While the other three teams in the AFC West have kept their playoff hopes alive going into Week 15, the Denver Broncos are focused on finding a new coach after the season in light of their firing of coach Josh McDaniels earlier this month.
There will be several names that get connected to the Denver job in the next few weeks and the Broncos probably will interview several candidates. It won’t be a shock if their search includes an assistant from each of the three other teams in the division. Because of success in certain areas, Kansas City, Oakland and San Diego all have staff members who could draw interest from elsewhere.
Here is a look at a potential candidate for the Denver job from each staff in the division:
Romeo Crennel, defensive coordinator:
Why he could fit in Denver: Crennel has NFL head-coaching experience. He coached the Cleveland Browns from 2005-08 and in those four seasons his record was 24-40. His record isn't great, but Crennel has a strong history as an NFL assistant and the Broncos may think he could do better in his second turn as a head coach. Plus, he wouldn’t be overly expensive, which is an important element for Denver owner Pat Bowlen, who has to pay Mike Shanahan, McDaniels and a new coach in 2011. The combination of Crennel’s head-coaching experience and his affordability will make Crennel attractive, along with the likes of Mike Nolan or Gary Kubiak (if he’s fired in Houston). Crennel has done a fine job in his first season as the Chiefs’ defensive coordinator. The young Chiefs’ defense is playing aggressive, smart football and is a reason why Kansas City leads the division. Crennel’s influence in Kansas City has to be noticed in Denver.
Why he may not fit in Denver: Crennel is 63. That is rather old for an NFL head coach these days. I’m not sure Denver is looking for another 32-year-old like McDaniels was when Denver hired him in January, 2009, but I bet it is looking for a younger coach than Crennel. Plus, Crennel is part of the Bill Belichick New England coaching tree. Denver might think twice before picking a coach off that tree again so soon after the McDaniels debacle. (Prior to being hired in Denver, McDaniels was New England’s offensive coordinator.) Plus, like Kansas City offensive coordinator and fellow former New England assistant Charlie Weis, Crennel may ultimately be looked at as a great coordinator, but a not-so-good head coach.
Hue Jackson, offensive coordinator
Why he could fit in Denver: Jackson is an offense-minded coach. That has long been the direction of the team. Jackson coaches the zone-blocking running scheme that Denver ran from 1995 until this season. Much of Denver’s offensive personnel is suited for that scheme. Jackson is a young coach who is well liked by his players and he is very energetic. Hiring a players' coach could be the direction the Broncos want to go in after McDaniels’ tenure, when there was a clear separation between the staff and the roster. In Jackson’s first year in Oakland, the Raiders have gone from No. 31 to No. 9 in the league in scoring. Jackson, who has no NFL head-coaching experience, wouldn’t break the bank, which would fit Denver’s criteria. Plus, hiring the offensive coordinator of the team that hung 59 points on you could sell in Denver.
Why he may not fit in Denver: The Broncos may want someone with more NFL credentials and his lack of head-coaching experience could get in the way. Plus, getting Jackson out of Oakland and into Denver could be difficult. It’s hard to imagine Raiders owner Al Davis letting Jackson -- whom Davis greatly admires -- go to his arch rival. The only way Davis could prevent the move probably would be to promote Jackson to head coach, but Tom Cable has done a good job this season. In the end, there may be a lot of obstacles to the Jackson-Broncos pairing, but I’m sure Denver will at least consider interviewing Jackson.
Ron Rivera, defensive coordinator
Why he could fit in Denver: It would get Rivera out of San Diego, and that wouldn’t hurt the Broncos. Rivera’s defense in San Diego has been ranked No.1 throughout the season. Even though the history in Denver has been to hire an offense-first coach, the defensive side of the ball has been lacking. The Broncos may look seriously at defensive coaches. The Broncos are on their fifth defensive coordinator in five seasons and they need stability. Denver has allowed more points than any team in the league this season. Rivera is a smart, high-character coach. Plus, he has a history of strong results as the defensive coordinator in Chicago and San Diego. Rivera has interviewed for several NFL jobs. This might be the year he finally gets his chance to run a team. Rivera could be attractive to the Broncos’ fan base because there is a large Hispanic population in Denver. The hiring of Rivera would create excitement in the community.
Why he may not fit in Denver: If the Broncos insist on staying on the offensive side of the ball, Rivera won’t get a look. If Denver is looking for a high-profile candidate, Rivera wouldn’t fit, either. Rivera is an understated guy who will never be the face-of-the-organization type. The former Bears linebacker is a hard-working, detailed-oriented coach who believes in keeping his head down. If the Broncos are looking for a rah-rah type to restore excitement in Denver, Rivera might not be the right guy.