ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Greg Penner and George Paton are not just looking for Russell Wilson’s next head coach.

Penner, Paton and the rest of the Broncos’ ownership group will be looking for the next head coach of the Denver Broncos, not just someone to turn Wilson around, after firing Nathaniel Hackett less than a year into his tenure.

“I don’t think we’ve made a coaching move based off Russ. That wasn’t what it’s all about. That’s not why we’re getting a new coach—to turn around Russ. It’s about the entire organization. It’s about the entire football team,” Paton stated on Tuesday, a day after firing Hackett after his first 15 games as head coach. “It’s not just one player. It’s not whether Russ is fixable or not, but we do believe he is. We do.”

From the moment he arrived until nearly the moment he was let go, Hackett stated time and time again that building the offense was all about Wilson. The team’s five-year, $242 million extension to their franchise quarterback before the season began didn’t hurt Hackett’s point.

However, Denver’s owner/CEO and general manager made it clear on Tuesday the days about everything being about Wilson are over.

“It’s really important that whoever we hire has a relationship with the quarterback—‘Russ’ and whoever our—the backups, but the entire offense as well as the entire defense. We need someone to fix the special teams,” Paton said, when asked how important the new head coach’s fit with Wilson will be in making the hire. “Really, all three phases are what we want our coach to be an expert in, not just one person.”

Since Denver’s next head coach won’t just be a Russell Wilson guru, what are the traits that Penner is looking for?

To no surprise, Penner, the owner & CEO of the Broncos as well as the Chairman of Walmart, turned to his business background for that.

“I’ve worked with a lot of great CEOs, and it starts with really strong leadership. That’s going to be the most critical factor here in a head coach,” he stated. “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.”

Penner circled back to culture and leadership once again later in his press conference on Tuesday, adding, “With this head coaching search, that is where we are going to start, where we are going to be focused on finding the right person.”

Since Gary Kubiak stepped away following the 2016 season, the Broncos’ following three coaches have all been first-time head coaches. Vance Joseph, Vic Fangio and Hackett had a combined zero winning seasons leading the Broncos.

That, however, won’t scare the Broncos away from hiring another first-time head coach.

“If you have experience, it helps. It certainly helps, but it’s not necessary,” Paton said on Tuesday, later adding that quality is helpful. “We are going to keep an open mind through this search. If there is a quality candidate that is experienced, then sure, certainly, but we’re not going to limit ourselves to just experienced candidates.”

Denver’s next head coach will report directly to Penner, not Paton, which Penner said was more of the typical structure in the NFL.

“Obviously, the relationship between the general manager and the head coach is a critical one. George is going to be intimately involved with this process of looking for a new head coach, and we will make sure that there’s a good fit there,” Penner added.

With Penner leading the search, other members of the ownership group will also be involved in the process, including Carrie Walton-Penner, Rob Walton and Condoleezza Rice.

“‘Condi’ has great experience doing football searches,” Penner said. “She was just part of the Stanford football head coach search. We’ll have a group of the owners that understand what our expectations are, and we’ll be looking for that in a new head coach.”

One name has already popped up on the list of candidates Denver wants to interview for the job.

“We hope to interview Ejiro Evero for the position,” Paton stated a day after the Broncos’ defensive coordinator declined the interim head coach position.

Over the next few weeks, Denver’s list of candidates will certainly grow as Greg Penner leads his first coaching search as owner of the Broncos.


Zac Stevens was born and raised in Denver, went to the University of Denver and now covers the Denver Broncos. After graduating Summa Cum Laude from DU in 2014, Zac worked for the Cleveland Browns as a remote scout. He then jumped straight into the journalism industry at the beginning of 2016 covering the reigning world-champion Broncos and joined DNVR soon after. Catch him on Twitter @ZacStevensDNVR and daily on the DNVR Broncos podcast as the co-host.