When the Denver Broncos fired Nathaniel Hackett this past season, team CEO Greg Penner said that he would lead the search for their next head coach. Many minds believe that meant current general manager George Paton has lost his power or influence, which is not correct.

Denver Broncos ownership values George Paton

After years of operating under the Pat Bowlen Trust, the Denver Broncos finally operated under the modern-day NFL ownership structure in 2022. With the NFL previously putting pressure on the franchise to have ownership in place, the process moved quickly this past offseason as the team was put up for sale. Rob Walton, his daughter Carrie Walton-Penner, and son-in-law Greg Penner alongside Condoleeza Rice, Mellody Hobson, and Sir Lewis Hamilton formed the Walton-Penner Family Ownership Group.

Prior to that, the Broncos hired general manager George Paton to oversee the football operations/personnel aspect alongside John Elway, who was the President of Football Operations at the time. Paton was one of the NFL’s most coveted GM candidates throughout various years but stayed in Minnesota as the right hand to former GM Rick Spielman until the right opportunity presented itself.

The current Broncos GM’s first year in Denver led him to inherit already in-place head coach Vic Fangio who was entering his third year with the franchise. Fangio’s defense was a strength for the team, but what appealed to Paton about Denver was his belief they had a roster that could grow into a sleeping giant with players like Courtland Sutton, Justin Simmons, Jerry Jeudy, Tim Patrick, and others. With that in mind, Paton graced the former Broncos head coach with the chance to lead the team to the post-season in 2021, where the team ultimately fell short and missed out.

Paton moved on from Fangio, and with CEO Joe Ellis, and Elway all set to step away, the Broncos GM was entrusted with more responsibility than most general managers face due to the fact that the team did not have ownership established. At the time, the potential sale of the team would be a long process that would not have been resolved until the season was near, leading to Paton assembling a hiring committee of various team executives to help hire their next head coach.

Denver ultimately hired Nathaniel Hackett amongst a list of candidates that included Dan Quinn, Kevin O’Connell, Aaron Glenn, Luke Getsy, and Kellen Moore. Hackett interviewed well and provided the Broncos hiring committee with more insight into how he planned to transform the offensive side of the ball, and his vision about how a team should operate. While Hackett helped heal the locker room culture that was previously missing under Fangio, he failed to turn around Denver’s offensive woes, which ultimately led to his dismissal just 15 games into his first year as head coach.

Why did this happen? The Broncos finally had ownership in place who stepped in, echoing what their expectations were for the on-field product and empathizing with the fanbase who expressed their frustrations on social media and at home in the stadium. The Walton-Penner Family Ownership Group did not hire Hackett, which made the decision to move on from him much easier from a business perspective. Did Paton miss on the Hackett hire? Sure, but he made a move at the time that felt like the best possible option, all things considered.

With Penner leading the search for the next head coach of the Denver Broncos, the process for hiring the next man for the job has returned to the modern-day NFL ownership process. There’s been a notion circulating around the interweb that the Broncos GM has lost power and influence within the organization, which simply isn’t true. In today’s NFL, head coaches and the GM report directly to the CEO (Penner for Denver’s example) whereas the head coach reported to Paton in 2021 when ownership was not in place.

Paton has been heavily involved with the Broncos’ first round of eight interviews featuring Jim Harbaugh, Sean Payton, Jim Caldwell, David Shaw, Ejiro Evero, DeMeco Ryans, and will conclude on Friday with Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. As 9News’ Mike Klis reported on Wednesday evening, a second round of interviews with one to three finalists is expected next week, where Paton won’t be as involved in the interview process, but will still play a role in advisement after the second round.

“From there, Penner and his associates will pause to consider who to bring in for a second interview next week,” Klis noted in his column. “The second round of interviews will involve Penner, his wife and co-owner Carrie Penner Walton, and Broncos controlling owner Rob Walton. George Paton will be around for follow-up discussions and to help the coaching finalists tour the Broncos’ facilities.”

The ultimate and final say on who will be the next head coach of the Denver Broncos will be made by the Walton-Penner Family Ownership group. If Paton didn’t have any power or influence within the Broncos’ ownership structure and chain of command, they would have fired him when they moved on from Hackett. On the other hand, Penner openly expressed that he would ‘heavily’ lean on Paton during all of these changes.

“George and I have had the chance to get to know each other,” Penner said in December after firing Hackett. “We talk every day since we purchased the team a number of months ago. He acknowledged right up front that there were a couple of decisions that haven’t worked out as he had expected, but I understand his thought process. He understands the work that needs to be done in this offseason, and I’m going to rely on him heavily as we go through and make these changes.”

The Broncos GM’s primary role will be what it always has been, building the roster in collaboration with the head coach and the scouting department. Business as usual in Broncos Country.

“I see the relationship just like the previous head coaches—collaborative, trust and a lot of communication,” Paton said during his press conference with Greg Penner back in December. “That has to be with the head coach, the owner and the general manager. There has been constant collaboration. I see it working that way.”

The Denver Broncos will look to announce who their next head coach is potentially toward the end of next week.