Broncos fire Nathaniel Hackett: Rank 5 head coaching candidates Denver should consider, including Sean Payton

Finally the Denver Broncos made the decision to separate with first-year head coach Nathaniel Hackett on Monday, following an embarrassing Christmas loss to the Los Angeles Rams. This was a decision that came as no surprise to anyone, Broncos owner Greg Penne said in a statement that the timing of this move allows the franchise to get a jump on this new head coaching search.

Denver went with two defensive minds in Vance Joseph and Vic Fangio before taking a flier on Hackett, the former offensive coordinator of the Green Bay Packers. Obviously that runner didn’t work. Could the results of the Hackett experiment lead to general manager George Paton and the new ownership leaning toward someone who has been a head coach before? Will they not be afraid to again reach for a young offensive coordinator on the rise, or will they choose to go for an experienced defensive coordinator with head coaching experience?

Below, we will rank five candidates who could become the next Broncos head coach.

5. Frank Reich

Previous position: Indianapolis Colts head coach

Reich was fired of the Colts earlier this season after a 3-5-1 start, but he went 40-33-1 as a head coach in his five seasons. Reich went 10-6 as a first-year head coach back in 2018, but then lost his franchise quarterback when Andrew Luck decided to hang up his cleats. That really led to Reich’s downfall as virtually every Colts try under center after it didn’t work out. Jacoby Brissett went 7-8 in 2019, Philip Rivers gave the Colts just one year before retiring, Carson Wentz was a loner and then Matt Ryan was a huge disappointment.

The former offensive coordinator from the Philadelphia Eagles has experience as a head coach, and was not the problem in Indy. The Broncos may have interest in him.

4. Shane Steichen

Current position: Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator

The 37-year-old is in his second season as OC for the high-flying Eagles, and he is also the one playing full-time. Philly has the No. 3 offense in the NFL, scoring more than any other team at 29.7 points per game. The Eagles offense may be loaded with talent, but Steichen and Nick Sirianni do a good job of scheming to get DeVonta Smith and AJ Brown open in the passing game, and know how to build and maintain one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL .

Steichen was also the offensive coordinator who helped Justin Herbert win Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2020. He doesn’t have the head coaching experience the Broncos might be looking for, but Steichen should be a very hot name this offseason.

Current position: San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator

Ryans is one of the top coaching prospects this offseason. The former Houston Texans Pro Bowl linebacker has quickly risen through the coaching ranks, not missing a beat despite his meteoric rise. He has only coached with the 49ers, working as a defensive quality control coach for one year, linebackers coach for three years and has been San Francisco’s defensive coordinator for the past two seasons.

Ryans is a big reason why the 49ers are still one of the best teams in the NFL this season despite being down their third-string quarterback. The 49ers have the No. 1 defense in the NFL and the No. 1 scoring defense, as they allow just 15.3 points per game. Ryans is truly one of the most intriguing names to me this offseason. Keep an eye on him.

2. Dan Quinn

Current position: Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator

Quinn expects to receive more interview requests this offseason as he commands one of the most talented defenses in the league. The Cowboys don’t statistically have one of the best defenses in the NFL, but they love to pressure the passer, and Quinn is a big reason why Micah Parsons has quickly become one of the best players in the world. Imagine someone like Quinn in control of Denver’s talented defensive unit.

Another reason why Denver could go with Quinn is because he has experience as a head coach. His job opposite Russell Wilson as defensive coordinator for the Seattle Seahawks earned him the head coaching job with the Atlanta Falcons. In six years, he went 43-42, and made it to the Super Bowl in his second season back in 2016.

Something to keep an eye on: Per CBS Sports NFL Insider Josina Anderson, those in the Broncos organization expect Quinn’s candidacy for their vacancy to include bringing in Brian Schottenheimer. Schottenheimer is currently a coaching analyst for the Cowboys, and has served as the offensive coordinator for several different teams – including working with Wilson and the Seahawks at one time.

1. Sean Payton

Current Position: Fox NFL Analyst

This is the big one. Per CBS Sports NFL Insider Josina Anderson, Payton has a high affinity for the Los Angeles Chargers and Cowboys jobs, with the Arizona Cardinals also being considered should that job open up. Anderson reports that Payton is likely to listen if the Broncos call, but historically he has preferred a strong link to the general manager.

Payton shocked the NFL world in January when he said he was step down from his role as head coach of the New Orleans Saints. Virtually no one believes he’s done coaching, and he could return in 2023. The former Super Bowl champion compiled a 152-89 regular season record and a 9-8 postseason record in 15 years. He will be one of the hottest names this offseason if he wants to return to the coaching ranks.

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