Embarrassing and unacceptable.

That’s how George Paton described Nathaniel Hackett’s final game as the Broncos’ head coach less than 24 hours after Denver lost to the Los Angeles Rams 51-14 on Christmas Day. Greg Penner echoed that sentiment two days after moving on from Hackett as well.

The Walton-Penner Ownership’s stocking was full of coal during their first Christmas owning the team. They are setting out to make next Christmas in Broncos Country full of joy by spending millions of dollar on a head coach and being “ultra aggressive” to land whichever coach they want.

After one of the most disappointing seasons in franchise history, if not the most disappointing season, Penner, Paton and Condoleezza Rice set out to find Denver’s next coach. They didn’t waste any time, either, kicking off the interview process less than a day after their 5-12 season concluded. And, if they stick with the candidates they currently have, they appear to be looking for the exact opposite of what they just had in town.

Hackett was an up-and-coming offensive-minded coach who was going to call the plays when he became a head coach and allow the defensive coordinator to lead that side of the ball. Hackett also had zero head coaching experience before taking Denver’s top job.

The Broncos weren’t necessarily foolish for falling for Hackett. In fact, in the last decade, these type of coaches have often been the hottest and most sought after candidates. Hackett isn’t the only one of these coaches to not pan out, but many have had success—Sean McVay, Matt LaFleur, Kyle Shanahan and Kevin O’Connell, to name a few.

Despite casting a wide net of eight candidates, the Broncos don’t have a single candidate on their radar that matches a similar background and profile as Hackett did a year ago.

Coincidence? Potentially. But hard to believe there isn’t a correlation at all.

Denver has passed on the opportunity, at least as of now, to interview would-be first-time head coaches such as Bills’ offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey, Lions’ offensive coordinator Ben Johnson, Giants’ offensive coordinator Mike Kafka, Cowboys’ offensive coordinator Kellen Moore and Eagles’ offensive coordinator Shane Steichen, all who are offensive minds.

Instead, the Broncos are looking for experience, CEO-type coaches and/or defensive minds.

Of the eight candidates Denver has interviewed or will, five have been head coaches in the NFL before. Jim Harbaugh, Sean Payton, Raheem Morris, Dan Quinn and Jim Caldwell all fit this bill. Last year, of the 10 candidates the Broncos interviewed to be their next head coach, only one had NFL head coaching experience (Quinn). This year, the majority of their candidates have that. Harbaugh is no longer in the running after deciding to return to Michigan.

Of the three that don’t have that experience, two, DeMeco Ryans and Ejiro Evero, are defensive-minded candidates. Neither Ryans nor Evero appears to be dead set on calling defensive plays as head coach, instead acting as more of a CEO-type coach, leading the entire team instead of just focusing on one side of the ball.

The closest person that Denver has on their candidate list that fits the Hackett mold is David Shaw. There is a major difference, however, between Shaw and Hackett. While Shaw doesn’t have head coaching experience in the NFL, he spent the past 12 seasons as the head coach of Stanford. So, even then, Shaw doesn’t even come close to the first-time offensive-minded coach that Hackett was a year ago.

It’s not abnormal for NFL teams to look for the antithesis of the coach they just fired.

And that’s exactly the route the Walton-Penner group appears to be taking to find Nathaniel Hackett’s successor.


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.