ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — As a franchise, the Denver Broncos aren’t strangers to building a championship culture.

Their three shiny Lombardi Trophies on display at the UCHealth Training Center back that up.

But since Peyton Manning left following their most recent Super Bowl victory which capped off the 2015 season, those championship habits have faded so far into the background that they are hard to see.

Less than a year into owning the organization, Greg Penner set out on a month-long journey to find the right person to bring that championship culture back to the Mile high City.

On Jan. 31, Sean Payton was officially deemed as the man for the job. And who better to unlock the championship culture inside the Broncos facility than someone who has already won a Super Bowl as a head coach?

“Win a Super Bowl. Win multipl—win,” Sean Payton stated on Monday when asked what he wants his legacy to be in Denver. “It’s important here. Look, I’ve had a number of opportunities maybe to go somewhere and it just—here you are, there’s no other city that’s sold out as often as this city is with their football team, in fact in all of sports. That’s important. That passion is important. That crowd noise. I don’t want to play somewhere or coach somewhere where half of the visiting fans are coming from the opponents team. I know that’s not the case here. Winning.”

Sure a potential record-setting contract helped lure him to Denver, but Payton’s desire to be with a hungry franchise played a role in him choosing the Broncos.

Since stepping away from the New Orleans Saints in Jan. 2022, Payton got married and became an NFL analyst for Fox. Despite not coaching, Sundays were still his favorite day of the week because that was when he got to break down the game he loved. In fact, he would even lay out his Sunday suit the night before out of excitement for the next day.

Now, during his final week at Fox before focusing all of his attention on turning around the Broncos, he has to watch his newest division rival in the Super Bowl.

“I’m jealous when I watch it, when I see Philadelphia or Kansas City. There’s some common themes to those teams,” Payton said. “Unselfish isn’t necessarily the word, but there is a—because the journey is so long, there is a closeness. Those guys will walk together forever whoever wins this game. Forever, they’ll be introduced as the 2023 Super Bowl Champions and it was played in Arizona. And they’ll talk about those games when they’re in rocking chairs when they’re in their 80s. That’s pretty cool.”

Payton wants to bring back those common championship themes to the Broncos that have been lost in their past seven seasons.

And he’s already begun that process.

The first notable change Payton is bringing is who he’s not allowing in the building.

Last year, Russell Wilson was allowed a variety of perks during his first season as the Broncos’ starting quarterback from getting his own personal office to his family members being able to go in and out of the facility during training camp to Wilson bringing his own staff with him inside the facility.

That won’t fly in Payton’s place.

When asked about Wilson’s personal quarterbacks coach Jake Heaps, Payton stated “I’m not too familiar with that.” When a reporter further explained that Heaps—who was employed by Wilson and not the Broncos—spent much of last season inside Denver’s facility, Payton quickly shut that down moving forward.

“Yeah that’s foreign to me. That’s not going to take place here,” Payton stated, to a small media contingent following his introductory press conference. “I’m unfamiliar with it, but our staff will be here, our players will be here and that’ll be it.”

After being a head coach in New Orleans for 15 years, Payton isn’t a stranger to dealing with superstar players and balancing their needs with the teams needs. He plans on a cooperative approach in Denver, but it won’t always be just giving the players what they want.

“You have to be, I think, authentic. I can’t try to be Bill [Belichick] or someone else. I’ve got to be who I think I am. I think I can laugh at myself. I can be wrong. I can be humble. I can be confident,” Payton said. “But I know what it looks like and I know what it doesn’t look like. Sometimes, we’re not asking. Sometimes it’s non-negotiable. And sometimes, we are.”

Nathaniel Hackett was unquestionably a players coach for his 15 games in Denver. Payton, while he will work with players, isn’t going to give in to all of their requests.

Speaking of Denver’s former coach, Payton made it very clear he will not have the same struggles that Hackett had in managing a game, in part because of his experience, unlike the Broncos’ past three head coaches.

When a reporter told Payton he believes Denver’s new head coach is a good game manager, Payton cut him off and said, “I think I’m a really good that way.”

“There are certain things you learn from experience,” Payton added on. “I played quarterback, I think that helps. But also I was around some really good people. I mentioned earlier, I use this term bloodlines, or who you were able to work with. Sometimes, we don’t get to control that. None of us. We’ve all been influenced by people. But then sometimes, you’re around someone really, really special. I became more and more comfortable. Yet I still want to hear those assistants in my ear always relative to timeout usages, fourth quarter.”

“But I don’t anticipate the crowd having to count down the 30 second clock,” Payton tossed in, referencing when the crowd counted down the play clock against the Texans last year to help the team avoid delay of games.

Payton’s shots didn’t stop there.

For whatever reason, over the past few years, Denver’s head coaches haven’t embraced the once glorious rivalries that exist in the AFC West. The Broncos’ past coaches would simply discount the divisional games as “one of 17” or even praise the other organizations.

That won’t happen under Payton’s watch.

“I’m picking the Eagles,” Payton said unprompted when talking about who he’s got in the Super Bowl this coming Sunday. “We never want anyone in our division to win anything. Right? The perfect weekend for a Bronco fan is we get a win and the other three lose.”

This isn’t Payton’s first time entering a tough division containing a relatively recent Super Bowl champion. He didn’t shy away back in 2006 with the Saints and he’s not doing it again in Denver, despite having Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert in the division.

“A lot of people said, ‘Hey you’re going to a place where you got Kansas City, the Chargers obviously with a young quarterback there in Herbert and Vegas trying to turn it around,'” Payton said. “I don’t know, I spent more time looking inward toward the team than outward toward the opponents. When I went to New Orleans, Tampa was the team that we had to knock off because [Jon] Gruden was there, they had just won a Super Bowl two years prior. They had that great defense. Look, there’s certainly a respect level for the opponents in our division.”

Sean Payton stated his desire to winning Super Bowls is as strong as it’s ever been, adding, “That addiction is powerful.”

Within moments of him being introduced as the Denver Broncos’ head coach, he had already taken multiple steps to help turn the franchise around and get them back to their winning ways.


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.