Ranking the Broncos’ 6 best coaching candidates to replace fired Vic Fangio

After three years in charge of the Broncos, Vic Fangio is out as Denver’s coach.

The Broncos made the announcement that they had “parted ways” with Fangio on Sunday. The decision was made less than 24 hours after Denver’s 28-24 loss to the Chiefs on Saturday afternoon, which left the team 7-10 for the season.

“For the past three years, Vic has put his heart and soul into coaching the Broncos,” said the team president. Joe Ellis said in a statement. “I want to thank Coach Fangio for giving his maximum effort to the organization from the day he was hired.”

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Fangio posted a 19-30 record during his three years with the Broncos. He never had a winning season and was unable to lead the team to the playoffs. His defense often played well, finishing in the top 10 scorers twice, but the team’s offense fell through when a carousel of seven different quarterbacks began during Fangio’s tenure. That’s one of the main reasons Denver fired him.

As such, the Broncos will begin their search for a new coach and they should be an attractive landing place. They have a solid roster and they just need to find a quarterback to become potential contenders in the AFC. Below are several coaching candidates who could help Denver do just that.

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Eric Bieniemy, Offensive Coordinator, Chiefs

Bieniemy has long been one of the hot names in the trainers market, and this may finally be the year you are hired as head coach. The 52-year-old has served as the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator since Matt Nagy took over as the Bears’ coach four years ago and has kept the Chiefs’ offensive machinery running.

The Kansas City offense has consistently ranked as one of the top five units under Bieniemy’s supervision. They have reached two Super Bowls, winning one, and Patrick Mahomes quickly became the best quarterback in the NFL working with Bieniemy and Andy Reid.

The Broncos can land a brilliant, offensive-minded coach at Bieniemy as they seize a valuable resource from a division rival. That should make you one of the top candidates for this position.

Jim Harbaugh, Head Coach, Michigan

Harbaugh, 58, is reportedly examining a jump back to the NFL after leading Michigan to its first college football playoff appearance. He has four years of experience as an NFL coach and his .695 winning percentage (44-19-1 record) ranks him fifth-best in NFL history behind Hall of Famers Guy. Chamberlain, John Madden, Vince Lombardi, and George Allen.

During his four-year tenure with the 49ers, Harbaugh led the team to a Super Bowl with Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick at quarterbacks. He helped transform Smith from a flop to a solid starter, while Kaepernick posted his best two seasons with Harbaugh.

Harbaugh’s track record in quarterback development is strong, and he himself has 14 years of experience as an NFL quarterback. Denver would certainly value both elements when considering Harbaugh. The only complication here could be his relationship with Fangio, who served as his defensive coordinator during his senior year at Stanford and during his four years with the 49ers.

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Dan Quinn, defensive coordinator, Cowboys

The Broncos are not guaranteed to be looking for an offensive-minded coach. That might be their inclination, but they might also choose to bring in another defense coach first to keep their team’s strength in order.

Quinn might fit that situation. He has extensive experience as a defensive coordinator and head coach at the NFL level. He was one of the architects of the “Legion of Boom” for the Seahawks Super Bowl teams in 2013 and 2014. He later became a coach for the Falcons and led them to a Super Bowl appearance during the NFL playoffs. 2017. His performance waned during his last two seasons in Atlanta, but he still has a 43-42 career record as a coach and has reinvented himself with the Cowboys.

Quinn, 51, took a Cowboys defense that ranged near the bottom of most defensive categories in 2020 and turned it into a top-10 scoring defense. He helped bring Micah Parsons into the stop unit and coached Randy Gregory and Trevon Diggs to create a strong defense. Denver could rely on him to keep his defense playing well while he waited for an offensive coordinator change to ignite the offense.

When the Falcons got to the Super Bowl with Quinn, they had Kyle Shanahan, Matt LaFleur, Mike LaFleur and Mike McDaniel on staff. If Quinn can replicate those kinds of offensive personnel, the Broncos might be convinced to bring him on board.

Bill O’Brien, offensive coordinator, Alabama

The end of O’Brien’s time with the Texans was not pleasant, but he has gained momentum as a possible coaching candidate after spending time with Nick Saban in Alabama. O’Brien, 52, continues to show he’s a good offensive mind and has a good track record with quarterbacks. He helped make Deshaun Watson a strong starter and posted a winning record in five of his seven seasons with the Texans.

O’Brien’s big mistakes in Houston came when he was in charge of personnel. In Denver, George Paton would continue to have the last word on the list, so he could mitigate some of the risks of adding a guy like O’Brien. It would certainly help the team’s offense and, perhaps, could sell disgruntled Watson in a trade to Denver during the offseason.

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Nathaniel Hackett, offensive coordinator, Packers

So, you want to improve the quarterback’s possession, huh? Well why not take a look at Nathaniel Hackett? The Packers offensive coordinator has been in the NFL since 2013 with stops in Buffalo, Jacksonville and Green Bay. At each stop, he has improved the team’s quarterback game.

With the Bills, the 42-year-old Hackett helped make Kyle Orton look like a competent quarterback. In Jacksonville, Blake Bortles put together his best season with Hackett in 2017. With the Packers, Hackett has helped guide Aaron Rodgers to a career resurgence, as he won the NFL MVP in 2020 (and may win the award again in 2021).

Hackett’s connection to Rodgers could also be intriguing, given the uncertainty surrounding the latter’s future with the Packers. If Rodgers demands a trade with the Packers, Denver would certainly be interested in his services, and having Hackett could give them an advantage in the competition to acquire him.

Mike Zimmer, Head Coach, Vikings

Zimmer, 65, can look strange on paper. He’s very similar to Fangio in his old-school, defense-first mentality, so he wouldn’t represent much of a change from the now-former Broncos coach.

That said, Zimmer has a connection to Paton, who worked with the Vikings for 14 years before joining the Broncos. As such, Paton could interview him to see if he would fit in in Denver. Zimmer has a career record of 71-56-1 and has never finished a season with fewer than seven wins.

The Broncos defense would continue to play at a high level with Zimmer, but doubts would remain about the state of the offense. His name isn’t such a strong option for the Broncos for that reason, but don’t be surprised if you land an interview.