ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos are deeply embroiled in their fourth head-coaching search since January 2017.
With a fairly new ownership group and just one player on the roster -- kicker Brandon McManus -- with playoff experience, their future coaching hire will have a relatively green slate to inherit.
Ask Broncos players what they want in a new coach and safety Justin Simmons just may speak for them all.
“That’s one I think about a lot and I’ve been asked a lot in the past few years,’’ Simmons said after the team's 5-12 finish. “And you know, I just want to win. That’s what I want. Whoever it is, however it goes, I just want to win.’’
Simmons is the only player left from the Broncos’ 2016 draft class. That was also the team’s first draft after their Super Bowl 50 win in 2015, which was the Broncos’ last postseason appearance.
In the seven years that have followed the Broncos have one winning record (9-7 in 2016) and just two seasons when they’ve lost fewer than 10 games (9-7 and 7-9 in 2019). They have tried three first-time head coaches in that span and all three have now been fired, including Nathaniel Hackett Dec. 26 after just 15 games.
“We’ve had a lot of changes in a lot of years,’’ said tackle Garett Bolles, the Broncos’ first-round pick in 2017. … "Disciplined, accountability and someone that doesn’t break their rules, that’s what we need. We need a tough guy to come in here, a leader.’’
As quarterback Russell Wilson put it: "This moment is a critical moment for us all.''
Jerry Rosburg’s 14 days as the Broncos’ interim coach might have actually influenced many inside the Broncos' suburban Denver complex about what the next coach should bring to the job. The 67-year-old Rosburg’s disciplined approach saw the Broncos play some of their best football in the two games he was on the job.
They showed a more physical identity on offense, including 205 yards rushing in the season finale, Wilson had his only two-game stretch of the season with six total touchdowns, the Broncos had just six accepted penalties in the two games combined and two of their top four scoring games of the season.
“He emphasized the little things, playing complementary football and staying together,’’ Broncos linebacker Alex Singleton said. “[To] believe in each other, and in the fourth quarter, we will be in the game and we were.’’
"[Rosburg] being such a wise soul as a guy who’s been around, won a championship before [with the Ravens]… been at the highest level, there’s an experience there of winning,'' Wilson said.
The Broncos have had a mix of experienced former head coaches as well as some first-timers on their current candidate list. Former New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton, Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, former Detroit Lions coach Jim Caldwell and Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris have each been head coaches. David Shaw had an extended run as Stanford's head coach and as a former NFL assistant.
Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero, the only member of the Broncos staff to be interviewed thus far and 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans have not been head coaches before. Broncos players, given how much they’ve seen Evero at work this season as the Broncos finished in the league’s top 10 in total defense and run defense, would support him being elevated.
“Selfishly, I would love to be with Coach [Evero],’’ Simmons said. “Whatever that looks like, head coach, back as D-coordinator again. Selfishly, I would love to be with him … I’m just so thankful for him and his leadership. I’ve learned so much from him, both on and off the field. Selflessly, I would really hope he gets that job. Obviously, it would be great if it was here, but for him to get that opportunity somewhere, I think he is more than deserving of it.’’
Broncos owner/CEO Greg Penner has led the search as well as the interview sessions with the candidates. And the day after Hackett was fired last month, Penner said as many factors as possible would be considered to pick the new coach and that head coaching experience wasn’t a deal breaker either way.
But he did clearly define the profile he wanted and it was later echoed by most of the players in the wake of Rosburg’s two weeks that followed.
“I’ve worked with a lot of great CEOs, and it starts with really strong leadership,’’ Penner said. “That’s going to be the most critical factor here in a head coach. Obviously, the X's and O's are important, but we need a strong leader for this organization that’s focused on winning. That starts with culture. It’s instilling a sense of accountability and discipline. We need an identity on offense. At the starting point, it has to be about culture and leadership. Those characteristics are what we’ll be focused on the most.’’