The Denver Broncos are now a couple of days into the search for a new head coach. Nathaniel Hackett was fired on Monday after presiding over a humiliating loss on Christmas Day and delivering to ownership the organization’s 11th loss of the season.
In last year’s hiring cycle, the Broncos’ head-coaching search was helmed by GM George Paton, with input from several other top execs. This time around, the search will be led by CEO and part-owner Greg Penner, with some input from Paton, who (for now) is being retained.
With the Broncos now boasting the richest owner in the NFL in Rob Walton (the 19th-richest man on planet Earth, per Forbes), there’s a feeling in league circles that the club could swing for the fences on its next head coach hire. The name universally considered the top candidate is former New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton.
ESPN insider Josina Anderson reported that Payton is indeed on the Walton/Penner group’s short-list of candidates. On the Payton subject, Hall-of-Fame quarterback and Monday Night Football color commentator Troy Aikman pounded the table this week for the Broncos to use their near-limitless financial resources to make the Super Bowl-winning coach an offer he can’t refuse.
“The Broncos can’t take a chance on anybody,” Aikman said via Cowboys Country. “Sean Payton is in the driver’s seat.”
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Aikman’s first point is a salient one. The Broncos have rolled the dice on each of their past three head-coaching hires by pinning their hopes on a first-timer.
Hackett, Vic Fangio (2019-21), and Vance Joseph (2017-18) were each given their first head-coaching jobs by the Broncos. The hires blew up in the team’s face and have had a cumulative negative impact on the team’s prospects.
Payton’s win/loss record as a head coach is 152–89 (.631). He’s 9–8 (.529) in the playoffs, and won Super Bowl XLIV. In 16 years as New Orleans’ head coach, he led the Saints to nine postseason berths.
Keep in mind, Payton was suspended for one of those seasons as a result of the NFL’s discipline for ‘Bounty-gate.’ He served his season-long suspension in 2012 and the Saints finished 7-9, missing the playoffs.
As for Payton being in “the driver’s seat,” yeah. No duh. He’ll have the pick of the litter, and NFL teams will be falling over one another to woo him. However, none of those potential hiring rivals have the resources that Denver does.
The Broncos have the financial might to win Payton over, but it would likely require that he hires a different defensive coordinator than Fangio, who, rumor has it, he plans to bring with him to his next NFL home. Plus, the Broncos would have to compensate the Saints for Payton, as New Orleans still owns his rights since he wasn’t fired at the end of the 2021 season. He retired after giving it one year post-Drew Brees.
There are other options the Broncos could choose to pursue. Payton represents the surest thing for the Walton/Penner group, but it would take an arm and a leg to get him to Denver.
Other head-coaching candidates to monitor, per Anderson’s reporting, include Dan Quinn, Darrell Bevell, Eric Bienemy, Demeco Ryans, and Shane Steichen. Quinn is the only name on that list with head-coaching experience.
Other potential retread candidates include Frank Reich, Steve Wilks, Leslie Frazier, and Jim Caldwell. Stay tuned.
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