The Broncos fired rookie head coach Nathaniel Hackett two games short of finishing his first season with the team. Hackett, 43, had to be dismissed after Sunday’s embarrassing 51-14 road loss to the Rams that dropped Denver to a most disappointing 4-11 in 2022.
Hackett was the 18th coach in franchise history. The Broncos have gone through three hiring and firing cycles since 2016 that also includes Vance Joseph and Vic Fangio.
For their 19th coach, the Broncos need to have quarterback Russell Wilson most in mind. Wilson had a rough ride with Hackett and needs help to operate in a more functional, better schemed offense. He also could use a leader whom he can respect like he did in the early days with Pete Carroll in Seattle.
Here’s looking at the list of X most appealing candidates and best replacements for Hackett, starting with the biggest name available:
MORE: A comprehensive timeline of Nathaniel Hackett’s coaching blunders
Ranking Broncos’ best coaching candidates for 2023
1. Sean Payton, Fox Sports analyst and former Saints coach (age: 58)
Whatever team hires Payton has to get him out of his Saints contract, but that shouldn’t be an issue. Rumors have swirled all season that Payton is ready to return to a new NFL team after a year off from the Saints. A report surfaced this weekend that he plans to attach himself to Fangio as his defensive coordinator.
Fangio didn’t quite have the head-coaching chops making the transition as a long-time venerable coordinator. But he was responsible for giving the team a new strong defensive foundation through 2021, which has carried over with Ejiro Evero in ’22.
Payton has the offensive mind-set to help Wilson make better use of his talented skill players. He also comes with a Super Bowl-winning pedigree, which is very appealing given what Mike McCarthy (Cowboys) and Doug Pederson (Jaguars) have done in their recent NFL returns.
2. DeMeco Ryans, 49ers defensive coordinator (age: 38)
Ryans is the hottest coaching candidate already in the NFL as the former Texans standout linebacker is rolling with his fiery group in San Francisco. He’s a likable players coach and motivator and Ryans has the type of peer personality Wilson would respect. Ryans also would be smart to install a 49ers-like offensive scheme that would be ideal to help Wilson rebound.
3. Shane Steichen, Eagles offensive coordinator (age: 37)
Steichen’s work with Jalen Hurts under Nick Sirianni can’t be ignored, either. He might be the right guy to get Wilson to mesh his strong arm and quick legs together again.
4. Kellen Moore, Cowboys offensive coordinator (age: 34)
Moore also has been crushing it calling plays in the NFC East for Dak Prescott and Dallas’ running game. He is no longer too young and fresh-faced to be considered for a big jump to leading an entire team.
5. Ben Johnson, Lions offensive coordinator (age: 36)
Johnson has been a revelation in waking up the Lions’ offense to become one of the league’s versatile and explosive groups. He has great NFL experience beyond a decade and has shown fine play-calling chops. In particular, he could provide a big boost to Wilson’s wide receivers and tight ends.
6. David Shaw, former Stanford head coach (age: 50)
Shaw did all he could with his alma mater, as the Cardinal’s program has dropped far from its once high ceiling in the modern college football landscape. But he has plenty of years of NFL experience in his past and he can combine a respected accomplished presence with a good offensive mind for Wilson.
7. Eric Bieniemy, Chiefs offensive coordinator (age: 53)
Bieniemy, the former Colorado Buffaloes star running back, will hope that he has a better shot at a promotion elsewhere in this hiring cycle. The Broncos should want a piece of their rivals’ offensive success to help Wilson better compete with Patrick Mahomes.
8. Mike Kafka, Giants offensive coordinator (age: 35)
Here’s another way to tap into the Chiefs, Kafka has done well working with Brian Daboll during his first year in New York to revive the career of Daniel Jones and given the Giants enough offense to put them in playoff position.
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