Paton is already proving better than Elway at the coaching search

Jan 10, 2022, 5:55 PM
GREEN BAY, WISCONSIN - OCTOBER 24: Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett of the Green Bay Packers...
(Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
(Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

There are reasons to be unsure when it comes to George Paton’s ability to lead a successful search for a head coach. Mainly, that’s because he’s never done it. Thus, there’s a lack of proof that he can do it.

By the same token, there’s no evidence to suggest that Paton can’t do it, either. He’s never fallen flat on his face trying to lead a franchise through the process.

So, it’s a wait-and-see situation. That’s just the reality.

That said, there are some early signs that Paton is up to the task. In fact, there’s a hug indication that he’s much on the right track.

This is the fifth time in a little over a decade that the Broncos have been looking for a new head coach. The previous four searches were led by John Elway, with varying degrees of success.

In 2011, Denver hired John Fox. He wound up leading the Broncos to a Super Bowl, where they were blown out by the Seahawks, but most of his success stemmed from the fact that Peyton Manning fell into his lap in year two.

In 2015, Denver hired Gary Kubiak. The former Broncos quarterback and assistant coach was their No. 1 target from day one. He was getting the job, given his close relationship with Elway. In his first season, Denver won Super Bowl 50.

In 2017, Denver hired Vance Joseph. He was also their leading candidate heading into the process, having interviewed for the job when Kubiak got it two years earlier. Elway wanted to hire Joseph as the Broncos defensive coordinator in ’15, but was blocked by the Bengals. So he got his man two years later when he hired him as the head coach.

And in 2019, Denver hired Vic Fangio. As we all know, the three years under the former head coach were a disaster, as Fangio went 19-30, losing more games in his first three seasons than any coach in Broncos history.

Two of those hires were disasters. One was okay. And one was good, albeit not a long-term solution.

Part of the issue with two of them was that the Broncos went into the process already knowing who they wanted to hire. They weren’t open to talking to a lot of great candidates and potentially being blown away by one, like the Steelers were in 2007 when Mike Tomlin went from a long-shot to Pittsburgh’s head coach for the next 15 seasons and counting.

That dovetails into the biggest issue with the previous searches. Each time, the Broncos didn’t interview enough good candidates. They didn’t cast a wide enough net. They didn’t talk to the best prospects on the market.

In part, that’s because they already knew who they wanted. But it’s also due to the fact that Elway didn’t think big enough when it came to coaches. His hires, by and large, were very conservative.

A look back at the finalists for the job each year illustrates the point. Here’s who the Broncos considered in each of their previous four searches:

John Fox
Perry Fewell
Rick Dennison
Eric Studesville
Dirk Koetter
Gregg Williams

Gary Kubiak
Rick Dennison
Jack Del Rio
Adam Gase
Doug Marrone
Vance Joseph
Dan Quinn

Vance Joseph
Kyle Shanahan
Dave Toub

Vic Fangio
Mike Munchak
Chuck Pagano
Zac Taylor
Brian Flores

Yikes. That’s a lot of retreads and coaches who never got a shot anywhere else.

Dan Quinn was a good candidate. So was Kyle Shanahan. And last time around, Zac Taylor and Brian Flores look like good choices.

But that’s a small percentage. The vast majority of the candidates are underwhelming.

Contrast that to what Paton is doing. Thus far, he’s asked permission to interview eight coaches. It’s an impressive list:

1. Eric Bieniemy – Offensive coordinator, Kansas City Chiefs

2. Jonathan Gannon – Defensive coordinator, Philadelphia Eagles

3. Aaron Glenn – Defensive coordinator, Detroit Lions

4. Nathaniel Hackett – Offensive coordinator, Green Bay Packers

5. Jerod Mayo – Linebackers coach, New England Patriots

6. Kellen Moore – Offensive coordinator, Dallas Cowboys

7. Kevin O’Connell – Offensive coordinator, Los Angeles Rams

8. Dan Quinn – Defensive coordinator, Dallas Cowboys

Seven of the eight are on teams currently in the playoffs (Glenn is the exception). An equal number have never been a head coach before (Quinn is the exception).

It’s a who’s who of coaching candidates. It’s a group that will be getting hit up by every team with an opening. It’s a list that includes names who will be head coaches somewhere in the near future.

Previously, the Broncos were requesting interviews with Mike Mularkey. And getting turned down.

Now, they’re swinging for the fences. They’re talking to the best of the best, trying to find the next great head coach.

There are no leaders in the clubhouse. There are no former teammates with an inside track.

The Broncos are talking to a variety of coaches, from both sides of the football. And that’s a very good thing.

Can George Paton lead a successful coaching search? We’ll find out, but his first day looks like a home run.


(Graphic by Johnny Hart/Bonneville Denver)...
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Paton is already proving better than Elway at the coaching search