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12 candidates to replace Nathaniel Hackett as Broncos head coach

Apr 10, 2024

Broncos general manager George Paton and owner/CEO Greg Penner vowed to immediately begin the search for Nathaniel Hackett’s replacement after firing the first-year head coach on Monday. A list of potential candidates:

Age: 41

Current job: Denver defensive coordinator

Coaching experience: Evero is in his first year as a coordinator. Before that, he spent five seasons on the Los Angeles Rams staff, first as cornerbacks coach (2017-20), then overseeing the secondary and defensive passing game in 2021. He’s also coached in Green Bay (2016), San Francisco (2011-15) and Tampa Bay (2007-08). Evero has learned from some of the best defensive minds in the NFL, including Raheem Morris, Wade Phillips, Vic Fangio and Monte Kiffin.

Analysis: Players rave about Evero’s scheme, his smarts and his leadership. He’s going to get head coaching interviews after the season and his star is on the rise. At the same time, he’s been a coordinator for just one season and the Broncos have failed with three consecutive first-time head coaches. There’s risk in putting someone in the big chair for the first time.

Age: 52

Current job: Dallas defensive coordinator

Coaching experience: Quinn’s been mostly in the NFL since 2001 and spent his first four years in San Francisco as a quality control coach (2001-02) and defensive line coach (2003-04). He coached the d-line for two-year stints in Miami, New York (Jets) and Seattle through 2010, then coordinated defenses for the University of Florida (2011-12) and the Sehawks (2013-14). He won a Super Bowl in Seattle with Russell Wilson as the quarterback before landing the Atlanta head coaching job in 2015. He compiled a 43-42 record there including seasons with 11 and 10 wins, a pair of playoff appearances and the infamous 28-3 lead against New England in the Super Bowl. He was fired after an 0-5 start to the 2020 season. He’s been the defensive coordinator in Dallas the past two seasons.

Analysis: Quinn was a finalist for Denver’s job last winter and is likely to have opportunities again this time around. His defense has been terrific in Dallas and he’s got a history with Broncos general manager George Paton – they spent 2005-06 in Miami together. There’s a lot of talent on this Broncos defense to work with, too. He’d have to find a coordinator and offensive staff that can coach Wilson hard and gets him back into productive form.

Age: 38

Current job: Cincinnati offensive coordinator

Coaching experience: Callahan broke into the NFL as an assistant with Denver, working in various capacities from 2010-15. He spent 2016-17 as Detroit’s quarterbacks coach, then 2018 as the Raiders’. … Since then has been the offensive coordinator for Zac Taylor in Cincinnati.

Analysis: Callahan would be a familiar name and he helps orchestrate one of the game’s best offenses in Cincinnati. He’s also a similar profile to Hackett in the sense that he’s an offensive-minded coach’s kid who would be tasked with a head job for the first time.

Age: 58

Current job: None. Taking a year off.

Coaching experience: Payton won a Super Bowl during his run as New Orleans’ head coach from 2006-21.

Analysis: Payton feels like the longest of long shots. First of all, it will take assets to acquire him since he’s under contract with the Saints through 2023. Denver now has a 2023 first-round pick, but, as one example, Jon Gruden cost Tampa Bay two first-round picks, two second-round picks and $8 million in 2002. Even if the cost isn’t that, can the Broncos afford the draft capital? And would Payton want this job over, say, working with quarterback Justin Herbert in Los Angeles?

Age: 58

Current job: University of Michigan head coach

Coaching experience: Harbaugh has turned the Wolverines into the Big Ten’s preeminent power, compiling a 25-2 record over the past two seasons and 74-24 overall. Before that, he led the San Francisco 49ers to a 44-19-1 mark from 2011-14, led the team to the NFC Championship Game three times in four seasons and a Super Bowl appearance in 2013. Before that, he was the head coach at Stanford (2007-10) and San Diego (2004-06).

Analysis: A year ago, Harbaugh publicly flirted with returning to the NFL and interviewed for the Minnesota Vikings job before ultimately returning to Michigan. Might he have similar designs after another excellent season at the college level? If he does, what would he make of the opening in Denver? He’d be able to pick the brain of new game management coach Jerry Rosburg, who spent years working for Jim’s brother, John, in Baltimore.

Age: 63

Current job: Buffalo defensive coordinator

Coaching experience: Frazier’s been a defensive coach or head coach in the NFL every year since 1999. He was the interim head coach in Minnesota in 2010 and then the head coach from 2011-13. Coordinating experience in Cincinnati (2003-04), Minnesota (2007), Tampa Bay (2013-14) and now in Buffalo since 2017.

Analysis: Frazier is the oldest on this list by two years and would bring a career’s worth of NFL experience plus head coaching experience, too. He’s been part of one of the most successful organizations in football the past several years in Buffalo and might have ideas on who to tap to get the most out of Wilson, too.

Age: 46

Current job: Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator

Coaching experience: Spent 2002-11 with Tampa Bay except for a one-year hiatus to coordinate Kansas State’s defense in 2006. … Worked from defensive quality control to assistant defensive backs coach to head coach (2009-11) before he was fired. … Spent 2012-14 as an assistant in Washington, then 2015-20 coordinating in Atlanta and now the past two seasons as the Los Angeles Rams’ defensive coordinator. Won a Super Bowl in 2021.

Analysis: Morris would provide a level of continuity on the Broncos’ defense as he and Evero worked together for the past two years before this one. He’s been a head coach in the past and has spent the past two seasons working with Sean McVay in L.A.

Age: 61

Current job: Unemployed

Coaching experience: Reich spent the past four-plus seasons as the head coach for the Indianapolis Colts and compiled a 40-33-1 record, but was fired after a 3-5-1 star to the 2022 season. Before that, he coordinated offenses in Philadelphia (2016-17) and San Diego (2014-15), coached the Chargers quarterbacks (2013) and was an offensive assistant in several capacities in Indianapolis (2006-11), and Arizona (2012).

Analysis: Reich has experience as a head coach and quarterback developer. He got the Colts to the playoffs twice and won a Super Bowl with the Eagles as their offensive coordinator. Reich clearly wasn’t the only problem in Indianapolis this year. He and the Colts staff couldn’t get Matt Ryan going early in the season. Could he help Russell Wilson revamp his game and get back to playing at a high level?

Age: 38

Current job: San Francisco defensive coordinator

Coaching experience: Ryans has spent his relatively brief coaching career in San Francisco, working from defensive quality control (2017) to inside linebackers coach (2018-20) to defensive coordinator the past two seasons. Before that, he spent a decade playing in the NFL for Houston (2006-11) and Philadelphia (2012-15).

Analysis: Ryans did something remarkable last winter. He turned down a second interview in Minnesota and decided he wasn’t ready to be a head coach. If he thinks differently this winter, he’ll likely have numerous opportunities. In Denver, he could reunite with D.J. Jones and potentially K’Waun Williams. Ryans oversees a physical, fast, talented defense and would inherit a lot of the same in Denver. He’d be another first-time head coach and he’d need an offensive staff plan that accounts for the work needed with Wilson.

Age: 52

Current job: Miami Dolphins quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator

Coaching experience: This is Bevell’s first year in Miami after spending 2021 in Jacksonville and 2019-20 in Detroit. In both places, he ended up being an interim head coach. Before that, Bevell was the offensive coordinator for Seattle from 2011-17 and won a Super Bowl there. He was also the offensive coordinator in Minnesota (2006-10) and coached quarterbacks in Green Bay (assistant 2000-02 and full-time 2003-05). He coached in college in the late 1990s.

Analysis: Bevell would be interesting primarily because of his long history with Wilson. He was the coordinator for several of Wilson’s best years with the Seahawks and likely knows him as well as any coach in football. He doesn’t have full-time head coaching experience but has got a taste of the role in two interim stints. Bevell has a long and deep football knowledge and experience base, but also is learning under heralded first-year Miami head coach Mike McDaniel this year.

Age: 37

Current job: Philadelphia offensive coordinator

Coaching experience: Steichen coached defense for the Chargers in 2011-12, then offense from 2014-20 with a one-year stint in Cleveland in 2013. He coached quarterbacks in L.A. from 2016-19 and coordinated the offense in 2020. Since then he’s been the coordinator for head coach Nick Sirianni. Steichen took over playcalling last year.

Analysis: Steichen has done wonders in facilitating the development and star turn for Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts. Could he do the same to jumpstart Wilson? Could Steichen do it while also handling head coaching duties for the first time? The same concern will persist for any young, first-time head coach: Who calls plays? And can a first-timer finally work in Denver?

Age: 36

Current job: Detroit offensive coordinator

Coaching experience: Johnson worked seven years for the Dolphins (assistant 2012, assistant quarterbacks coach 2013-15, tight ends 2015, assistant wide receivers 2016-17, wide receivers 2018) before moving to Detroit. After a year as a quality control coach, Johnson coached tight ends in 2020 and 2021. He’s in his first year as an offensive coordinator.

Analysis: This would be a gamble, but Johnson has a dynamic offense in Detroit with quarterback Jared Goff and running back Jamaal Williams. At the same time, Johnson is the youngest guy on this list and he’s only in his first year as a coordinator. It doesn’t seem likely George Paton is in the market for that much uncertainty. But Johnson will get looks this winter.

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