There won’t be a shortage of names bandied about in Broncos Country as to whom the next head coach should be, or will be. But let’s try to drill down on names that make sense, and why.
Below is a list of likely candidates to replace to Vic Fangio, who was let go Sunday after 3 disappointing seasons at the helm in Denver where he posted a 19-30 record.
Dan Quinn -Defensive Coordinator, Dallas Cowboys
“DQ” as he’s affectionately known was so well liked by his players in Atlanta, that they openly campaigned for him to remain in charge for a 6th season, when he likely should’ve been let go after his 5th year. He did lead the Falcons to an appearance and historic collapse in Super Bowl 51. He was also the Defensive Coordinator for Seattle’s “Legion of Boom” that manhandled the Broncos in SB 48. Two factors working in Quinn’s favor, his remarkable turnaround job of the Dallas defense this season, and his relationship with Broncos GM George Paton.
The Cowboys were the Achilles heel of “America’s Team” in recent years, but Quinn in less than a year transformed them into a fast, play-making unit that boasts the best young linebacker in the NFL, and one of the top ball-hawking cornerbacks. If Dallas makes a deep playoff run, it’ll have as much to do with their defense and their high-powered offense.
Also, Quinn and Paton worked together in Miami in 2005 and 2006, when Quinn was the Defensive Line Coach, and Paton was the Director of Pro Personnel. Never underestimate the value of “relationships” when pairing Coaches and GM’s.
Nathaniel Hackett – Offensive Coordinator, Green Bay Packers
Hackett doesn’t call plays for the likely back-to-back MVP in Green Bay. But presumably he has a good relationship with Aaron Rodgers. Now, is that relationship good enough that it would push the Broncos to the top of the list of preferred destinations for A-Rod, if he decides to force his way off the frozen tundra? Perhaps we’ll find out in the coming months.
What we do know is Hackett called plays for Doug Marrone in Jacksonville from 2016-2018, as well as when they were in Buffalo together in 2013-14.
Hackett certainly has the pedigree, as his father Paul Hackett, was a long time NFL assistant and the College Head Coach at USC and Pittsburgh. While he has no direct link to Paton, his proximity to Rodgers may get him the gig.
Jerod Mayo – InsideLinebackers Coach, New England Patriots
Few players in recent years have made the transition to coaching as smoothly as Mayo has. It helps that as a middle linebacker, he relayed the play call to the defense in route to a pair of Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl Ring in New England. He’s very well liked by his players, and respected around the league. The biggest question may simply be how much of his influence dictates what New England does defensively. Steve Belichick appears to call the bulk of the defense, and there’s no question, his Dad, Bill Belichick, still has his finger prints all over one of the league’s best defenses. Mayo is only 35, which may work both for him and against him. Also, it’s unclear who might come in as his play caller, but his name is one with buzz around it in league circles that will continue to grow, especially in the Pats make a run to yet another Super Bowl.
Doug Pederson – Former Eagles Head Coach
Pederson’s untimely exit from Philly was a bit of a surprise. The former Super Bowl 52 Head Coach has spent 2021 away from football, but his name will be prominent as more coaching vacancies emerge. Pedeson certainly established a winning culture in the “City of Brotherly Love.” However, his offense sputtered once Frank Reich left to run the Colts.
Byron Leftwich – Offensive Coordinator, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The former 1st round pick has also made the transition to the coaching ranks very seamlessly. After working as the Quarterbacks Coach in Arizona for Bruce Arians, Leftwich has been the O.C. and primary play caller in Tampa for 3 seasons. Admittedly, it’s not the most difficult situation to call plays for Tom Brady, but he still deserves credit for maximizing TB12’s production to the tune of a Super Bowl ring last season, and consecutive 40 TD seasons.
While a return to Jacksonville, where he was drafted and played 4 seasons, makes sense on paper, concerns about the Jags front office may keep Leftwich from considering his former team.
Jim Harbaugh – Head Coach, University of Michigan
After a few years where the Head Coaching rumor mill didn’t include Harbaugh, 2022 appears to be back to “normal.” Harbaugh, who finally beat rival Ohio State may be poised to finally make a return to the NFL where in 4 years in San Fran, he led the 49ers on 3 trips to the NFC Championship game, and a Super Bowl 47 loss to his brother and the Ravens.
There has been some indication that if Harbaugh wants to return to the NFL, the Raiders job would be his if he wants it, and if he does decide to lead the Silver and Black, a reunion with his former San Fran D-Coordinator Fangio might be likely.
Brian Daboll – Offensive Coordinator, Buffalo Bills
Daboll has been credited with the development of Josh Allen and the Bills offensive resurgence in recent years. The Broncos lack of stability at Quarterback may be a drawback that keeps Daboll from seriously considering Denver, and perhaps vice versa. Although, the chance to help develop a young QB, Drew Lock or otherwise, might be the challenge he’s looking for.
Mike Zimmer – Head Coach, Minnesota Vikings
“Zim” is currently employed in Minnesota. The Wilf family who owns the team, has given no indication publicly that they are moving on from their head coach of 8 seasons, but there are strong rumblings that Sunday is his last day at the helm of the Vikings ship. While the tie to Paton is obvious because of their time together in Minnesota, when Paton served as Assistant GM, the fit in Denver doesn’t make as much sense.
Jonathan Gannon - Defensive Coordinator, Philadelphia Eagles
Gannon, like Zimmer, has an obvious connection to Paton, but unlike Zimmer and a number of other candidates, his resume isn't as lengthy. However, in his first year calling the defense in Philly, the former Defensive Backs Coach has afforded himself admirably as the Eagles, surprisingly, made the playoffs. While Gannon will likely get an interview or 2 around the league, he's likely not ready to be a head coach just yet.
Jim Caldwell – Former Detroit Lions & Indianapolis Colts Head Coach
Caldwell has been out of football for 2 seasons, but there are some who think the 66-year-old is ready to return to the sidelines. He certainly would have the endorsement of Peyton Manning, whom he coached for 3 seasons in Indy, but that’s likely not enough. Also at his age, while he would command respect, he may not be the right fit for such a young team.