Broncos G.M. George Paton is staying with the team. But he will no longer be running the football operation.
Although the Broncos haven’t announced that development, it’s the inescapable conclusion to be gleaned from the comments made Tuesday by Broncos CEO Greg Penner.
Paton had been firmly in charge of the football operation in Denver. Moving forward, the new coach will be.
“I’ve worked with a lot of great CEOs, and it starts with really strong leadership,” Penner said regarding the coaching position. “That’s going to be the most critical factor here in a head coach. Obviously, the X’s and O’s are important, but we need a strong leader for this organization that’s focused on winning. That starts with culture. It’s instilling a sense of accountability and discipline. We need an identity on offense. At the starting point, it has to be about culture and leadership. Those characteristics are what we’ll be focused on the most.”
Penner wants a “strong leader for this organization.” Penner has “worked with a lot of great CEOs.”
Basically, Penner wants the next coach to be the CEO of the football operation. That used to be Paton. It won’t be, moving forward. It will be the head coach.
It also seems likely that the next head coach will have head-coaching experience. Paton was asked whether experience in the job is a necessity.
“If you have experience, it helps,” Paton said. “It certainly helps, but it’s not necessary. We are going to keep an open mind through this search. If there is a quality candidate that is experienced, then sure, certainly, but we’re not going to limit ourselves to just experienced candidates.”
The Broncos may consider candidates who don’t have experience, but it doesn’t mean they would hire one of them. Teams tend to hire a coach who is the exact opposite of the coach they just fired. In this case, the exact opposite of Nathaniel Hackett would be a proven, established coach with plenty of coaching experience — and who wouldn’t need to hire after only two games a coach to help the coach do the coaching, as Hackett did.
So who would that be? Broncos co-owner Condolleezza Rice worked with Jim Harbaugh at Stanford. She actually helped out with recruiting. And Jim Harbaugh remains very interested in trying to win a Super Bowl.
The Broncos also could do something that, as mentioned in Playmakers, doesn’t happen often enough. They could attempt to basically trade for a proven coach currently with another team. While the Denver trade assets have been diminished by the Russell Wilson trade, maybe they’d get lucky. Maybe there’s a relationship that has outlived its shelf life, and that a simple nudge could be enough to make a deal happen.
New ownership may not want to risk rocking the league-wide boat by even making the phone calls inquiring about other coaches. But if the Broncos want a proven commodity, there aren’t many of them out there.
Sean Payton remains a possibility. We looked at the relevant factors on Tuesday. We also caught wind of chatter that, if he coaches in 2023, it possibly would happen via a return to the Saints.
However it plays out, the Broncos seem to be looking for someone who has been there and done that. And who has done it very well.
Well enough to end a streak of seven seasons without a playoff appearance since winning Super Bowl 50. Well enough, ideally, to add to the team’s trophy case.