawing board in an effort to fix their broken offense. That doesn’t necessarily mean they will hire an offensive-minded head coach ahead of the 2023 season, but whoever they hire will surely need a plan to reverse Wilson’s regression.
The Broncos are expected to “swing big” in this hiring cycle and are willing to spend whatever is needed to get their top coaching candidate. That will at least give them a chance to land the likes of Sean Payton, though they will cast a wide net in their search in case he lands elsewhere.
Who will be the Broncos’ next head coach? Here’s a look at all of the candidates that Denver has requested to interview for its vacant coaching job, according to various media reports.
Full list of Broncos coaching candidates, interview requests
Sean Payton, former Saints head coach
Payton is looking to return to the NFL after a year-long hiatus. The former Saints coach spent the 2022 season working as a studio analyst for Fox but is looking for the right opportunity to get back into the game.
Payton, 59, helped the Saints win Super Bowl 44 and has a career record of 152-89. The Saints still own his contract, so any team acquiring him would have to make a trade to land Payton. The Broncos may be willing to do this considering his offensive acumen; they have already had a discussion with Payton and have reportedly discussed a trade with New Orleans.
Jim Harbaugh, Michigan head coach
Harbaugh is another offensive-minded coach who got the most out of Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick during his time with the 49ers. The 59-year-old coach posted a 44-19-1 record in four years with San Francisco and helped them reach Super Bowl 47, where they lost to John Harbaugh’s Ravens.
Jim Harbaugh hasn’t coached in the NFL since 2014, but his .695 winning percentage ranks as the sixth-best ever among qualified coaches. That should get him a chance to rejoin the NFL ranks if he is ready to move on from his job at his alma mater.
UPDATE: The Broncos have conducted a virtual interview with Harbaugh, per NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero.
Dan Quinn, Cowboys defensive coordinator
The Broncos interviewed Quinn during their 2022 coaching search before ultimately settling on Hackett. Now, it appears that Quinn is in the mix again after another strong season in charge of the Cowboys defense.
Quinn, 52, has led the Cowboys to a top-10 scoring defense in consecutive seasons, transforming a unit that struggled immensely in 2020 into one of the NFL’s best. He would likely do the same with the Broncos’ already strong defense.
Quinn has two more traits that will make him an attractive option for the Broncos. First, he has head coaching experience with the Falcons; he posted a 43-42 record over five-plus years and led Atlanta to a Super Bowl 51 appearance in a loss against the Patriots. Additionally, Quinn has a relationship with Wilson dating back to his time with the Seahawks, so he should end up being a top candidate for this job.
Raheem Morris, Rams defensive coordinator
Morris was once the NFL’s youngest head coach from 2009 to 2011, when he was the leader of the Buccaneers. That stint didn’t work out, but he has remained in the NFL since, and the 46-year-old has established himself as a strong defensive coordinator and assistant head coach in recent years with the Falcons and Rams.
Morris has a career record of 21-38 in three seasons as a head coach and 11 games as an interim in place of Quinn in Atlanta. He is another candidate who could improve Denver’s defense, so he can’t be ruled out — especially if he can bring a quality offensive mind over from the Sean McVay coaching tree.
DeMeco Ryans, 49ers defensive coordinator
Ryans is the latest member of Kyle Shanahan’s staff to draw head coaching looks across the NFL. The 38-year-old is young, but he has 10 years of NFL experience as a player for the Texans and Eagles and has been on the 49ers coaching staff since 2017.
Ryans’ defense has been the best in the NFL during the 2022 NFL season, ranking first in both yards and points allowed per game. His defense in 2021, his only other year as a coordinator, also was a top-10 unit. He also brings a lot of energy to the sideline, much like his predecessor Robert Saleh, and that could be of interest to a Denver team that often looked lackadaisical in 2022.
Ejiro Evero, Broncos defensive coordinator
Though Hackett’s tenure in Denver was a failure, his defensive coordinator hire turned out to be a good one. Evero led the Broncos to a top-10 defense in terms of yards allowed and managed to generate plenty of pass rush pressure even after Bradley Chubb was traded away.
Evero, 42, is considered an up-and-comer in the coaching ranks and could soon be a head coach. He may need another season as a high-level coordinator — 2022 was his first in charge of a defense — but it makes sense that the Broncos would consider him for their opening.
Jim Caldwell, former Colts and Lions head coach
Caldwell, 67, has been out of the NFL since 2019, but the veteran coach has a record of 62-50 in seven seasons as an NFL head coach and has a good track record of developing quarterbacks. He helped Peyton Manning and Joe Flacco win Super Bowls as an offensive coordinator, reached a Super Bowl as Colts head coach and helped Matthew Stafford put together some of the best seasons of his career in Detroit.
Caldwell could be among the best bets to help Wilson bounce back after a dreadful 2022 season. The Broncos shouldn’t be afraid to give him a chance if he wants to return to the NFL.
David Shaw, former Stanford Cardinal head coach
After 12 years at the Helm, Shaw stepped down from his post at Stanford, going 96-54 in his career. Shaw is no stranger to the NFL.
He previously coached nine seasons as an assistant in the NFL, holding the position of quality control coach for the Eagles in 1997, the same position with the Raiders from 1998-2000 and QB coach for the Raiders in 2001 before before becoming the quarterbacks and receivers for the Ravens from 2002-04 and the just the receivers in 2005.
Shaw has connections to the Broncos, too. Condoleezza Rice, who is among the Denver ownership group and hiring committee, has deep ties with Stanford University. Rice is currently the director of the Hoover Institution at Stanford, and has served in other various leadership roles with the university, including as the 10th Provost of the university, which overlapped with Shaw’s time as a student athlete in Palo Alto.