ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — As George Paton directs his first coaching search as Denver's general manager, there will be no restrictions on the search.
The future head coach of the Broncos could specialize in offense or have a defensive background. That person could be a first-time head coach or be ready for another opportunity. The team's new coach could call the plays — or delegate that responsibility.
The only true requirement will be to bring top-notch leadership to Denver.
"The No. 1 quality is leadership, and we're looking for someone to lead this entire organization, to lead this community and to lead our players," Paton said Sunday. "That's the No. 1 trait we're looking for. Obviously we want the best football coach. I'm not worried about what side of the ball. I'm not worried about a play-caller. We want leadership, and that's our No. 1 priority."
Paton said the team will cast a "wide open" search and will avoid making a snap decision. From his time helping with a coaching search in Minnesota, Paton said he learned that patience can be key.
"Be very thorough," Paton said of what he learned. "Take your time. You don't need to be in a hurry. There's a lot of really good quality candidates, and it's really important to talk to them all. We have a small group, a tight-knit group we're working through that will be part of the search. Again, we're looking forward to it."
President and CEO Joe Ellis, who reiterated that Paton would choose the next head coach, echoed the general manager's sentiment about the importance of finding a coach with dynamic leadership skills.
"It's obviously critical," Ellis said. "I think from my standpoint and from George's standpoint, we'll need a leader who inspires. I think our fans are looking for that. I think everybody can feed off of that. George talked about someone who's got a high level of football sophistication along with leadership. I think together those two components will inspire people and we should get better."
Paton said the team preferred to conduct interviews in person but would consider the health and safety of both the search team and the candidates. He noted that the candidates' current will largely determine whether the Broncos hold in-person interviews. Denver will likely begin to reach out to request interviews with candidates on Monday. Paton did not identify the search committee, but he said the team had a "small group" that would help identify the next coach. Ellis said he would not travel for interviews, but would be available as a resource. Paton said he would also lean on President of Football Operations John Elway "throughout the process."
During the search, the Broncos expect their draft capital, cap space, young core of players and passionate fan base will help attract the candidate they want.
"We're excited to learn more about some of these great candidates," Paton said. "And it's going to be a comprehensive, a collaborative process to find the best head coach for the Broncos. We're going to be thorough, we're going to be open-minded. We know this is a critical decision, and we're going to get it right. With the foundation we have, we have 11 picks, we have over $50 million in cap room and we have great resources with Joe Ellis and John and we have the best fans in the NFL, so we know we're going to get the best candidate on the market. We're really confident of that."
Paton said the team's new coach will decide if any of the team's current assistant coaches return to the organization next year, and he noted that no assistants are candidates for the head coaching job.
Whomever the Broncos hire, that candidate will have to present a plan to upgrade the team's offense while also maintaining defensive success.
"Obviously, we need to upgrade the offense," Paton said. "We know that. Whoever we talk to, obviously they're going to have to have a plan for our offense. If they're a defensive-minded coach, they're going to have to talk about their plan and their offensive coordinator and his coaching staff and what his vision is with our personnel. All that goes into it. Offense is obviously a priority, but we don't want to take a step back on defense. We also need to elevate special teams. We need someone to take over the whole operation. We're not just focused on one side of the ball even though we really need to upgrade on that side of the ball."
Paton, though, emphasized that a coaching change alone is not enough for the Broncos to find success.
"There's a foundation in place, but there's a lot of work to be done and we're not satisfied," Paton said. "We're going to take a critical look at every aspect of our football operation, and it's not just the coaching. Everyone wants to blame the coaching. We've had five head coaches here in nine years, so something's not working. We all need to be better across the board and that starts with me personally. That starts with our staff, our entire building, our players. We need to take a look in the mirror and take responsibility for where we're at and be urgent to get us out of this and sustain a winning culture year in and year out."
Ellis, who has seen six consecutive seasons without a playoff berth, echoed Paton's sentiments — and expressed his own frustration with the lack of recent success.
"Frustration levels have reached an all-time high for everyone, and I'm not just talking about me," Ellis said. "I'm talking about fans, and the disappointment is the same thing. It's sort of become systemic here, what's been happening to us. We can't figure out ways to win games. And that's got to change. I can sit up here and talk about it, but that's just cheap. That doesn't get anywhere. It's just got to happen. We're going to have to come in with a fresh start with a new coach, and George is going to have to — in tandem with him — raise the expectations and the energy level and the inspiration so that our fans will get inspired by the team again."
As the Broncos aim to return to the playoffs, their effort begins with identifying the right candidate and hiring the correct head coach.
"You can't keep recycling coaches and expect to sustain a wining culture," Paton said. "It's hard. We're going to get it right — and we're going to get it right with this search.
"I can guarantee you that."