As the Broncos begin their head-coaching search, DenverBroncos.com turned to one of the league's top reporters for insight into the job and the reported candidates. NFL Network's Tom Pelissero joined us for a conversation about the appeal of the job, why George Paton and the Broncos have cast such a wide net and what Denver should be looking for in its next coach.
Aric DiLalla: What stands out to you about this job that makes it appealing, and where does it rank in terms of the open positions?
Tom Pelissero: "I would say the Broncos' head-coaching job is one of, if not the, most attractive to candidates in this entire cycle. You have a very strong general manager, George Paton, who had a phenomenal first draft there and is well respected by pretty much everybody in the league. You've got a great place to live, great facility, great fan base and you've got a lot of young talent to build around on the roster, starting out with some of the guys at the offensive skill spots. Pat Surtain [II is] coming off a really strong rookie season. There's obviously more that needs to be done with the roster, but Paton has already shown that he knows what he's doing. The only big question — besides obviously ownership, which isn't going to be resolved for months here — would be what happens at quarterback. But when you've got resources and you've got competent people in place, you have a level of trust that you're going to be able to put that piece in place, and if you do, a team that was basically a .500 team this season has got a chance to be in contention immediately."
AD: Does this feel like a team that can be back in the playoff mix with a new coach?
TP: "You just need a quarterback. That's really the main thing. And of course you need another pass-rusher. You need help at every position — but every team in the league has holes that they need to fill. Say what you will about the Vic Fangio tenure, but I believe he had eight different starting quarterbacks over three years, which has never happened in NFL history. You were constantly having to coach above the level of the quarterback play. That's not a knock on Teddy Bridgewater or Drew Lock or anybody else, but if you plug in — whether it's through the draft, whether it's through a trade, whether it's through free agency — a top-10 type of a quarterback or develop one, you've got a chance to be really, really good. I think that what people see in Javonte Williams even though he was stuck behind Melvin Gordon [III] for good chunks of the season but you obviously know how talented he is. They locked up the entire receiving core. Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick and Jerry Jeudy's still an ascending player. The offensive line has had a lot of resources invested there as well. You've got playmakers like Justin Simmons on the other side of the ball. There are worse rosters, put it that way, in the NFL. But the quarterback drives everything. They haven't gotten that position right, really since Peyton Manning, even before his last season there when he was kind of playing with a t-shirt cannon for an arm. That's been the Achilles heel, so that's got to be the focus. But yeah, if you get the quarterback, you've got a chance to win a lot, right now."
AD: As we look to this search, there are 10 reported candidates. Is that the George Paton that you know: exhaustive and going to turn over every stone to try to get this right?
TP: "George is very thorough and analytical. He does not make knee-jerk or emotional decisions. I would say that is absolutely a strength, and that's where — even though there's a strong sense within the league that Dan Quinn enters this process as one of, if not the front-runner for the job — they're going to have one of the longest lists of candidates of any team, because that's just how George approaches everything. It's a good list in terms of how people view the candidates. Aaron Glenn, the Lions' defensive coordinator, I understand the questions about him because they just weren't a very good defense, they obviously didn't win a whole lot of games, but then you dig on Glenn and there's a lot of positives in terms of how he approaches it, being a former player, what he brings to the table as an assistant coach. He's very well respected and is probably going to be a head coach at some point. The two guys from the Packers, Nathaniel Hackett, super high-energy guy. Him and Luke Getsy both [are] well-respected future head coaches. They both have good relationships with the quarterback there, Aaron Rodgers, who may or may not be looking for a new home after this season. You can go down through the rest of the list. I know those are the first three interviews that they're doing within the cycle. Jerod Mayo is really interesting in terms of the leadership traits. Jonathan Gannon's a guy that George Paton worked with in the past, same thing with Eric Bieniemy. Brian Callahan is a rising assistant coach who's obviously been on a really good team the past couple years with the Bengals. Same thing with Kevin O'Connell. If you were drawing up a list of 'these are the guys you should interview,' this is a really good list. So regardless of favorites or anything else, going through that process is going to be beneficial to hear different viewpoints and learn some different things from each one of these candidates."
AD: There's a feeling among some fans and media members that the Broncos should go with an offensive-minded coach. What would you say to that, and do you fall into that group? Does Denver need to go with an offensive head coach or can it work another way?
TP: "You need an offensive plan. There is certainly something to be said for if your head coach is the guy that runs the offense, then you're not going to lose him. But, leadership traits and being a leader of men and understanding how to run a program should be the number one qualification for any team that's doing a search. Because regardless of how smart you might be with X's and O's, if you can't lead the room and lead the program, you're going to struggle to find success in the NFL. So let's say hypothetically, the next head coach is Dan Quinn. What did Dan Quinn do when he took the Atlanta Falcons job? He put together a really strong staff and brought in Kyle Shanahan. They got two good years out of him. He had an MVP at quarterback and they went to a Super Bowl. Now what happened from there, they probably did not get the right people in place after that to try to pick up and run the same system. So you've got to think through all that. You've got to have a plan, it's got to be a sustainable plan. But to say you have to get an offensive coach I think misses the big picture point of what you're trying to find. I would also say this — teams have done this for years now — you bring in more head-coaching candidates in part because some of those guys might end up being coordinator candidates. But head-coaching candidates are the candidates that can't be blocked, so if you're talking about a Kevin O'Connell or a Luke Getsy, you're talking about guys who, yes, are they head-coaching candidates? Yes. But if you hire a Dan Quinn or a Jerod Mayo, those same names might be coming up for your offensive coordinator spot moving forward."
AD: I did want to follow up on Dan Quinn, because he's been mentioned as one of the perceived front-runners. How do you view him as a candidate as he potentially heads into a second head-coaching opportunity?
TP: "He's been respected at every spot he's been going back to when George worked with him in Miami when he was the D-line coach, through his stop in college to Seattle with the Seahawks, [and then] in Atlanta. Again, they came up with a really strong program. There were some things that got a little bit sideways on him toward the end. And one thing about Dan was he got fired so early last season that he almost went through the process that some coaches do when they have the full year off. He did that in the matter of months. He went out to Hawaii for a while. He thought through everything in terms of how he'd run the program, his scheme — really did a self-scout, so to speak, on himself. He came back better, and they love him in Dallas. He's turned around a historically bad defense into a really good unit. Yeah, they've got Micah Parsons and Trevon Diggs and DeMarcus Lawrence and all those guys — they're really talented — but he's put that thing together and it's a big reason why right now they're a Super Bowl contender in Dallas. I certainly understand if people focus on what happened toward the end in Atlanta or they focus on 28-3 or what happened in the Super Bowl, but if you're looking for leadership and the ability to build a culture, Quinn has shown that he can do that. It's not as much of a projection as it is with some of the first-time head coaches. You've seen it, you know what his strengths are, you know what his weaknesses are. You've seen how he would do it, and from all accounts, his time away last season really helped him get a better grasp on when he gets the next opportunity — and he's going to be selective — when he gets that next opportunity, here's how he's going to make it that much better and that much more sustainable."