Since even before the Denver Broncos fired Vic Fangio, the rumor mill has linked Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn to the potential job opening. Since Fangio's dismissal on January 9, rumors have spread that Quinn-to-Denver is fait accompli for GM George Paton.
Gasoline was thrown on that particular rumor earlier this week when Cowboys insider Mike Fisher passed on a source's belief that Paton has 'zeroed in' on Quinn and that all nine remaining head-coach interviewees are either A.) window dressing or B.) intel gathering to find the right coordinators to install under Quinn.
That being said, long-time Broncos insider Jeff Legwold of ESPN Denver doesn't buy it. In a conversation on Altitude Sports Radio on Thursday morning, Legwold splashed cold water on that red-hot internet rumor and explained why he believes Paton is conducting these interviews in good faith.
"I do not. Just from the folks I've talked to involved with all this, I'd say, no, that's not true," Legwold told Altitude. "It's a natural thing to say, though, I will say that. Paton has known him the longest of any of the candidates. When George Paton got the job, most anyone I knew in the league said, 'If he ever has to hire a coach, keep an eye on Dan Quinn.' This is not a new item. This has followed George along since he took the Broncos job. My feeling on it, the 10,000-foot view is to me, if you're the Broncos—and I don't have a dog in the hunt. They can hire whoever they want. If you're the Broncos, to me, Dan Quinn is the toughest one to explain to the people who follow the team. It's almost Vic Fangio lite. Are you getting a better defensive coach than Vic Fangio? A lot of people in the league would say no. How did his head-coaching job go when Kyle Shanahan left? It's just things like that. To me, that's the toughest sell to the fans, if you're the Broncos. But it is the one that won't go away, in terms of what people want to talk about."
Legwold's insights come as a relief to those fans who've expressed some serious misgivings about Paton's head-coaching search. Denver's last two head-coach hires have been defensive-minded guys — Vance Joseph and Vic Fangio — both of whom combined to preside over the worst five-year era in the team's history over the past 50 years.
Former GM John Elway, currently serving as the team's president of football operations, zigged when the NFL had zagged toward the proliferation of offense. Perhaps the genesis of Elway's last two head-coach hires had something to do with hiring guys who could combat the high-octane offenses of the modern league.
All it did for the Broncos, however, was leave them in the NFL doldrums for lack of any offensive ingenuity whatsoever. True, the Broncos have lacked that bonafide franchise quarterback since Peyton Manning retired but it's not as if this team hasn't made investments in the position post-Super Bowl 50.
If Elway hires Zac Taylor instead of Fangio in 2019, perhaps Drew Lock develops and turns the corner as a viable franchise-caliber QB. Such were the wages of Elway's misguided head-coach hirings of the previous half-decade.
Instead, Taylor was hired by Cincinnati and by virtue of a bad 2019 campaign, was in position to draft Joe Burrow No. 1 overall the following year. The Bengals are now reaping those rewards with gusto.
So, if Paton isn't myopically pursuing Quinn, which offensive-minded coaches could have the edge? Legwold provided his two cents.
"The two I'm intrigued by, on that side of the ball are—I think Nathaniel Hackett has paid the dues you want guys to pay to be a head coach. And Brian Callahan was here and there are very few assistants in my time here that people who worked with them have talked as glowingly about as Brian Callahan, even when he had the grunt-work job. This is a guy everybody felt like, 'Okay, he's going places in the league.' Those two guys, offensively, to me, are kind of what people want here. I've said all along, we're in an era in the NFL where, if you stink on offense, your fans think your team stinks, your coach stinks—everything stinks."
Hiring Hackett could come with the collateral benefit of luring Aaron Rodgers to Denver — if the Packers ultimately part ways with the veteran QB at season's end. Even without Rodgers, Hackett would bring energy and offensive innovation to a Broncos squad that has been utterly deprived of such things in recent years.
If Hackett could coach Blake Bortles to the AFC title game in 2017, imagine what he might be able to do with a young, toolsy quarterback like Lock. Hackett has some QB-developer skins hanging on the wall.
Callahan is another interesting candidate, and while he has a history in Denver, it feels like he's a year or two away from really being ready to serve as a head coach. However, that's the view from the outside.
Internally, if Callahan blows Paton away with his Zoom interview on Thursday, it could alter that particular equation. The Broncos will also interview Los Angeles Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O'Connell on Thursday.
O'Connell's interview will be in person. There's a chance the Broncos could announce a new head coach sometime within the next week. The only candidate left to be interviewed is Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, with whom Paton will hold palaver on Friday.
Follow Chad on Twitter @ChadNJensen.
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