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"That's our No. 1 priority": George Paton makes it very clear what he's looking for in the Denver Broncos' next head coach
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — George Paton has waited over 25 years to lead his first head coaching search as a general manager in the NFL.
And despite this being his first search, he knows exactly what he’s looking for.
“The No. 1 quality is leadership,” Paton stated on Sunday afternoon, only hours after firing Vic Fangio. “We’re looking for someone to lead this entire organization, to lead this community and to lead our players. And that’s the No. 1 trait we’re looking for.”
An offensive mastermind? An experienced coach? Those would certainly be a bonus, but that’s not what Paton is looking for the most as he sets out to hire his first head coach of the Denver Broncos.
“We’re looking for a leader. Not that Vic—Vic was a really good leader, but we’re looking for someone to lead the entire operation,” Paton continued, harping on the importance of leadership in his next head coach. “We don’t want to take a step back on defense but want to upgrade the other phases of the ball. And I can’t say leadership enough. We’re just looking for the right leader for this organization.”
In 2016, the last time the team had a winning record, the Broncos were led by an offensive-minded head coach in Gary Kubiak. Since, Denver has hired two-straight defensive-minded coaches in Vance Joseph and Fangio. Neither had a winning season, let alone made the playoffs.
“Obviously we want the best football coach. I’m not worried what side of the ball, not worried about a play caller,” Paton stated, dismissing the idea that Denver has to hire an offensive-minded head coach. “We want leadership and that’s our No. 1 priority.”
A name that immediately jumps to win with that comment is Dallas’ defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who was viewed as a tremendous leader during his time as the Atlanta Falcons’ head coach from 2015-2020.
But just because Paton is open to hiring a non-offensive minded coach doesn’t mean that offense will be put on the back burner once again.
“Obviously we need to upgrade the offense. We know that. Whoever we talk to, obviously they’re going to have to have a plan for our offense,” the general manager stated. “If they’re a defensive minded coach, they’re going to have to talk about their plan, and their offensive coordinator and his coaching staff and what his vision is with our personnel. And so all of that goes into it. Offense is obviously a priority, but we don’t want to take a step back on defense. We also need to elevate special teams. We need someone to take over the whole operation, we’re just not focused on one side of the ball, even though we really need to upgrade on that side of the ball.”
A major—or the major—way Denver will improve the offensive side of the ball is with a significant upgrade at the most important position in sports, as Paton acknowledged on Sunday, at quarterback. Despite that acknowledgement by the general manager, Paton is completely focused on hiring the head coach first.
“We’re focused on the coach and if you can get the right leader, that’s the most important thing right now is getting the right leader and then we’ll get the quarterback and the other positions,” Paton said. “The leadership and the right head coach for this football team is the No. 1 priority.”
Much like offensive prowess, experience as a head coach is not a requirement for Paton.
“We’re wide open,” Paton said, when asked how important past head coaching experience is in making his hire. “I think we’re going to have an open book and keep all of our options open. There’s been a lot of great head coaches that have never had experience and visa versa. There’s been really good head coaches that did have experience. I think we’re going to keep an open mind and it’s going to be a wide range and we’re going to be very thorough and we’re going to look at all of the candidates.”
With a wide-open search, expect Paton and Co. to take their time finding Denver’s next head coach. During his time with the Vikings, Paton was on the “front end” of one coaching search, when the team hired Mike Zimmer. From that experience, he learned to be very thorough, take his time and not be in a hurry.
“There’s a lot of really quality candidates and it’s really important to talk to them all,” Paton stated. “We have a small group, a tight-knit group that will be part of the search.”
President & CEO Joe Ellis will not be part of that tight-knit group. Instead, he’ll be “on the sideline” and won’t travel for the interviews. John Elway will be a “valuable resource” to Paton and the general manager will “lean on [Elway] throughout the process.”
None of the Broncos’ coaches currently on the roster are candidates for the head coaching job. Paton has not officially moved on from any of them, but will instead let the new head coach decide who will be retained and who will be let go.
Denver will begin asking other teams for permission to interview their candidates on Monday. Other potential candidates, along with Quinn, are expected to be Doug Pederson and Nathaniel Hackett, to name a few.
“We know we’re going to get the best candidate on the market. We’re really confident in that,” Paton stated without hesitation. “It’s going to be a comprehensive, collaborative process to find the best head coach for the Broncos. We’re going to be thorough, we’re going to be open-minded. We know this is a critical decision and we’re going to get it right.”
Despite it being Paton’s first time leading a head coaching search, he knows exactly what he’s looking for.