Mile High Question: Candidates for Broncos’ Head Coach


Under Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett, the Broncos’ offense was a mess. By the time he was fired, the Broncos were 4-11 and produced one of the worst offenses in the NFL. The most notable reason being that Hackett couldn’t get quarterback Russell Wilson to play good at all. Wilson, the player the Broncos traded everything to get, is the focal point of the Broncos offense, so getting him going is essential. 

Now, with Hackett gone, the season over, and a new GM leading the way, who will the Broncos select to get Wilson, and more importantly their team back on track? At the end, we will ask Grandview students this exact question and see the candidate Grandview believes is the best fit. For now though, we will give our top 5 candidates for the Broncos to target.

Former Saints Head Coach, Sean Payton

If any coach can fix the Broncos, it’s Sean Payton. Payton should have enough influence in the locker room to get the team rolling and stop any concerns over team chemistry. He also worked with Hall of Fame QB Drew Brees and made him a feasible player even in the later stages of his career. Could he do the same for Russell Wilson? If there’s any coach that can almost guarantee success, it’s Payton. He is proven to be successful, he brings culture and could turn things around for the Broncos.

These are all the reasons we put Payton as the top choice for the Broncos, but with that being said, it seems very unlikely Payton will end up with the Broncos. He is still under contract with the Saints, so if the Broncos wanted to acquire him they would have to trade, most likely costing a first-round pick. That’s something the Broncos can’t afford, as they already gave up two in the Russell Wilson trade. It’s also reported that if Payton became a head coach, he would hire Vic Fangio to be his Defensive Coordinator. Fangio, the former Broncos head coach, had a 19-30 record with the Broncos and never once had a winning record.

Former 49ers Head Coach and Current Michigan Head Coach, Jim Harbaugh

Jim Harbaugh remains one of the more intriguing candidates for the Broncos Head Coaching Position. With success in both the NFL and in the College game, this head coaching virtuoso deserves a thorough evaluation for the vacancy. Experience as a Head Coach should be number one on the checklist for Denver. Since Gary Kubiak retired, this franchise has missed on coach after coach. Hiring Vance Joseph, Vic Fangio, and recently Nathaniel Hackett, who didn’t even finish his first season. For 2023, with Russell Wilson under a pricey contract, a solid starting Running Back, Javonte Williams, and plenty of receiver depth, the Broncos cannot afford another letdown by the offense. If Harbaugh is hired, they are bringing in a coach who in his four seasons as San Francisco’s head man, won an NFC Championship, an appearance in the Super Bowl, and never suffered a losing season. He is also responsible for the development of Andrew Luck, when he was the coach for Stanford, and worked with Alex Smith as well as Colin Kaepernick during his time with the 49ers. Luck and Kaepernick played similar styles to Wilson, Harbaugh would bring in an offense that should complement Wilson’s ability. 

As part of the AFC West, the Broncos are quickly falling to no man’s land. Mahomes and Herbert are the future of the West as well as the league, and if the Broncos don’t bring in a legit coach, they can forget about any success in the AFC as maybe the third-best team in their division. 

Former Colts Head Coach, Frank Reich

Reich is an interesting candidate. His time in Indianapolis was successful given his circumstances. Overall he went 40-33-1, before being fired in the middle of his fifth season. A surprise firing by the Colts, given his success even with sub-par Quarterbacks. Now a possible candidate for any Head Coaching vacancies, if the Broncos are looking for an offensive coach with proven success in multiple systems, Reich is the definition of what they would be looking for. With time spent as the Offensive Coordinator for the then-San Diego Chargers and Philadelphia Eagles before getting the job in Indy, he built successful offenses everywhere he went. Bringing in Reich also brings in a familiar system to that of a familiar foe for Denver. The Kansas City Chiefs. Reich comes off of current Jacksonville Jaguars Head Coach, Doug Pederson’s coaching tree. Pederson comes from the Chiefs Head Coach, Andy Reid’s tree. A tree that includes, John Harbaugh (Baltimore Ravens), Sean McDermott (Buffalo Bills), and Ron Rivera (Washington Commanders), all currently employed Head Coaches. So bringing in Reich could bring in a more innovative, productive offense. Something the Broncos desperately need. 

Of the three currently listed Head Coaching candidates, Frank Reich is the safest choice. He’s not tied down with his old team, like Sean Payton, and not under a rich contract with his current team, like Jim Harbaugh. Reich comes with little risk as a proven head coach, and he’s proven to be good with any type of Quarterback. If the Broncos are looking for a readily available candidate, and one that can bring in an offense immediately for Russell Wilson to run, Denver won’t go wrong going with Frank Reich.

Former Falcons Head Coach and current Defensive Coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys, Dan Quinn

Dan Quinn poses an interesting question for the Broncos. As a purely defensive coach, his skillset would only apply to defense. As the Head Coach for the Falcons, Kyle Shannahan, an offensive guru, so without Shannahan, what would his offense look like? Of course, it can all be solved with the hiring of an offensive coordinator that knows what he’s doing, but at this point would bringing in a Defensive coach prove to be any more successful than the stint with Vic Fangio for the Broncos? Moving off the negatives, while with the Cowboys, he’s turned a usually subpar defense into a Top 5 Defense during his time. With the Broncos losing Chubb and Miller over here, maybe Quinn can turn someone on the current Defense into a star like he’s done with Cowboys Linebacker, Micah Parsons. 

Quinn does have a good resume. He was the Defensive Coordinator for Seattle, when their defense was toated, the “Legion of Boom.” His Defense in Atlanta was solid, and his Defense in Dallas is feared. Going with Quinn for the hire ensures the Defense does its part, but since Peyton Manning’s retirement, the defense for Denver has been the only bright spot. 

Current 49ers Defensive Coordinator DeMeco Ryans

This year for the 49ers, Ryans has led his defense to be one of the best, if not the best, defenses in the league. The 49er’s defense was top 10 in almost every category. They were 1st in takeaway/giveaway ratio, 2nd in point differential, 4th in points allowed, 2nd in takeaways, and 5th in passing TDs allowed. If Ryans can continue this success with the Broncos, it could ensure the Broncos success on Defense continues if current DC Ejiro Evero leaves.

Ryans would also be coming from the Kyle Shannahan coaching tree. Shannahan has produced 2 current head coaches, Mike McDaniel(Dolphins head coach), and Robert Saleh(Jets Head Coach). Both McDaniel and Saleh came into their teams and made an impact. I believe Ryans will be the next one on that list, and the next example of success out of the Shannahan tree.

However, Ryans has only been a Defensive Coordinator for 2 years and this would be his 1st ever head coaching job. Ryans may not have the experience to create a culture and ultimately create a successful team. The same mistakes the Broncos made with Hackett, could continue with Ryans.

Andre’s Pick: Jim Harbaugh

David’s Pick: DeMeco Ryans

Grandview’s Pick: Sean Payto