Sean Payton or bust? Who’s the best alternative to coach the Broncos?

Kiz: Yeah, but Sean Payton only won the Super Bowl once with Drew Brees as his quarterback in New Orleans. If that’s your best argument against hiring Payton to rescue the Broncos, would you like some cheese with that whine? Payton has been my No. 1 candidate from the start. But we all know his compensation, in terms of both draft picks conveyed to New Orleans and salary demands, could quash the deal. So as we enter the final round of interviews, does Denver have a legit alternative to hiring Payton?

Gabriel: A timely and interesting question there, Kiz. We know the landscape: Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh is out of the running and there are six other men the Broncos have interviewed. One of them — San Francisco defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans — isn’t available for another interview until after the 49ers play in the NFC Championship Game this Sunday. Any of the rest could make the trek to Denver this week. Conventional wisdom says Dan Quinn, a finalist last year, is the next man up if we’re calling Payton target numero uno. Ryans is interesting. Watch his team play — talent like linebacker Fred Warner certainly helps, but the Broncos have talent of their own on defense — and tell me he doesn’t have chops. At the same time, is the new ownership group going to seriously consider a fourth straight first-time head coach? The best rebuttal on that front is that it would be the Broncos’ fourth, but the Walton-Penner Family Ownership Group’s first.

Kiz: I like Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero. A lot. But I also think the way Denver dumped his buddy Nathaniel Hackett has made for an awkward relationship that might make it best for Evero and the Broncos to part ways. Jim Caldwell is more than qualified, but the part we can’t say aloud: He’s 68 years old and hasn’t worked in three seasons. Quinn kinda reminds me of John Fox, which isn’t a bad thing. But might Quinn’s tight relationship with Broncos general manager George Paton actually be a non-starter for Greg Penner? Hmm, help me out, I’m running out of candidates.

Gabriel: The Stanford connections among the Broncos’ new ownership group run deep, from the Penners each having degrees from the school to limited shareholder Condoleezza Rice to a former Broncos quarterback you may have heard of, so could that help push David Shaw into the finalist group and toward the big prize?

Kiz: If Payton really wants back in the game, does he really need a $25 million salary, and do the Saints really need more than a first and a third as draft-pick compensation? If today’s calendar read 2019, Shaw would be a red-hot candidate. He spent nine years working in the NFL before winning the Pac-12 Conference three times at Stanford. Yes, his final four seasons in Palo Alto stunk. But if the Broncos can’t make a deal with Paton, I think the best (if imperfect) fit could be Shaw.

Gabriel: Even more recently than 2019, in December 2020, Payton himself told the Around the NFL podcast that he thought it was ludicrous that Shaw hadn’t yet been lured to the NFL when discussing the lack of diversity among head coaches in the league. Here’s what he said, “Every time I bring his name up people say, ‘Well, David’s staying in college.’ I understand that, but Steve Spurrier was staying in college and Nick Saban was staying in college. … At some point, someone says, ‘No, you’re coming here because we’re going to make you take this job.’ … Why is it that a young talented coach, Stanford graduate, West Coast offense guy, and I always begin with David because I know him and I know how talented he is. Now, he may turn down all of those opportunities, but you know what? He didn’t have those opportunities where someone said, ‘We have to have him.’”

If Payton doesn’t end up in Denver, maybe he’ll put in another good word.

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