For six weeks, we wondered who the Broncos’ next head coach will be.
The answer: Sean Payton.
Now it’s time to ask who Payton will hire to his staff.
The Broncos have a chance to put together a superstar staff in Denver. Payton has the connections to bring in the best of the best, and the Broncos’ ownership group has the pocketbook to foot the bill.
Guessing who the Broncos’ defensive coaches will be is much more difficult than building an offensive staff. Finding offensive coaches who have worked with Payton and may want to work with him again is easy, but Payton’s teams in New Orleans ran a 4-3 defense and we’re unlikely to see the Broncos switch from a 3-4, so his defensive connections are limited.
The good news is that the Broncos have some well-regarded young coaches on their defensive staff who are likely to stick around, especially if defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero sticks in Denver. The Broncos are also planning to interview Steelers linebackers coach Brian Flores and Seahawks associate head coach Sean Desai, and they each bring their own list of connections.
For the most part, the names listed below are in order of who I think is most likely to end up with the job to who is least likely. As we learn more about who is being interviewed or what qualifications Payton is looking for, we’ll update this list.
Let’s dig in…
Ejiro Evero, 42 — Evero is under contract for second and third seasons as the Broncos’ defensive coordinator, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s going to stick around in Denver. Evero is a candidate for the two remaining head coaching positions in Indianapolis and Arizona, and he has rumored interest in becoming Kevin O’Connell’s defensive coordinator in Minnesota, after the pair spent two years together under Sean McVay in Los Angeles. The Broncos could block Evero from leaving for a different defensive coordinator position, but they may not want to hold a coach hostage to their staff. The continuity Evero would provide should make him the top option for Payton, but the ball is in Evero’s court. If Evero returns and leaves for a head job next offseason, the Broncos would gain two third-round compensatory picks.
Brian Flores, 41 — The Broncos requested an interview with Flores, the Steelers’ linebackers coach and senior defensive assistant, to be their next defensive coordinator. He began his career as a Patriots defensive assistant under Bill Belichick for over a decade and by the time he left town he was the defensive play caller. From 2019-21, Flores was the head coach of the Dolphins. He won 10 games then 9 games in his final two years, but was fired. After his firing he sued the NFL and other entities including the Broncos for racial discrimination. Just about everybody who could have been involved with the lawsuit is no longer working for the Broncos, so it shouldn’t be an issue. Flores runs a 3-4 base defense, so changes could be minimal, but his core philosophies are different than those we’ve seen in Denver recently. He blitzes at a remarkably high rate and uses plenty of exotic looks, which could help hide the Broncos’ lack of pass rushers. Denver’s top-end defensive backs would be asked to handle more one-on-one assignments.
Sean Desai, 39 — Like Flores, Desai has already been tabbed by the Broncos for an interview for their defensive coordinator position. Desai joined the Bears’ staff as an assistant in 2013 and came up under Vic Fangio. In 2021, Desai was the Bears’ defensive coordinator (and the first coordinator of Indian descent in NFL history). He didn’t make it through the head coach change last offseason, though, and he joined the Seahawks as associate head coach and defensive assistant for 2022. Desai is a Fangio disciple and would run a scheme similar, but not identical, to what the Broncos have used for the past four seasons. His defense figures to be the most conservative of the big three candidates for defensive coordinator.
Mike Zimmer, 66 — Zimmer has 14 years of NFL coordinating experience and eight years of experience as the Minnesota Vikings’ head coach. He’s a well-respected coach who cut his teeth as Deion Sanders’ position coach with the Cowboys in the 90s, where he coached with Payton for three seasons. Zimmer is rumored to be interested in Sanders’ staff at Colorado, but he’d almost certainly take the Broncos’ defensive coordinator job instead. He has run 3-4 and 4-3 defenses in the past, and would be more than capable of setting up a scheme that fits Denver’s personnel. If the Broncos are looking to build an all-star staff, convincing Zimmer to take the defensive backs job could be a grand slam. That might be unlikely, considering he’s only been a coordinator or head coach this century.
Steve Wilks, 53 — Fresh off a successful, three-month stint as the Carolina Panthers’ interim head coach, Wilks is looking for a new job. He has two years of experience as an NFL coordinator and spent the 2018 as the Cardinals’ head coach. Wilks is a hot name on the coaching market, but he runs a 4-3 defense and that would be a major hurdle for Denver.
Kris Richard, 43 — The Saints decided to part ways with Richard, their co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach this week, clearing the way for him to rejoin Payton’s staff. Richard came up with the Seahawks, where he was the defensive backs coach for the Legion of Boom defense from 2011-14, before taking over as defensive coordinator for three years starting in 2015. Richard has an outside chance to take the coordinator job, but is more likely to fit in as an assistant.
Defensive Line Coach
Bill Johnson, 67 — If you’re trying to connect the dots between potential assistant coaches and Denver’s staff, Bill Johnson is the man for you. Take a look at this stretch: In 2007 and 2008, Johnson was the Broncos’ defensive line coach. Then he became Payton’s defensive line coach for eight years. Then he went to the Rams for two years, where he worked alongside Evero. Johnson coached in the USFL last season and would certainly jump at the opportunity to join Payton’s staff.
Jim Tomsula, 54 — Would Jim Tomsula leave the Rhein Fire of the European Football League after his first season as head coach to join Sean Payton’s staff? I think so. But it’s really tough to say. Prior to his first NFL job in 2007, Tomsula spent nine years coaching in Europe and he may want to remain overseas. Tomsula was fired after his one season as the 49ers’ head coach in 2015 but he was a successful defensive line coach in his 13 other NFL seasons. Tomsula spent five years in San Francisco with Ejiro Evero.
Paul Pasqualoni, 73 — Is Pasqualoni still interested in coaching? He was last year, before he was fired midseason along with some other Panthers coaches. The veteran defensive line coach has earned coordinator roles in the past. He was also in Dallas for Sean Payton’s last season as offensive coordinator. Pasqualoni was tight ends coach, the only offensive job of his career, which meant he worked closely with Payton.
Ed Orgeron, 61 — There’s almost no way the Broncos can get Coach O to Denver, but he was Payton’s defensive line coach in 2008, so there’s a connection. This won’t happen, but it’s fun to think about.
Outside Linebackers Coach
Bert Watts, 43 — In his first season as an NFL position coach, Watts impressed. He managed a young, banged-up group of Broncos outside linebackers through the 2022 season and he’s seen as an up-and-comer. He doesn’t have much of an NFL resume to this point, but he’d be the favorite for the job if Evero stays in town. Payton’s lack of connections to outside linebackers coaches because of his 4-3 defenses in New Orleans help Watts’ chances.
Joe Vitt, 68 — Vitt has been out of coaching for two years. His most recent work was as the Jets’ outside linebackers coach for two seasons. His first job came with the Colts in 1979, but his longest stretch with a single team was with the Saints for Payton’s first 11 seasons. He was the assistant head coach and linebackers coach and was the interim head coach for the season Payton was suspended.
Ted Monachino, 56 — When the Falcons hired Ryan Nielsen as defensive coordinator, they decided not to retain Monachino for a third season as outside linebackers coach. Monachino has 16 years of NFL experience, including six years as Baltimore’s outside linebackers coach, a stint that earned him a Super Bowl ring and the Colts’ defensive coordinator job. Monachino worked alongside Desai for two seasons in Chicago.
Inside Linebackers Coach
Peter Hansen, 43 — If Evero sticks around, Hansen has a great chance to hold onto his linebackers job for another season. Hansen helped Josey Jewell and Alex Singleton to some of the most productive seasons of their careers. He also spent six years as David Shaw’s linebackers coach, which could help his case if Shaw becomes the Broncos’ offensive coordinator.
Anthony Campanile, 40 — Vic Fangio is the Dolphins’ defensive coordinator, and he’s yet to build his Miami staff. He could opt to keep Campanile, but Brian Flores could swoop in if not. Campanile was his linebackers coach for his final two seasons as the Dolphins’ head coach.
Joe Vitt, 68 — See his notes in the outside linebackers coach section.
Defensive Backs Coach
Christian Parker, 31 — The Broncos’ up-and-coming defensive backs coach keeps building more hype around himself. Despite being younger than some of the players he’s coached in Denver, Parker’s results speak for themselves. Justin Simmons led the NFL in turnovers forced. Pat Surtain might be the best cornerback in the game. Damarri Mathis looked like a starting NFL cornerback as a rookie after he took over for Ronald Darby. Sean Payton or the new defensive coordinator may have their own man for the job, but beating out Parker won’t be easy. He may soon be considered for coordinator jobs.
Josh Boyer, 46 — Boyer would become the favorite for this job if Flores is the defensive coordinator. Flores and Boyer spent 11 years together with the Patriots and Boyer followed Flores to Miami in 2019. Boyer was the Dolphins’ cornerbacks coach and defensive pass game coordinator for his first season before being promoted to coordinator. He stuck around through Mike McDaniel’s first season but was fired this offseason.
Kris Richard, 43 — See his notes in the coordinator section.
Mike Zimmer, 66 — See his notes in the coordinator section.
Chuck Pagano, 62 — Pagano hasn’t coached in two seasons, but he may relish an opportunity to coach just down the road from his hometown of Boulder. Pagano came up in the Ravens’ defense before becoming the Colts’ head coach from 2012-17. He then spent two years as the Bears’ defensive coordinator, where Sean Desai was his safeties coach. It’s been more than a decade since Pagano has held a position coach role but, like Zimmer, he’d be a home-run hire on an all-star staff.
Special Teams Coordinator
Jerry Rosburg, 67 — The Broncos’ interim head coach would be a good candidate (and a fan favorite) for the special teams coordinator job. He has 18 years of NFL experience as a special teams coordinator, including 11 seasons with the Ravens from 2008-18 when the Ravens had among the best special teams every season.
Bubba Ventrone, 40 — Ventrone built a decade-long NFL career as a special teams player, while never starting a game on offense or defense. Immediately after retiring, he joined the Patriots’ coaching staff as assistant special teams coach in 2015. He had played for New England in two separate stints. Ventrone became the Colts’ special teams coordinator in 2018 and has since grown into one of the best in the business. Indy is still in the midst of its coaching search and Ventrone could be available.
Mike Mallory, 60 — Mallory joined the Broncos’ staff as an assistant special teams coach in 2022, a role he also held with Payton’s Saints from 2008-12. In between, he was the Jaguars’ special teams coordinator. Mallory will probably fit into Payton’s staff as an assistant special teams coach, but he could be in line for a promotion.