One day after seeing their team lose to the Kansas City Chiefs to fall to 7-10 on the season, the Denver Broncos have officially moved on from their head coach, firing Vic Fangio on Sunday. The swiftness of the decision shows just how resolute president & CEO Joe Ellis and general manager George Paton are in getting their coaching search started quickly and before many others join the mix, and they’ll have no shortage of quality candidates to sift through as they try to right the ship for an organization that hasn’t been to the playoffs since winning Super Bowl 50 more than half a decade ago.
It’ll be the third time they’re searching for a new head coach since Gary Kubiak retired following the 2016 season, having also not delivered a winning season since he hung up his whistle in Denver, and Paton knows his next coaching decision better be his best one (even if he was only recently handed the GM keys in 2021).
Let’s take a look at five top candidates the Broncos might give a call to in the next several weeks/months.
Dan Quinn, DC – Cowboys
Quinn has emerged as one of the hottest candidates in the 2022 coaching cycle, an about-face from where he stood this previous offseason. It was then that he was a free agent after having been unceremoniously dismissed by the Atlanta Falcons in the middle of the 2020 season, but after flipping the maligned Cowboys defense from franchise-worst to franchise-best in several key categories, teams like the Jacksonville Jaguars have already tried to woo him, to no avail.
The Broncos hold Quinn in very high regard though, and if he’s ready to take his talents to Denver — which is also to say he’s ready to return to head coaching after only one year out of that seat — then he’ll be a frontrunner to land the job. The talent in Dallas is historic, but the defense in Denver is also one of the best in the league, leaving mostly the question of if Quinn is ready to be responsible for a team’s offense again.
Jim Harbaugh, HC – Michigan
It’s rumored Harbaugh is peeking at potentially rejoining the NFL ranks, and the league would love to have him. After leaving the league by way of the San Francisco 49ers to take the reins as head coach at Michigan, Harbaugh battled through several disappointments before taking the program to the next level in 2021 — leading to an unexpected Big Ten championship and having been named AP’s College Football Coach of the Year before running into the buzzsaw that was the University of Georgia in the College Football Playoff.
Harbaugh has shown he can turn teams around, having also taken the aforementioned 49ers to the brink of a sixth Super Bowl win before things rapidly fell apart in the Bay Area, and the Broncos would do well to gauge his interest in possibly leaping back to the pros via the Mile High City.
Doug Pederson, free agent
Sometimes taking a year off can do wonders for a head coach, just ask Mike McCarthy. Pederson was dismissed by the Philadelphia Eagles following the 2020 season but he’s still a leader who shocked the world by not only leading the Eagles to their first-ever Super Bowl win, but also doing it without his franchise quarterback — leaning heavily on Nick Foles over an injured Carson Wentz in an offseason that saw Pederson turn Foles into a Super Bowl MVP. Given the dire need for a solution at the quarterback position, it goes without saying Pederson can be a QB whisperer in the right situation.
With the defense in Denver already stout and the offense being anything but, installing a true franchise QB for 2022 and then allowing a guy like Pederson to develop him and the weapons around him might be the right medicine for the Broncos. They could certainly do worse than a coach that won the Super Bowl more recently than they have as a team.
Eric Bieniemy, OC – Chiefs
It’s another firing and hiring cycle for the NFL and that means Bieniemy will again be a headline name to go after, but time will tell if teams actually do it and/or if he decides to leave what has become quite the cushy and successful job with the Kansas City Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes. This would be a more challenging go for the Broncos, considering they’d have to ask Bieniemy to not only leave the Chiefs, but to leave them and join a bitter rival, and to walk away from Mahomes and weapons like Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce to help repair Drew Lock (if possible) and to overhaul the offense and make it a force in a division filled with other high-powered offenses.
But if anyone can pull it off, it’s presumably Bieniemy, who has shown time and again that when given a good batch of ingredients, he can scheme an offense that is as lethal as any around the league. At minimum, the Broncos have to call him to see if that window is open, or if they should close the drapes and move along.
Kellen Moore, OC – Cowboys
Don’t look now, but the Cowboys are going to have to try to keep both their coordinators close in 2022. For not only is Quinn a hot commodity but so is offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, even if the luster of the latter has worn off a bit due to late-season offensive stumbles in Dallas. Moore is hot off of a 51-point explosion against the Philadelphia Eagles after having dropped a 56-point nuke on the Washington Football Team two weeks prior and, combined with his previous showings of prolific production in Dallas, he becomes a very attractive possibility for the offensive-starved Broncos.
For despite being one of the best defenses in the league, Denver continually lost games due to their inability to score the football — be it at times with Teddy Bridgewater or with Lock taking over for the injured veteran. The NFL knows what Moore can be as a coordinator and it’s thirsty to find out what he might be as a head coach, but owner Jerry Jones slid him a large check and three-year extension to keep him from leaving in 2020; and might do the same in 2021, but the Broncos have a chance.