DENVER — Redemption requires work in the shadows. It demands energy, focus.
Sunday, the Broncos entrusted general manager George Paton to find the team's fifth coach in nine years. It recalls the days of owner Pat Bowlen when he identified leaders, gave them the resources to succeed and provided them the platform.
After a year on the job, which included a draft bonanza, but no satisfaction because of the fifth straight losing season, Paton embraces this challenge. His plan? Roll up the sleeves.
As of Tuesday morning, Paton has requested permission to interview 10 candidates, six offensive coaches, four defensive. This will be an exhaustive process with one goal in mind: finding a leader to return this franchise to relevance.
"I’ve only been here a year, so I think it is an organizational problem that we need to fix. You can’t keep recycling coaches and expect to sustain a winning culture. It’s hard," said Paton, who has $50 million in salary cap space and five draft picks in the top 100 to entice the next field boss. "We’re going to get it right, and we’re going to get it right with this search. I can guarantee you that.”
If not clear by now, a head coach requires more than a encyclopediac knowledge of Xs and Os. This position demands leadership, the ability to create ownership among players, the skill of connecting with the roster (not a strength of Vic Fangio's) and the staff and the dexterity to remain the glue during adversity.
In searching for the next coach, Paton has shown an open mind, eyeing one former head coach in Dan Quinn, six coordinators and two position coaches. Let's take a deeper look at the candidates with Hackett, Getsy and Glenn eligible to be interviewed this week:
Dan Quinn, 51, Dallas Cowboys, defensive coordinator
Quinn guided the Falcons to a pair of playoff berths, an NFC Championship, and a Super Bowl appearance. His time in Atlanta ended with a thud — the Falcons never recovered from squandering a 28-3 lead to the Patriots in the Super Bowl, and Quinn was dismissed after an 0-5 start in 2020. But he checks a lot of boxes for a franchise seeking energy, attitude and personality. He is caffeinated, coaching with passion that fosters loyalty among players. He revived Dallas' defense this season behind Micah Parsons and Trevon Diggs.
Quinn helped develop a winning culture in Seattle, Atlanta and Dallas. And he worked with Paton in 2005 and 2006 in Miami. I believe he would pluck from the 49ers or Packers' trees for an offensive coordinator. Mike McDaniel from San Francisco is a possibility. Quinn's offenses ranked eighth or better in all five seasons in Atlanta with three different coordinators. He has shown he can identify the right offensive mind and would have to do it again. It's hard to handicap this early, but he would be among the favorites, and is drawing interest from the Bears and Jaguars as well.
Nathaniel Hackett, 42, Green Bay Packers, offensive coordinator
Hackett is a hoot from everything I read in a Washington Post article by good friend Nicki Jhabvala. He grew up around the NFL with his dad Paul Hackett. He wanted to be a doctor, became a college football player and fell in love with coaching. He uses Justin Timberlake songs and Star Wars' characters to call plays and liven up meetings. Did I mention he has a great relationship with Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers? If he can promise Rodgers comes to Denver, hire him now. Hackett isn't calling plays in Green Bay, but did in Jacksonville where Blake Bortles improved under his watch. His personality and energy would be a breath of fresh air in Denver, but is he ready for the next step? The Broncos are scheduled to interview Hackett and Getsy Saturday in Green Bay.
Luke Getsy, 37, Green Bay Packers, QBs coach/passing game coordinator
Is this part of the Rocky Mountain Rodgers pitch? Hire Hackett as coach, make Getsy the OC? That would delight Broncos Country after watching 10 starting quarterbacks fail since Peyton Manning retired. Getsy has called plays at multiple college stops, but has spent his entire pro career with the Packers. He has built a strong connection with Rodgers and has grown enough as a coach to be mentioned for head jobs in college, including Akron where he played.
Jerod Mayo, 35, New England Patriots, linebackers coach
Mayo has coached only three seasons, but is considered a rising star in the industry. He said Tuesday during a Zoom interview that he "would absolutely" take the interview with the Broncos, which can happen as early as next week. It would be quite the jump from position coach to head coach for Mayo. However, he is respected for his leadership as a coach and a player — he logged eight years in New England before joining Bill Belichick's staff. Former players have made the transition to the head coaching spot in recent seasons, including Tennessee's Mike Vrabel, a coach of the year candidate, and Detroit's Dan Campbell. One question with Mayo would be his ability to put together a strong staff, especially on the offensive side of the ball, given his little experience.
Jonathan Gannon, 38, Philadelphia Eagles, defensive coordinator
Gannon is among the next wave of strong young assistants. He has excelled in his past two stops in Philadelphia and with the Colts. Gannon spent four seasons (2014-17) with the Minnesota Vikings as an assistant defensive backs/quality control coach, where he established a relationship with Paton. He has been on a roller coaster ride with the Eagles, but from Week 8 to Week 16 Philadelphia ranked first in the NFC in fewest points allowed. Well-respected in the industry, Gannon would be a hard sell to Broncos fans seeking more experience and an offensive mind.
Aaron Glenn, 49, Detroit Lions, defensive coordinator
Every coaching cycle has sleeper candidates, and Glenn qualifies this time around. A former three-time Pro Bowl cornerback, he has continued to ascend in the coaching ranks. He has 25 years experience as a player, coach and executive. He is known for his prowess in tutoring defensive backs as his New Orleans Saints' secondaries were a force. Glenn would have to win the interview given the context of the Broncos' situation. They need offense, and he is a defensive coordinator for one of the worst teams in football (which is a reflection of Detroit's rebuild). He is scheduled as the Broncos' first interview on Thursday.
Eric Bieniemy, 52, Kansas City Chiefs, offensive coordinator
The former CU star running back should be a head coach by now. Bieniemy leads the league in coaching interviews the past two seasons. He's worked in Kansas City for nine years, and four as the offensive coordinator. He is ready, but runs into obstacles. One is that he isn't the Chiefs' primary playcaller, with most viewing the team's success as the work of coach Andy Reid. Bieniemy also had spotty tenures at CU as a coach. But it helps that Paton knows him from four seasons together in Minnesota (2007-2010). It would not surprise me if he is a candidate in Minnesota as well.
Kellen Moore, 33, Dallas Cowboys, offensive coordinator
Moore is a brilliant offensive mind. And his Cowboys attack averaged 12 more points per game than the Broncos this season. Every team is looking for the next Sean McVay, it seems, and Moore is that type of Xs and Os guy. What hurts Moore is that he is a professor type. His personality doesn't fill a room. And with leadership as the primary quality sought in the new coach, Moore might need a few more years of seasoning.
Kevin O'Connell, 36, Los Angeles Rams, offensive coordinator
O'Connell is directly from the McVay tree. McVay valued him so much, he blocked the Chargers' request to interview him for an offensive coordinator's job last offseason. While McVay is still the playcaller, O'Connell helps run the offense, one that has flourished the past two seasons. O'Connell has previous coaching experience with Washington and Cleveland and is a former third-round draft choice of the Patriots in 2008 after a standout career at San Diego State as a quarterback. Could he land on the new Broncos' coach's staff with the title of assistant head coach? Those are things that can develop during a search and why it is so important to interview so may coaches.
Brian Callahan, 37, Cincinnati Bengals, offensive coordinator
Callahan provides a great story. He had no intention of becoming a coach. He moved five times in high school following his coaching father Bill around the country. But he got the bug at UCLA, coached freshman high school football — GM Paton had a similar journey — and landed his first pro job on Josh McDaniels' Broncos' staff in 2010 as a quality control coach. He owns a masters degree, so that speaks to his ability to learn and teach. Joe Burrow has blossomed under his watch, and clearly Callahan is drawing interest for his coaching.
There are multiple reports that former Eagles boss Doug Pederson, a free agent, is expected to interview with the Broncos. I have not confirmed that. As of now, nothing is scheduled.