Broncos' Top Options to Replace Nathaniel Hackett as HC for Future of Russell Wilson

Rob Goldberg@@TheRobGoldbergFeatured Columnist IVDecember 26, 2022

INGLEWOOD, CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 25: Russell Wilson #3 of the Denver Broncos warms up before the game against the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium on December 25, 2022 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)
Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

The Denver Broncos fired head coach Nathaniel Hackett less than one season into the job, putting pressure on the organization to find the right person going into 2023.

Denver entered the year with high expectations after acquiring Russell Wilson and making the coaching change from Vic Fangio to Hackett. It did not go according to plan as the squad fell to 4-11 with Sunday's 51-14 loss to Los Angeles Rams.

Wilson will also be nearly impossible to move after signing a five-year, $243 million extension in the offseason, creating an even more difficult path to rebuild.

There is still plenty of talent on both sides of the ball, but the team needs someone who can get the most out of this roster to compete in the AFC West. Here are some options who could be a good fit:

Sean Payton, Former Saints coach

With a 152-89 career record and a Super Bowl ring, Sean Payton will be near the top of the list for every coaching vacancy this offseason. The Broncos should be especially aggressive trying to land him as a potential perfect fit to fix the offense.

Payton led a top-five scoring offense in nine of his 15 years with the New Orleans Saints. He should be able to scheme easy passes for Wilson, which should go a long way with the quarterback currently completing a career-low 60.1 percent of attempts.

The first challenge will be completing a trade with the Saints, who still own Payton's rights after his retirement last year. The other issue will be his reported interest in hiring Vic Fangio as his defensive coordinator, per ESPN's Adam Schefter, who is unlikely to return to Denver.

Frank Reich, Former Colts coach

Despite being fired after a 3-5-1 record in nine games this season with the Indianapolis Colts, Frank Reich had a 40-33-1 record in five years with the team. This was despite having a new starting quarterback in each season.

Reich is a proven offensive coach who can benefit from a second chance in the position, learning from his previous mistakes.

Considering the Broncos have struggled with three straight first-time head coaches (Hackett, Fangio and Vance Joseph), getting experience in the position could be a major plus.

Shane Steichen, Eagles offensive coordinator

The Broncos currently rank 32nd in scoring this season and were outside the top 20 in each of the previous six years. It wouldn't be surprising to see the team target another offensive-minded coach to turn things around, and there are several quality options available.

Shane Steichen could get the call after helping the Philadelphia Eagles run the highest-scoring offense in the NFL. Head coach Nick Sirianni clearly does a lot of work on that side of the ball, but the 37-year-old Steichen has contributed to the development of Jalen Hurts after also coaching Justin Herbert with the Los Angeles Chargers.

Someone who can get Wilson back on the move to make plays outside the pocket could be the best-case scenario.

Kellen Moore, Cowboys offensive coordinator

Even at just 34 years old, Kellen Moore has already been mentioned as a future head coach for several seasons. The former quarterback has helped the Dallas Cowboys lead the league in total yards in two of his first three full years as offensive coordinator.

This season, the squad ranks eighth in yards and third in points despite being without Dak Prescott for five games. He got good production out of Cooper Rush. Getting production out of Wilson would theoretically be less of a challenge.

Brian Callahan, Bengals offensive coordinator

In four seasons as the Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator, Brian Callahan has seen the team's ranks in points per game improve from 30th to 29th to seventh to sixth. Joe Burrow has developed into a star and legitimate MVP candidate while the receivers are among the best in the NFL.

Callahan also began his coaching career with the Broncos from 2010 to '15 and was an offensive assistant for the 2015 team that won a Super Bowl.

After helping the Bengals reach the Super Bowl last season, the 38-year-old has a perfect resume for Denver.

Ben Johnson, Lions offensive coordinator

Another hot, young offensive coordinator, Ben Johnson has had a great season with the Detroit Lions while leading a team in the top five in yards from scrimmage and points scored.

His limited experience could hurt, but the Broncos could be willing to take a chance on the 36-year-old.

Leslie Frazier, Bills defensive coordinator

Similar to Reich, Leslie Frazier would be in his second turn as a head coach after struggling with the Minnesota Vikings. The 63-year-old went just 21-32-1 across four seasons with the team.

The difference is Frazier has been outstanding in his current position, leading a Buffalo Bills defense that ranks second in points allowed. The unit led the NFL in scoring last season, and its a big reason the Bills are one of the favorites to win the Super Bowl this year.

Frazier would be a near polar-opposite from Hackett as an experienced, defensive-minded coach, which could be needed to get the Broncos motivated on the field.

Dan Quinn, Cowboys defensive coordinator

Another experienced, defensive coach, Dan Quinn had more success as a head coach than Frazier while leading the Atlanta Falcons to a Super Bowl appearance. The success didn't last, however, as he finished 43-42 across six years.

The 52-year-old has spent the last two season as Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator, winning the AP Assistant Coach of the Year award in 2021.

Quinn also has familiarity with Wilson, as Quinn was the Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator in 2013 when they beat Denver in the Super Bowl. Though they were on opposite sides of the ball, Quinn has seen Wilson at his best and could do what it takes to get the superstar back to that level.

Ejiro Evero, Broncos defensive coordinator

If the Broncos do hire a defensive coach, it would most likely be someone with more experience like Frazier or Quinn. However, Ejiro Evero should at least get consideration after an excellent first season with the team.

The 41-year-old took an already strong defense and made it better, as it has allowed fewer than 20 points in 10 of 15 games this season. Even the blowout loss to the Rams on Sunday was more of a result of the struggling offense turning it over four times.

Evero was the defensive passing game coordinator for the Los Angeles Rams last season as the squad won a Super Bowl. He has coached under Sean McVay, Jim Harbaugh, Jon Gruden and Mike McCarthy, giving him a variety of experience to prepare him as a head coach.

Joe Woods, Browns defensive coordinator

An outside-the-box option for Denver, Joe Woods has had moderate success in three years as the Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator. He also spent two seasons in the role for the Broncos in 2017 and '18 after working as the defensive backs coach for the Super Bowl team in 2015.

With 19 years of NFL coaching experience, Woods could return to Denver with the familiarity needed to turn things around quickly.