Could we see another first time head coach in Denver?
The Broncos interviewed San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans, 38, on Thursday for their open head coach job. Ryans was one of eight candidates interviewed by the Broncos, with a second round of interviews expected to begin early next week.
Ryans is one of the hottest candidates in this coaching cycle. Every team searching for a new head coach has requested an interview with Ryans, an accomplishment only Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero matched.
Ryans ascended quickly through the NFL coaching ranks. He spent a year as a quality control coach, three years as a linebackers coach and he’s wrapping up his second season as a defensive coordinator. All of those jobs were with the San Francisco 49ers.
Most coaches don’t get head jobs in the NFL after six years of experience, but Ryans is a special case. He quarterbacked the Texans’ defense as a second-round rookie middle linebacker in 2006, kicking off a decade-long All-Pro career. Kyle Shannahan was Houston’s receivers coach that season, and he and others said repeatedly that it was only a matter of time before Ryans was coaching. Shanahan hired Ryans to his first staff as a head coach, and has kept him in San Frnacisco ever since.
Ryans may still be too green to earn a head job this offseason, but his time is likely to come sometime in the next few years. Part of that timeline will be decided by Ryans, who declined a second interview with the Vikings last offseason because he thought he had more to learn as a defensive coordinator.
One year later, it seems like Ryans has everything figured out. His defense ranked first in the NFL in points allowed and yards allowed. Last season the defense ranked ninth in points and third and yards, both of which were an improvement over previous defensive coordinator Robert Saleh’s marks. Maybe Ryans’ most impressive feat as defensive coordinator is helping an offense led by its third-string quarterback to the Divisional Round of the playoffs.
Whether Ryans would be a fit in Denver is still to be determined. The Broncos have hired three consecutive first-time head coaches, and those coaches have combined for six years of service in Denver. Ryans seems to have the smarts and leadership skills to be successful, but the Broncso may be more interested in coaches with more experience.
Plus, what those smarts would look like is to be determined.
Ryans is a great defensive play-caller, and star 49ers linebacker told The Athletic this week that Ryans is occasionally able to tip off his defenders as to what the opponents’ next play will be, thanks to the hours he puts in studying film.
But Ryans may not be calling in plays as a head coach. Some coaches choose to delegate play-calling to assistants who have more time to focus on the duty.
If Ryans does call plays, the Broncos’ defense may have to change dramatically. Denver currently runs a 3-4 defense, but Ryans spent most of his playing career and all of his coaching career in a 4-3.
Flipping the Broncos’ defense to a 4-3 could be a challenge. Randy Gregory would move to defensive end. Baron Browning could stick to outside linebacker, though his duties would change drastically. Jacob Martin and Jonathon Cooper may fit into one of those two positions, or they could be moved on from.
Regardless of how Ryans decides to handle the defense, he’d have to find somebody to run the offense. His time in San Francisco give him deep connections to the Shanahan coaching tree, but those options would mostly be first-time coordinators. The Broncos may want experience, given the issues their offense has faced. A first-time head coach could be even more reason for an experienced offensive coordinator.
Even if Ryans doesn’t have deep connections to veteran coordinators, the Broncos may be able to get their hands on one. Reports they’d be more than happy to give Sean Payton the $20-25 million he wants to be the team’s next head coach. Ryans would come with a much lower price tag, which means an investment could be made in a big swing for a coordinator, like former Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman.
Ryans seems unlikely to be the Broncos’ choice—DraftKings Sportsbook agrees, giving him +1800 odds—but if he can answer ownership’s questions about his fit, we could see a fourth consecutive first-time head coach in Denver.