The Denver Broncos are closing in on hiring the team's 18th head coach all-time. After conducting a whirlwind 10 interviews with prospective candidates, GM George Paton took the weekend to palaver with his five-headed hiring committee to decide which among the comers would garner a second sit-down.
We learned over the weekend from insider Ian Rapoport that Paton whittled the list down to three 'finalists': namely, Green Bay Packers OC Nathaniel Hackett, Dallas Cowboys DC Dan Quinn, and Los Angeles Rams OC Kevin O'Connell.
As news of the finalists list was still breaking, the Broncos flew Hackett into Denver for his second interview Monday morning. Hackett remained in the Mile High City all day long, hopping on a chartered flight back to Green Bay out of Centennial Airport just before 9 pm.
Meanwhile, Quinn interviewed Monday for the New York Giants' head-coaching vacancy and the Broncos plan to bring him to Denver for a second interview this week sometime. No date has been reported yet, however.
Viewed potentially as the darkhorse, O'Connell is out of reach for Paton until next Monday at the very soonest. With the Rams set to host the NFC Championship Game this weekend, NFL rules mandate that the Broncos can't sit down with O'Connell again until after the conference title match.
O'Connell is an interesting candidate and not just because he'd be the latest Sean McVay acolyte to garner head-coaching consideration around the NFL. A four-year captain at San Diego State, O'Connell was drafted by New England in the third round in 2008 and served as a backup quarterback in the league through the 2012 season.
His first NFL coaching gig came three years later as Cleveland's QBs coach. O'Connell now has seven years of NFL coaching experience and has served as McVay's offensive coordinator for the last two seasons.
Although O'Connell doesn't call the plays on gameday, McVay trusts him to game-plan each week and put together the Rams' first 18-play script. O'Connell's influence on the Rams' offense runs much deeper than outside scrutiny would have you believe.
The Associated Press' Greg Beacham explained the 36-year-old O'Connell's importance to McVay to the Broncos team site.
"The thing about Kevin O'Connell is he's been at the controls of the Rams' offense in almost every way, except actually calling the plays, for two years, which makes him a guy who's seen what Sean McVay does and what makes the Rams so successful over the last five years," Beacham told DenverBroncos.com. "And there's only a handful of guys in the world who can say that; three of the other assistants who can say that are currently head coaches of their own teams and two are still in the playoffs along with Sean McVay, so the pedigree is impeccable. There's no doubt that Kevin is the next guy in that lineage."
Can Paton hold out until O'Connell can be interviewed? After all, if the Rams beat the San Francisco 49ers this weekend, O'Connell won't be available to assume control as head coach of the Broncos until after the Super Bowl on February 13.
Waiting it out on O'Connell would come with some risk. If Paton waits until the 11th hour to sit down again with O'Connell, it could come at the cost of Hackett and Quinn taking jobs elsewhere, at which point, if things didn't go according to plan with O'Connell — whether due to contractual demands or otherwise — it would leave the Broncos with much slimmer options.
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