Denver Broncos want to find a 'leader' among nine early coaching candidates

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos will open the 2022 NFL season with their fourth different head coach in a seven-year span, so it's not like they haven't done this whole look-for-a-new-leader thing before.

But this is the first search conducted by general manager George Paton. And whether he's looking for fist-pumping, run-down-the-sidelines enthusiasm or a quarterback guru or a CEO or all of the above remains to be seen. The one word he kept using over and over again this week was "leader," and the Broncos had requested to interview nine candidates across seven teams by the time the sun rose on Tuesday morning.

"The No. 1 quality is leadership," Paton said earlier this week. "We're looking for someone to lead this entire organization, to lead this community and to lead our players. That's the No. 1 trait we're looking for. Obviously, we want the best football coach. I'm not worried about what side of the ball, and I'm not worried about a playcaller. We want leadership. That's our No. 1 priority."

The Broncos have formally requested to interview New England Patriots linebackers coach Jerod Mayo, Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy; Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon, Los Angeles Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O'Connell, Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn and Packers quarterbacks coach/pass game coordinator Luke Getsy.

Many in the league believe the Broncos will also interview Doug Pederson, who won a Super Bowl as the Eagles' head coach, in the coming weeks as well. But Pederson is not currently with a team -- he's expected to interview with the Chicago Bears -- so the Broncos can interview him at any time.

Of the group they've requested permission to talk to, Quinn is the only former NFL head coach (43-42 in five seasons with the Atlanta Falcons), while Moore is the only full-time playcaller on the offensive side of the ball -- Packers coach Matt LaFleur does let Hackett and Getsy call plays during preseason games. Quinn, Glenn and Gannon are currently defensive playcallers.

All five of the assistant coaches from the offensive side of the ball are working a version of the West Coast offense, including three of the candidates in the Packers' and Rams' versions, which have direct ties to former Broncos coach Mike Shanahan. Rams coach Sean McVay and LaFleur were both on Shanahan's Washington staff and use a healthy portion of Shanahan's playbook in what they do.

The Broncos' last Super Bowl win, to close out the 2015 season, came under longtime Shanahan assistant Gary Kubiak. It was also the team's last playoff playoff appearance, and the Broncos haven't had a winning season since Kubiak's 2016 team finished 9-7.

Pederson had also run a version of the offense during his time as a playcaller and head coach.

Paton seems to have made a conscious decision among the nine requests to move away from 63-year-old Vic Fangio, who was fired on Sunday after the Broncos' fifth consecutive losing season. Bieniemy is the oldest, at 52, of the nine assistants the Broncos requested to interview, with Quinn at 51 and Glenn at 49.

And no matter whom Paton finally picks when all is said and done, a plan to repair the Broncos' clunky offense is certainly at the top of the list. The Broncos have not averaged more than 23 points per game since 2014 and haven't averaged more than 21 points per game since 2015, with three seasons (2021, 2019 and 2017) in which they averaged fewer than 20 points a game.

"The offense -- we need to upgrade the offense, we know that," Paton said. "Whoever we talk to, they're going to have to have a plan for our offense. If they're a defensive-minded coach, they're going to have talk about their plan -- their offensive coordinator and his coaching staff and what his vision is with our personnel. All that goes into it. Offense is obviously a priority, but we don't want to take a step back on defense. We also need to elevate special teams. We need someone to take over the whole operation and not just be focused on one side of the ball, even though we really need to upgrade on that side of the ball."

Paton has worked with several of the candidates before, including most notably Quinn with the Miami Dolphins and Gannon with the Minnesota Vikings.

Broncos CEO Joe Ellis used the words "energize" and "inspire," so it's clear the team wants a little more than a football coach diving into the X's and O's. It wants a tactician who can look good and be enthusiastic about the job with more than a few wins.

"I think from my standpoint and from George's standpoint, we'll need a leader who inspires," Ellis said. "I think our fans are looking for that, and I think everybody can feed off of that. George talked about somebody who's got a high level of football sophistication along with leadership, and I think, together, those two components will inspire people and we should get better."

Of the previous five head coaches since Shanahan was fired after the 2008 season, only Kubiak and John Fox had head-coaching experience. Josh McDaniels, Vance Joseph and Fangio were each first-time head coaches -- at any level -- and none of the three lasted longer than three seasons, as McDaniels didn't even last two.

Mayo, an eight-year veteran as a player, is the newest to coaching of the group. He has been on the Patriots' staff for the past three years after working in finance for a health care company after his playing career was finished.

Glenn, Bieniemy, O'Connell and Moore all played in the league before they began their coaching careers. Glenn played 15 seasons and was a three-time Pro Bowl selection, while Bieniemy had a nine-year playing career with three teams.

"We're looking for a leader," Paton said. "Vic was a really good leader, but we're looking for someone to lead the entire operation. Vic was a great coach and I loved working with him. I loved what he did on the defensive side of the ball. Vic did a lot for this organization. We don't want to take a step back on defense, but we want to upgrade the other phases of the ball. I can't say 'leadership' enough. We're just looking for that right leader for this organization."