The Broncos fired rookie head coach Nathaniel Hackett two games before completing his first season with the team. Hackett, 43, had to be sacked after Sunday’s embarrassing 51-14 loss to the Rams that dropped Denver to a hugely disappointing 4-11 in 2022.
Hackett was the 18th manager in franchise history. The Broncos have gone through three hiring and firing cycles since 2016, which also include Vance Joseph and Vic Fangio.
For their 19th coach, the Broncos have quarterback Russell Wilson to think about. Wilson has had a rough ride with Hackett and needs help to operate on a more functional, better planned offense. He could also use a leader he can respect, like he did with Pete Carroll in Seattle in the early days.
Here is the list of the X most attractive candidates and best successors to Hackett, starting with the biggest name available:
MORE: A comprehensive timeline of Nathaniel Hackett’s coaching blunders
Ranking of the Broncos’ top coaching candidates for 2023
1. Sean Payton, Fox Sports analyst and former Saints coach (Age: 58)
Whatever team hires Payton needs to get him out of his Saints contract, but that shouldn’t be a problem. Rumors circulated all season that Payton was ready to return to a new NFL team after a year away from the Saints. A report surfaced this weekend that he plans to join Fangio as his defensive coordinator.
As a long-time venerable coordinator, Fangio didn’t quite have the skills needed as a head coach to make the transition. But he was responsible for giving the team a new strong defensive foundation by 2021, which was taken over by Ejiro Evero in 22.
Payton has the attacking mindset to help Wilson make better use of his talented players. He also has a Super Bowl-winning pedigree, which is very appealing given what Mike McCarthy (Cowboys) and Doug Pederson (Jaguars) have accomplished in their recent NFL returns.
2. DeMeco Ryans, 49ers defensive coordinator (Age: 38)
Ryans is already the hottest coaching candidate in the NFL as the former Texans standout linebacker rolls in San Francisco with his fiery squad. He’s a personable player-coach and motivator, and Ryans has the kind of peer personality that Wilson would respect. Ryans would also be smart to install a 49ers-like offensive scheme that would be ideal for helping Wilson rebound.
3. Shane Steichen, Eagles offense coordinator (Age: 37)
Steichen’s work with Jalen Hurts under Nick Sirianni is also not to be overlooked. He could be the right man to get Wilson to bring his strong arm and fast legs back together.
4. Kellen Moore, Cowboys offensive coordinator (Age: 34)
Moore also smashed it when he called games at the NFC East for Dak Prescott and Dallas’ Running Game. He’s no longer too young and fresh to be considered for a big leap to leading an entire team.
5. Ben Johnson, Lions offensive coordinator (Age: 36)
Johnson was a revelation as he turned the Lions’ offense into one of the most versatile and explosive groups in the league. He has over a decade of NFL experience and has demonstrated good play-calling skills. In particular, he was able to give Wilson’s wide receivers and tight ends a big boost.
6. David Shaw, former Stanford head coach (Age: 50)
Shaw has done all he can with his alma mater as the Cardinal’s program has plummeted far from its once high ceiling on the modern college football landscape. But he has many years of NFL experience in his past and can combine a respected presence with good offensive spirit for Wilson.
7. Eric Bieniemy, Chiefs offensive coordinator (Age: 53)
Former Colorado Buffaloes running back star Bieniemy is hoping he has a better chance of getting a promotion elsewhere in this hiring cycle. The Broncos should want some of their rivals’ offensive success to help Wilson compete better with Patrick Mahomes.
8. Mike Kafka, Giants offense coordinator (Age: 35)
Here’s another way to tap into the Chiefs: Kafka worked well with Brian Daboll in his freshman year in New York to revitalize Daniel Jones’ career and gave the Giants enough offense to put them in the playoff position .