The writing is on the wall for Vic Fangio, he’s headed out the door after the 2021 NFL season and the search for the next Denver Broncos head coach will begin. While there are a few factors that could push away top candidates, this team could be turned around quickly if the right hire is made.
Denver earned some credit for giving Fangio a shot at being patient with the 53-year-old coach. A long-time assistant and coordinator, the Broncos gave him his first head-coaching gig. But the team hasn’t progressed after a 7-9 season in 2019 and after narrowly escaping being fired this past offseason, it’s time for a change in Denver.
This isn’t a dream situation for a head coach. It’s about more than just John Elway still walking around the building and potential uncertainty regarding his power in football decisions. Instead, concerns with a potential vacancy in Denver are tied to uncertainty at quarterback and the potential ownership sale looming in 2022.
- Denver Broncos record (Vic Fangio era): 17-25
With that said, this is still one of 32 NFL head coaching jobs and working alongside general George Paton offers a ton of appeal. Let’s examine four potential candidates who could become the next Denver Broncos head coach.
Dan Quinn, defensive coordinator, Dallas Cowboys
While hiring retreat head coaches isn’t a popular move, Dan Quinn will get a ton of interviews this offseason and it’s deserved. Things certainly didn’t work out with the Atlanta Falcons, but this team did reach the Super Bowl and enjoyed a pair of double-digit win seasons. Beyond his defensive acumen, Quinn’s leadership is another huge factor in his favor.
- Dan Quinn record: 43-42, 3-2 in NFL playoffs
Taking a chance on a coordinator can deliver immense rewards for an NFL team, but it also means hiring someone to lead a team when they might not be right for the role. Quinn remains beloved in the Falcons’ locker room, he just received the game ball for beating his former team and he’s the architect of the best defensive turnaround in the NFL this season. He would get Broncos’ players to buy into his message quickly, helping shape this defense into a top-10 unit.
It will be crucial for him to find the right offensive coordinator. When Kyle Shanahan left the Falcons, Atlanta’s offense fell apart and Quinn could never make the right hire. Fortunately, Paton is one of the most connected GMs in the NFL and could play an instrumental role in finding the right offensive coordinator.
Nathaniel Hackett, offensive coordinator, Green Bay Packers
Everyone knew this offseason that Aaron Rodgers wanted a trade to the Denver Broncos. While a deal never came to fruition, negotiations with the Green Bay Packers could resume this offseason. But Paton will likely need to a head coach in place before pursuing a quarterback. The field for Rodgers will be competitive, but bringing Nathaniel Hackett to Denver could give this franchise a huge boost.
Rodgers’ relationship with Hackett is very close. The future Hall of Fame quarterback raved about Hackett’s ability yo connect with players and motivate them in an interview with The Washington Post. The reigning NFL MVP also joked in 2020 that he hoped Hackett didn’t leave Green Bay, unless he followed.
“It’s understanding that every player has different motivators and everybody can respond differently to coaching, and figuring out what those buttons are on certain people to push to get the most out of them. That’s what he does really well. He disarms guys and makes them feel really comfortable, and then he’s really good at teaching the game.”Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers on offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, via The Washington Post
But this is about more than a personal endorsement or a potential trade. From 2018-’19, Rodgers posted a 96.5 passer rating with a 7.2 ypa, 62.2% completion rate and a 4.4% TD rate. In the last two seasons, Rodgers has a 114.5 passer rating, 7.9 ypa, a 69.2% completion and a 7.9% TD rate. Hackett is playing an instrumental role in Rodgers’ resurgence and could be a strong hire for Denver.
Leslie Frazier, defensive coordinator, Buffalo Bills
Relationships matter in the hiring process. Paton joined the Minnesota Vikings in 2007 as the team’s director of player personnel. During his time in the front office (2007-2020), he worked closely with a ton of coaches. Leslie Frazier also joined the Vikings before the ’07 season, first serving as defensive coordinator (2007-’10), earning a promotion to assistant head coach (2008-’10) and later serving as full-time head coach (2011-’13).
- Leslie Frazier coaching record: 21-32-1, 0-1 in postseason
It’s evident that Frazier’s first stint as a head coach went poorly. But he has slowly rebuilt his reputation, working with Lovie Smith, John Harbaugh and Sean McDermott. Frazier’s work with the Buffalo Bills is outstanding, especially this season. After Week 10. Buffalo’s defense ranks 1st in Football Outsiders DVOA and his defenders have played well against high-end quarterbacks. In a division with Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert, that’s essential.
Joe Brady, offensive coordinator, Carolina Panthers
Many fans might prefer Bills’ offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, but he’s going to be the most coveted NFL coaching candidate in 2022. Because of that, he can pick a team with a more stable organization and more certainty at quarterback. But Brady, play-calling for a Carolina Panthers’ offense that struggled with Sam Darnold, could be a different target for the Denver Broncos.
Brady helped build the LSU Tigers’ record-breaking offense in 2019, leading to a national championship and Joe Burrow becoming the No. 1 overall pick. Christian McCaffrey missed a majority of the 2020 NFL season and multiple games this year, all while Darnold dragged the offense down in 2021.
But from Week 1-4 (healthy McCaffrey) and in Week 10 (Cam Newton debuts), the Panthers’ offense averaged nearly 380 total yards per game. It’s a small sample size, but that’s largely what there is to operate with. Keep in mind, Daboll has had Josh Allen to make his offense magic the past two years. There is plenty of projecting with Brady and he’s only 32, but his offensive mind is exactly what NFL teams want in their next head coach. He’d be among our favorite Denver Broncos coaching candidates.