Less than one calendar year after winning Super Bowl 50, the Denver Broncos are now in the market for a new head coach. In an emotional press conference one day after the Broncos defeated the Oakland Raiders in their 2016 season finale, their former head coach, Gary Kubiak, announced that he was immediately retiring from coaching in the National Football League due to ongoing health concerns.
Kubiak’s departure shocked most people around the NFL (although we saw it coming over a month ago). It instantly catapulted the Broncos head-coaching gig to the top of the list of best available jobs in the league. With guys like Von Miller, Aqib Talib, Chris Harris Jr., T.J. Ward, Shane Ray, Shaq Barrett, and Derek Wolfe all in the prime of their respective careers and under contract through the 2017 season, the Denver Broncos will have a championship-caliber defense in place for their next head coach.
While their offense struggled mightily in 2016, we can’t deny that the Broncos have two promising, young quarterbacks (Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch) and a trio of Pro Bowl-caliber players (Emmanuel Sanders, Demaryius Thomas, and C.J. Anderson) on that side of the ball as well.
The Denver Broncos are also slated to have $38.4 million in salary cap space (before 2016 rollovers and a potential cap increase) to work with in 2017. And with John Elway running the show, it’s safe to assume that the Broncos will eagerly address their needs this coming offseason.
When you add it all up, the next head coach of the Denver Broncos will have the opportunity to compete for a Super Bowl title during his first year on the job.
Following Kubiak’s retirement press conference, Elway said he’s looking for one of the “bright, young guys” in the business. Even though he didn’t say as much, all signs point to Elway having his sights set on four or five candidates.
On that note, the Denver Broncos won’t consider a handful of big-name coaches being mentioned as candidates; it simply won’t happen. For starters, we need to put to bed the idea of Josh McDaniels getting a second chance in Denver. There is zero probability that the 40-year-old New England Patriots offensive coordinator has any chance at this job after his disastrous stint with the Broncos from 2009–10.
Another unrealistic candidate being thrown around is Peyton Manning. While we firmly believe that the legendary quarterback could be a great coach (specifically as an offensive coordinator), we just don’t see Elway handing over the reins of a team with Super Bowl aspirations to someone with zero coaching experience — even if he is the smartest player in NFL history.
Lastly, there is Jim Harbaugh. Had the job at Michigan never presented itself to the former NFL quarterback, Harbaugh would have likely landed this job two years ago. Nonetheless, we just don’t see any way that Elway can possibly pry Harbaugh away from his alma mater at this point.
Now that we got that out of the way, here is a look at nine potential candidates (starting with the long-shots and working our way to the frontrunners) to be the 16th head coach in Denver Broncos history.
The following five coaches stand a good chance at securing an interview for the Broncos’ head-coaching job. Each of them have impressive resumes, but at this point in time, we don’t see any of them as serious contenders to land the job.
1. Sean Payton
After 10 years, 94 regular-season wins, and a Super Bowl title, it appears as though the New Orleans Saints may be willing to part ways with Sean Payton this offseason. If they do, many teams around the league will be interested in the 53-year-old offensive guru.
Payton doesn’t totally fit the profile of what Elway is looking for in his next head coach, but there is no doubting that the Broncos would be a much better offensive football team under the 2006 NFL Coach of the Year.
2. Mike McCoy
Mike McCoy is a familiar name in Broncos Country. The recently fired San Diego Chargers head coach squared off against the Broncos twice a year for the last four years. Prior to that, he had a four-year run (from 2009–12) as Denver’s offensive coordinator. While we believe he is an unlikely candidate, we also cannot ignore McCoy’s scheme flexibility on the offensive side of the ball — something nonexistent during the Gary Kubiak era.
3. Scott Linehan
Were it not for Linehan’s disastrous stint as the head coach of the then-St. Louis Rams (he went 11-25 before getting fired), he likely would have his pick of every available job around the league. The 53-year-old is currently the offensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys, and his offense ranks near the top of the league in every major category.
More importantly, though, Linehan knows how to build and develop a premier offensive line, which the Broncos desperately need. The Cowboys recently reported that nobody from the Broncos (or any other NFL team for that matter) has inquired about Linehan’s services as of yet.
4. Jon Gruden
When it comes down to it, we still firmly believe that Gruden has coached his last NFL game. But at the same time, it’s extremely rare for a team as talented as the Broncos to be in the market for a new head coach. If a job ever sparked Gruden’s interest, this could be it.
5. Teryl Austin
Teryl Austin has been on the radar as a potential NFL head coach for the last two years. He interviewed for multiple jobs last offseason, and based on his performance this year as the defensive coordinator for the Detroit Lions, there are surely more job interviews on the horizon. But given his decision to decline an interview with the Broncos two years ago (when Denver hired Kubiak), we just don’t see Austin landing his first head-coaching job in Denver.
The most likely candidates
The following four coaches are currently the frontrunners to become the Denver Broncos’ next head coach. We expect each of them to interview for the opening.
1. Jim Bob Cooter
In reality, Cooter is still likely too young to land an NFL head-coaching gig, but it’s hard to overlook his accomplishments. The 32-year-old is currently the offensive coordinator for the Detroit Lions (he guided Matthew Stafford to his best season as an NFL quarterback this year) and is one of the fastest-rising young coaches in the game.
It could be another year or two before we see Cooter become a head coach, but with glowing recommendations from guys like Peyton Manning, it could happen sooner than expected.
2. Kyle Shanahan
As of today, it looks like Shanahan, who is currently the offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons, is one of two frontrunners to be the next head coach of the Denver Broncos. The 37-year-old’s ties to the Broncos are deep and obvious (he’s the son of former Denver head coach Mike Shanahan), and his prowess as an offensive mastermind makes him an obvious candidate. The Broncos already requested an interview with Shanahan, which leads us to believe he could be announced as the team’s next head coach as soon as the Falcons’ season comes to an end.
3. Vance Joseph
Vance Joseph is the other frontrunner for the Broncos head-coaching vacancy. He is currently the defensive coordinator for the Miami Dolphins, and according to recent reports, Denver was set to hire the 44-year-old coach if things hadn’t worked out with Kubiak back in 2015.
Joseph has done an excellent job with the Dolphins in 2016, and he has a reputation for being a coach who relates well with his players. That said, we have a hunch that Joseph will ultimately be Elway’s No. 2 choice again this time around (behind Shanahan).
4. David Shaw
One of the most respected coaches in the business (at any level), David Shaw consistently wins games at one of the hardest places to recruit in the country (Stanford). He has the ideal personality for a head coach. He also fits the bill as a young coach with a proven track record. At the very least, we expect the Broncos to reach out and attempt to interview Shaw this offseason.