Christmas Day was the final straw. The Denver Broncos, the most disappointing team in the NFL this season, got trounced by the Los Angeles Rams, 51-14, while most of the country ate their holiday dinners. One day later, the team pulled the plug on the Nathaniel Hackett experience and announced they'd fired the rookie head coach.
In a vacuum it is shocking that a first-time head coach would get canned before the end of his first season at the helm. But anyone who's watched the Broncos at any point this year knows they are broken. The team is regularly arguing on the sidelines and are now getting into fights with opponents. Russell Wilson has been absolutely awful this season for reasons that are hard to pin down, but most of the blame must fall on Hackett. And with Wilson set to stick with the team for at least the next three years thanks to the gigantic contract extension he signed in September, ownership had no time to waste. Hackett was never going to be the guy. They needed to find a head coach who will turn Wilson around and get the Broncos into the playoffs as quickly as possible. Now they can begin that search.
The Broncos job is perhaps more attractive than it appears at the moment. Wilson is playing horrifically but the arm strength is clearly still there. An optimistic mind could believe they can solve a lot of his issues with a well-schemed offense. The defense is excellent. The skill positions are still loaded. There is a lot to work with, even if there is also a lot of damage to undo.
Who could end up on the sideline for the Broncos next year? Let's take a look at a few possible candidates.
It is a pretty open secret at this point that Sean Payton would be very interested in coaching in 2023, but he will not join just any team. He needs two things to leave the studio-- a talented quarterback and a good team around him. The Broncos, in theory, have that. Payton gets a Pro Bowl-caliber arm to work with and the rest of the team is ready to win football games. The new ownership group would be so happy to have a guy like Payton on the sideline they'd probably give him all the power he wants.
If Wilson is too far gone to be fixed, then Payton won't take the job. But the potential (and perhaps the challenge) is enticing. And Wilson, for all his issues, may end up being the best QB Payton has the chance to work with this offseason.
The Broncos may decide to just say screw it and go back down the path of being an aggressively defense-first franchise that only needs a little bit from the quarterback to win games. If so, Quinn seems like an obvious candidate. While Dallas' defense has fallen off a bit recently his complete body of work over the last two seasons shows what he can do with a talented defense. Quinn was interviewed for head coaching positions last year so it's obvious that most teams do not see his failed Falcons tenure as too much of a stain on the resume.
While the Broncos have already seen that having a great defense and a bad offense is not a championship combination except for that one time it worked out, Quinn has a lot working in his favor. He's an experienced head coach who won't be in too deep like Hackett. If Quinn wants the job and can convince the owners that he can bring a smart offensive coordinator with him, he's a legit possibility.
We've seen many, many times that NFL owners do not learn from their mistakes. The head management of the Broncos may very well convince themselves that Hackett was a one-time mistake, that he was just the wrong guy. Such thinking would lead them to conclude that hiring another offensive-minded first-time head coach is not a mistake. Thus, we present Kellen Moore.
Moore has a far more substantial body of work than Hackett did and has been forced to make it work with backup quarterbacks multiple times over the last few years with consistent, reasonable success. He seems set to ascend to head-coaching status sooner rather than later. If the Broncos decide they want to hire the best offensive mind they can find and everything else doesn't matter, Moore will be at the top of the list.