Expectations could not have been higher in the Mile High City coming into this season. The Denver Broncos went out and addressed a crucial need that had been an issue for years by acquiring Russell Wilson. Finally, with a marquee quarterback under center, established position players that could be difference-makers on the offensive side, and a stellar D, the Broncs were ready to ride.
Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead
Well, someone forgot to unlatch the gate to let these wild horses run roughshod, and only a trip to the glue factory lay ahead. The Broncos got out to an atrocious 2-5 start, which saw them lose four straight for the first time in the season over that span. Two weeks later, they’d one-up that skid, starting a five-game slump.
Russ was only cookin’ the stat book (0r burning) on the way to the worst season of his illustrious 11-year career. Wilson logged a personal-worst 84.4 QB rating, putting up career lows in touchdown passes (16) and completion percentage (60.5%).
Denver won just five games in 2022, which included a victory in the season finale against a Los Angeles Chargers team with nothing to play for, already locked into their playoff position. The offense clearly shouldered the majority of the blame as Denver’s D was more than respectable, finishing in the top 10 in many defensive categories.
It was clear early in the season that this offense was not tailored for Russell Wilson. Once you get a top-level quarterback, a position the franchise needed to fill for years, you must make it work. And just who is responsible for building around a new franchise cornerstone? The head coach.
Nighty Night Nathaniel
So before even finishing his first season, Nathaniel Hackett was given the axe after a grinchy Broncos 51-14 Christmas Day loss to the lowly Los Angeles Rams. Denver couldn’t even wait a few more weeks to give Hackett his walking papers on Black Monday, the traditional day after the season ends when most coaches on the way out are let go. You can hardly blame the Broncos after such a disastrous campaign. His replacement’s priority will undoubtedly be to build a workable offense around Russ.
Enter Jim Harbaugh
The Broncos made no bones about it that they are very interested in bringing Jim Harbaugh back to the NFL. Denver interviewed the former San Francisco 49ers head man this week, a talk that reportedly went over two hours. Other reports suggested the current Michigan Wolverines bench boss came out of that virtual meeting as the “top candidate” for the position.
Before going 74-25, winning back-to-back Big Ten titles, and reaching the College Football Playoff twice with his alma mater, Harbaugh showed plenty of success at the NFL level.
The 59-year-old sported a 44-19-1 record over four seasons while leading the 49ers to three straight NFC championship games and a Super Bowl appearance. While in the City by the Bay, Harbaugh forged a strong relationship while getting the most out of his quarterback, Colin Kaepernick. The same will have to be done in Denver, as the Broncos need much more from Russell Wilson. Harbaugh may be the man to get it.
Paving the Way for Payton
Denver appears to be set on going the big-name avenue for their next head coach, as Sean Payton is said to be one of its preferred candidates. Payton himself revealed he’s already had conversations with Broncos ownership. Whether that be Broncos controlling owner Rob Walton or co-owner and team CEO Greg Penner is still unclear.
Regardless these talks are very preliminary as the interview process can’t officially begin until January 17th, after Payton was permitted by his former employers, the New Orleans Saints, to seek coaching opportunities elsewhere.
Like Harbaugh, Payton is another coach known to stay tight with his signal caller. The current FOX studio analyst paired up with future Hall of Famer, Drew Brees, gave the Saints near-instant success that lasted well over a decade. Payton is considered an offensive genius that brought New Orleans a Super Bowl in 2010 alongside Brees. The 59-year-old has a career record of 152-89 and could be the spark Russell Wilson and Denver’s offense needs.
The only caveat, other than every team in the league also wanting Payton, is that the Broncos would have to compensate the Saints for prying away their former head coach. Denver spent plenty of draft capital to land Wilson, so they’ll have to go all-in to continue that path to land Payton.
The Other Guys
Ejiro Evero, Broncos Defensive Coordinator
Not everything Nathaniel Hackett touched turned to horsepucky. His DC hire turned out to be an absolute gem, as Ejiro Evero helped craft one of the better defenses in the league in Denver. Evero will almost certainly be an NFL head coach at some point, but at 42, coming off his first big coaching gig, he may need a year or two more of seasoning.
The in-house option already had his interview, having to follow up the ultra-experienced Harbaugh (no pressure) for the job. Harbaugh and Evero are the only two to receive interviews so far.
Dan Quinn, Cowboys Defensive Coordinator
Well, Ok, Dan Quinn was interviewed by the Broncos too, but that was a year ago. Quinn met with Denver after last season before losing out to Hackett for the job. The Broncos may want a do-over for that choice, and they have it with Quinn back in the building.
The former Atlanta Falcons head man is coming off a season where he transformed a formerly disastrous Cowboys defense. As DC in Dallas, Quinn turned the Boys into one of the best units in the NFL.
Quinn also has head coaching experience and sports a 43-42 career record with a Super Bowl appearance on his resume. Losing the big game to the GOAT, Tom Brady, and evil genius Bill Belichick is nothing to be ashamed of, so you can bet that Quinn would love another shot after being that close to a ring.
Raheem Morris, Rams Defensive Coordinator
At just 46, Raheem Morris already has well over a decade of experience coaching in the NFL. Once upon a time in Tampa, Morris was the youngest head coach in the league. While things didn’t work out in the early 2010s in Florida, Morris continued to build his resume.
Before helping shape LA’s lethal Super Bowl-winning defense, the Rams defensive coordinator was on staff in Washington and Atlanta. Morris would actually replace another man on our list, taking over for Dan Quinn as the head man in Atlanta on an interim basis after Quinn started the 2020 season with an 0-5 mark.
Raheem is certainly more of a defensive mind and may not bring the pedigree to shape an offense around Russell Wilson. That said, nothing says he can’t bring some people that can from Sean McVay’s Rams staff.
DeMeco Ryans, 49ers Defensive Coordinator
They must grow defensive minds on trees out in California. San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans is also on Denver’s shortlist. Ryans has a world of experience in the league as both a coach and player. The former Houston Texans second-round pick has been on the Niners coaching staff since 2017, and before that, the two-time Pro Bowler terrorized opposing offenses as an NFL linebacker for 10 years.
At just 38, Ryans is a sparkplug, and his infectious energy could light a fire under a Denver team that looked lifeless for most of the year.
The above four either already had or have been requested for an interview, so it’s very possible one of these men is heading the horse next year.