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Who could the Denver Broncos consider to replace Vic Fangio as head coach?

Andrew Mason Avatar
January 9, 2022

Now that George Paton has dismissed Vic Fangio, who could be next?

He could consider plenty of candidates with a variety of experience.

Some names to consider as the Broncos’ coaching search gets under way:


“Retread” is considered by some a pejorative, but it really shouldn’t be. Seventeen of the last 25 Super Bowls have been won by teams led by “retread” coaches who got their first experience as sideline bosses elsewhere, including all three of the Broncos’ world championships.

Dennis Allen, ex-Oakland head coach, current New Orleans defensive coordinator: Allen was the Broncos’ defensive coordinator for one season (2011) before moving on to a stripped-down Raiders team in a salary-cap crunch. A return to New Orleans under Sean Payton — where he worked before joining the Broncos under John Fox – and the ability of New Orleans’ defense to carry the Saints to the brink of the playoffs despite a QB carousel this season gives his ascendancy traction.

Todd Bowles, ex-Jets head coach, current Tampa Bay defensive coordinator: Bowles interviewed for the Broncos’ head-coaching job in 2009 before it went to Josh McDaniels. He is the only coach to guide the Jets to a winning season in the last 10 years — a 10-6 campaign in 2015 that fell one game short of a wild-card bid. Bowles has learned from some of the best: Hall of Famers Joe Gibbs (for whom he played in Washington) and Bill Parcells (under whom he worked as an assistant).

Jim Caldwell, ex-Colts and Lions head coach: Detroit has done nothing since firing Caldwell after the 2017 season, a mistake that grows greater with each passing day. A 2-14 season with the Colts in 2011 when Peyton Manning was out following neck surgeries sticks out like a sore thumb on his pro resume, but the rest of his body of work is stellar. He would bring a gravitas and stability to the position in much the same way as Fox did in 2011, but his offensive background, which was formulated by a decade of work with Peyton Manning and Tom Moore as an assistant and a head coach in Indianapolis, is what defines his philosophy.

Leslie Frazier, ex-Minnesota head coach, current Buffalo defensive coordinator: Promoted to Vikings head coach in 2010 when Paton was on the Vikings’ staff, he guided a Christian Ponder-led team to the playoffs in 2012 riding a career season from Adrian Peterson before a 2013 regression led to his dismissal. His defensive influences include the late Eagles defensive guru Jim Johnson, former Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, his boss in Buffalo, Sean McDermott and the late Buddy Ryan — under whom he played with the 1985 Chicago Bears. Expect a defense that brings pressure.

Jim Harbaugh, ex-San Francisco head coach, current University of Michigan head coach: If he jumps back to the NFL, it appears likely that he will land with Las Vegas.

Doug Pederson, ex-Philadelphia head coach: There is little doubt that the ex-Eagles boss would be perceived by many as the prize catch of this hiring cycle. He is the only potential candidate on the list with a Super Bowl ring that he earned as a head coach. He also won playoff games with Nick Foles as quarterback — including Super Bowl LII, in which Foles was the game’s MVP. He would make a great deal of sense for Jacksonville, but the Jaguars’ search appears to be tilting toward dysfunction. Pederson will command a hefty price. His resume, which includes three playoff appearances, the Eagles’ only Vince Lombardi Trophy, five seasons under Andy Reid as a player and seven as an assistant head coach — suggests he deserves it.

Dan Quinn, ex-Atlanta head coach, current Dallas defensive coordinator: A report seven years ago by Pro Football Talk is worth rehashing in a discussion of the former Falcons head coach. During the 2015 hiring cycle, Quinn was reported to have a “strong interest” — as stated by the report — in working hand-in-hand with Paton as a coach/general-manager tandem. But Paton pulled himself out of consideration for the open GM positions that year, leaving Quinn to join the Falcons. Quinn and Paton worked together in Miami in the mid-2000s. A defensive play-caller by trade, Quinn did well at identifying offensive coordinators to work with Matt Ryan in Atlanta, with Kyle Shanahan and Steve Sarkisian.

Raheem Morris, ex-Tampa Bay head coach, current Rams defensive coordinator: Morris fits both the “retread” and the “ascendant assistant” categories. He was hired as the league’s youngest head coach by the Bucs at age 32 in 2009, but was doomed by the stalled progress of 2009 first-round QB Josh Freeman. In the years that followed, he worked for two seasons under Mike Shanahan in Washington, one under Jay Gruden in D.C. and then six campaigns with Quinn in Atlanta before jumping to the Rams as Sean McVay’s defensive coordinator in 2021. One fascinating aspect of Morris’ background is that he is the rare coach with extensive NFL experience on both sides of the ball. In his first five years under Quinn in Atlanta, he was the assistant head coach while working as a pass-game coordinator and wide-receivers coach. He might be the most interesting candidate on this list.

Mike Zimmer, Minnesota Vikings head coach: The Vikings are expected to move on from Zimmer, who guided them to the playoffs with three different quarterbacks: Teddy Bridgewater, Case Keenum and Kirk Cousins. His career as a defensive coordinator is splendid, but the Vikes’ defense faltered in the last two seasons.


Eric Bieniemy, Kansas City offensive coordinator: As long as the Chiefs offense continues to flourish, Bieniemy will be mentioned at some point in any search. What works against him is the fact that his tenure as Colorado’s offensive coordinator under then-head coach Jon Embree was unsuccessful, and, frankly, disastrous.

Brian Callahan, Cincinnati offensive coordinator: A former Broncos offensive quality-control coach and later offensive assistant during the Fox era, he stayed for one season with Gary Kubiak to earn a Super Bowl 50 ring before joining Caldwell’s Detroit staff in 2016. He does not have play-calling responsibilities in Cincinnati, but works extensively on a day-to-day basis with Joe Burrow, who has emerged as one of the NFL’s best young quarterbacks. A Callahan-Caldwell pairing — with one as head coach and the other as a right-hand man — could provide a perfect blend of youth and experience, and would harken back to the Peyton Manning years — always a good thing.

Brian Daboll, Buffalo offensive coordinator: Earlier this season, he got out-schemed on a windy night by Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels, but then took the measure of both in the return match in Foxborough, Mass. Buffalo has had a top-5 offense in each of the last two years, but the hallmark of the Daboll resume is his successful development of Josh Allen from a raw, toolsy prospect into one of the game’s elite QBs.

Jonathan Gannon, Philadelphia defensive coordinator: The Broncos got a first-hand look at his work in Week 10. This season was the first as coordinator for the 39-year-old coach, who worked for the Vikings as an assistant-defensive-backs coach from 2014-17, giving him four years in the building with Paton.

Nathaniel Hackett, Green Bay offensive coordinator: Forget about the work he is doing with Aaron Rodgers, who is the favorite to be the league’s MVP for a second consecutive year. Instead, look at the job Hackett did with a Jaguars attack guided by Blake Bortles, who has become merely a fringe practice-squad quarterback in the years that followed. In 2017, the Jaguars were sixth in the e NFL in total offense. The other seasons weren’t as good, but for a season, he figured out how to flourish with a limited quarterback.

Byron Leftwich, Tampa Bay offensive coordinator: Bruce Arians has handed the heavy lifting of guiding a weapons-loaded Bucs attack off to the former Jaguars, Falcons, Steelers and Buccaneers quarterback. But as with Hackett, don’t just look at his work with a future Hall of Famer; instead, look at a Buccaneers offense that in 2019 ranked third in total offense and points scored with the mistake-prone Jameis Winston at quarterback.

Jerod Mayo, New England inside-linebackers coach: A fast-rising candidate, Mayo is all about the Patriot Way, having played eight seasons (2008-15) under Bill Belichick before joining the coaching staff in 2019. He was famously renowned for his work ethic and leadership, and has made those skills translate from the field to the sideline. He shares a lot of common denominators with two “Patriot Way” coaches who have been successful as head coaches elsewhere: Tennessee’s Mike Vrabel and Miami’s Brian Flores.

Kellen Moore, Dallas offensive coordinator: Dallas has the league’s No. 1 total offense this season, and the former Cowboys backup QB and Boise State legend is among the NFL’s brightest young coaches at 32 years of age. But will Jerry Jones back up the Brinks truck to make him an exceptionally-well-paid coach-in-waiting behind Mike McCarthy?

Greg Roman, Baltimore offensive coordinator: His work in developing Lamar Jackson is top-shelf: a deliberate, patient approach that built Jackson’s confidence early and added concepts as the 2018 first-round pick continued to develop. But his adroit pivoting of the Ravens offense in 2018 from Joe Flacco’s skill set to that of Jackson shows how he can adapt on the fly to shape an entire scheme to a vastly different skill set.


Don’t expect the Broncos to draw from this deck. However, there are some coaches who could warrant consideration:

Luke Fickell, Cincinnati: The Bearcats program is headed to the Big XII and became the first Group-of-Five program to crash the College Football Playoff. His teams are hard-nosed, disciplined and well-prepared, and he has built a powerhouse from the rubble left behind by Tommy Tuberville. Could Fickell and potential first-round quarterback Desmond Ridder be a package deal for a team looking for a new head coach?

Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern: His name was more likely to pop up before he signed a 10-year contract extension to stay in Evanston last January in the wake of the Wildcats’ appearance in the 2020 Big Ten championship game. As a private school, Northwestern does not have to disclose contract terms, but a contract of that length usually comes with a significant buyout if there is an early departure, negating the potential appeal of an NFL jump.


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