Not even an entire season removed from his hiring, the Denver Broncos fired Nathaniel Hackett, leaving yet another vacancy at the head coach position.

With the first round of interviews already over, Broncos fans know the candidates. But who is the best option to lead the Broncos organization to future success? We break them down.

1. Sean Payton

Payton ranks first among all candidates and by looking at his resume, it is easy to tell why.

Being hired as the head coach of the New Orleans Saints in 2006, Payton quickly picked up the reputation of being one of the best coaches in the league.

In fact, Payton’s first season as an NFL head coach came with an unreal amount of success, identifying and bringing the best out of quarterback Drew Brees and leading his team to an NFC Championship Game.

The success he had early did not stop there. By the time Payton left the Saints organization in 2021, his list of accolades included an AP Coach of the Year award, a Super Bowl win, and an overall record of 152-89 (63.1%).

While there are multiple qualities that go into being an elite NFL head coach, the quality that most stands out for Payton is his ability to lead a prolific offense.

Being the offensive play-caller through his entire tenure as the Saints’ head coach, Payton led his offense to a top-ten rank in points scored 12 times and that is no coincidence.

Look at Drew Brees, for example, as a player who took a massive step in the right direction by joining the Saints. Brees went from a one-time Pro Bowler to a first-team All-Pro in his first season under Payton’s tutelage.

There are very few negatives when looking through Payton’s track record, however, the manner in which he left the organization is worth noting.

The Saints seemingly sold the future to give them the best chance possible of winning in the short term, in hopes of capitalizing on the end of Brees’ career, but once the damage was done and the goal was not met, Payton retired, leaving the franchise in a very tough spot.

Now out of retirement and looking for a new job, this should raise some concern as Broncos’ decision-makers have to get a clear answer on Payton’s loyalty and ability to persevere through challenging seasons.

Since interviewing him on Tuesday, it looks like Payton to the Broncos is becoming more of a sure bet all the time.

2. DeMeco Ryans

The youngest of any of the Broncos candidates, where Ryans may lack in experience, he makes up in rare coaching qualities and defensive mastery.

Being a former player and team captain, Ryans’ understanding of the locker room dynamic is better than any other candidate on this list and makes him an actual “players coach.”

A successful “players coach” isn’t just somebody that the players will get along with but somebody that can relate to the players on their level and garner their respect. All of these qualities go into building a successful locker room and is something Ryans is as qualified as anybody to accomplish.

While his ability to instill a winning culture is a massive selling point, his success as a defensive play caller is often forgotten about because of it.

As the 49ers’ defensive coordinator this season, Ryans has picked up right where Robert Saleh left off, having the No. 1 ranking defense in the NFL per DVOA. Not only were they the No. 1 scoring defense this year, but they were No. 9 last year under Ryans, too.

The mixture of both Ryans’ leadership and play-calling is quite intriguing but he does not go without his concerns.

Specifically, Ryans is extremely inexperienced as a coach, being hired to the 49ers staff in 2017 and only having the position of a coordinator for two of those seasons.

It goes without saying in Broncos Country but a lack of experience throughout a staff could lead to plenty of growing pains more veteran coaching candidates would simply not have to endure.

3. Jim Caldwell

The most veteran option of the Broncos candidates, Caldwell would bring a great deal of experience, respect and sense of direction to any franchise that chose to hire him.

With coaching roots going all the way back to 1977, when Caldwell served as an assistant for the Iowa Hawkeyes, his understanding of how a football team should run is unmatched and he’s done it successfully.

Specifically, Caldwell has been a head coach of an NFL football team twice in the past, leaving both the Indianapolis Colts and the Detroit Lions with winning records.

In those stints, Caldwell enjoyed a combined 62-50 record, a 2-4 playoff record, and a Super Bowl victory in 2006.

Besides having a proven track record as a head coach, the biggest and most important quality that stands out about Caldwell is just how much his former players love him, crediting him with a lot of their individual success.

In fact, former Broncos legendary quarterback Peyton Manning was on record saying, “Jim Caldwell has meant a great deal to me, and in my career. I felt like once he came to Indianapolis and became my quarterback coach, my game really improved. I feel like it took a step up and Jim had a great deal to do with that.”

There are some concerns, though. What Caldwell has already proven in the NFL is very impressive, but already at 68 years of age, it is uncertain if he is the right coach to lead the Broncos through a rebuild if needed.

Adding to that, Caldwell had a health scare while serving as an assistant head coach and quarterback coach for the Miami Dolphins in 2019, leading to his departure from the team, and furthering that concern.

4. David Shaw

Before pulling his name out of consideration, Jim Harbaugh was Broncos Country’s favorite head coaching candidate, and Shaw may be the next closest thing.

In fact, Shaw worked under Harbaugh in a multitude of roles from 2006 to 2010, before ultimately being named the head coach at Stanford once Harbaugh departed for the NFL in 2011.

Being Stanford alumni himself, Shaw had a great deal of success at the university, finishing with an overall record of 96-54 in his 12 seasons.

In that time, Shaw had plenty of interest around the NFL but he was dead set on staying with Stanford.

Now he’s in a unique position. Shaw stepped down as Stanford’s head coach and the Broncos ownership group already has ties with him, so Greg Penner has a chance to land what has been a very coveted coach for many years.

With that being said, Shaw hasn’t coached in the NFL since 2005, when he was a wide receivers coach for the Baltimore Ravens. And the NFL game is very different than the college game. Many great college coaches have tried making the jump to the NFL but the success stories are few and far between.

While Shaw’s track record at Stanford cannot be tarnished, he is coming off a 1-11 season, making him far less of an attractive option as years in the past.

5. Dan Quinn

The most obvious option out of the Broncos’ head coaching candidates, Quinn brings previous success as an NFL head coach and coordinator to the table.

He first began getting a lot of national exposure in 2013, Quinn was the defensive coordinator for one of the greatest defenses of all time in the Seahawks’ “Legion of Boom” defense.

Not too far after, Quinn was hired as the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, where he had early success, making one Super Bowl appearance in 2016, before ultimately being fired in 2020.

As a coaching candidate for the Broncos, there are a lot of signs pointing toward him potentially landing the job but he lands fifth on this list as the hire would ignore the longevity of the team.

Being that he has a long-standing relationship with both Wilson and general manager George Paton, one must wonder how long of a leash Quinn would even have as all signs point to his two friends’ future with the Broncos being in question.

Even if the Broncos did keep Quinn around after the Wilson era, he would not be nearly as favorable in growing with or developing a young quarterback as many of the coaches ranked higher.

In a lot of ways, a Quinn hiring would feel like an attempt to put a bandaid over an injury that needs surgery.

6. Raheem Morris

Morris offers a very intriguing combination of youth, experience and versatility to this year’s coaching cycle.

Beginning working with defensive backs, Morris started his NFL coaching career with the Buccaneers from 2002-2005 and then again from 2007-2015.

In that time, Morris moved up the coaching ranks, going from a quality control coach, to a defensive backs coach, to ultimately being named the head coach in 2009.

Morris went on to be the head coach for three seasons, not finding a ton of success, and finishing with an overall record of 17-31.

Since then, Morris has been gaining the necessary experience, working as an offensive assistant for five seasons before again switching to defensive coordinator of the Rams and helping them in their most recent Super Bowl victory.

The experience Morris has gained in this time has been invaluable, ultimately allowing him to be a head coaching candidate, yet again, only at the age of 46.

Ultimately, Morris would be a solid coaching hire for most teams but much like Quinn, it would ignore the longevity of the team in the Broncos’ case.

Quinn is ranked higher than Morris because, at least, with his connections to the Seahawks, he seems to have a plan in place to bring the best out of Wilson. Morris on the other hand does not share those same connections and if the Broncos were forced to find another quarterback in the near future, there are other candidates on this list with more of a proven track record in developing that position.

7. Ejiro Evero

Ranking last amongst the Broncos coaching candidates, Evero is a fine defensive coordinator and head coaching candidate but is an awkward fit for the Broncos, having coached on last year’s disappointing team.

As an assistant, Evero is an extremely seasoned coach, having worked under some of the NFL’s most respected in Harbaugh, Vic Fangio, Wade Phillips, Monte Kiffin, and Brandon Staley.

All this experience finally led to him getting his first crack as a defensive coordinator this last season where he did flourish, fielding one of the best defenses in the entire NFL for most of the season.

There is no doubt Evero will become a head coach in the near future, but for the Broncos, it is an odd fit.

With Evero having such a good relationship with last season’s staff, it is unclear how much different last season’s staff would be from this one, making him one of the least attractive options for the Broncos going forward.

Unfortunately, the Broncos need change, and a lot of it. The Broncos simply cannot enter next season with any reminisce of last year’s coaching style.

Denver’s ownership group is going to conduct their second round of interviews this week with the next head coach to be named very soon.

(Check out our Broncos coaching tracker for updates on the hiring process.)