MERILATT MONDAY

The best candidate for the Broncos is quietly moving up the leaderboard

Jan 23, 2023, 6:00 AM | Updated: 7:40 am
DeMeco Ryans...
(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

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The list is down to seven. Or perhaps it’s back to eight, with the surprise news that Jerry Rosburg threw his hat into the ring to become the Broncos next head coach. Either way, the first round interviews are over and it’s time for Denver to pare down their list.

Who will make the cut? That’ll come more into focus this week. And probably within the next few days.

Sean Payton remains the favorite to get the job. He supplants Jim Harbaugh as the head coach most likely to be in the Mile High City next season. Clearly, there’s a notion that Greg Penner and company want to write a big check to make the team’s woes go away.

That’s not necessarily a bad strategy. It’s kind of like going into a steakhouse and ordering the most-expensive bottle of wine on the menu. It won’t necessarily get the best pour to the table, but it all but ensures that it won’t be something that needs to be sent back.

It’s expensive, but it’s safe. That’s a route the Walton-Penner Family Ownership Group could go.

For many reasons, however, that’s not the best path for the Broncos. The fact that Denver has to give up at least a first-round pick to get Payton makes it a questionable move. Plenty of other red flags exist, not the least of which is the fact that no head coach in NFL history has ever won a Super Bowl with one team and then gone on to win another one with another team.

If it’s not Payton, the next most-likely option is Dan Quinn. The Cowboys defensive coordinator was in the mix a year ago, but lost out to Nathaniel Hackett. He has close ties to George Paton, so he’d have a built-in working relationship with the Broncos general manager.

Oddly, however, the third-best odds amongst the candidates has shifted in recent days. It’s not Jim Caldwell, David Shaw or Raheem Morris, three of the other experienced candidates in the mix. Instead, it’s the coach the Broncos contingent interviewed on Thursday in the Bay Area.

DeMaco Ryans has gone from +2000 to become the next head coach in Denver when the interview process began to +500. He’s jumped from eighth on the odds list, ahead of only options that the Broncos never interview, to No. 3 in the rankings. That’s a huge jump.

There must be a reason. A hint came during Sunday’s pregame show on FOX.

That’s a huge development. Ryans isn’t cancelling two other interview opportunities unless he think he has a great chance to get hired in Houston or Denver.

The 49ers defensive coordinator has ties to the Texans. He played there from 2006-11. But that’s also a much worse situation, as Houston has been a dumpster fire the past few years. Following each of the last two seasons, they’ve fired their head coach after just one year.

As bad as things have been in Denver of late, with the Broncos failing to reach the playoffs since winning Super Bowl 50, they haven’t been as bad as they’ve been in Houston. Factor in the ownership groups, team history, quarterback situation and more, and it’s pretty clear which one is a better gig.

Is that something Broncos fans should be excited about? Absolutely!

Ryans is the best candidate on their list. He’s arguably the most-intriguing option in the entire NFL during his hiring cycle.

If the Broncos don’t hire him, they’ll be kicking themselves down the road. It’ll be Kyle Shanahan in 2017 all over again.

Great NFL head coaches tend to lead their teams to victories over time through one of two ways. They either do it through force of personality (think Vince Lombardi, Bill Parcells or Jimmy Johnson). Or they get there by being the smartest guy in the room (see Shanahan, Sean McVay or Bill Belichick).

Ryans can get it done either way.

When look at the attributes needed to be a head coach in the NFL, he has them all. When it comes to leadership, intelligence, work ethic or passion, Ryans is off the charts on all fronts.

A recent article on The Ringer highlighted why the San Francisco defensive coordinator is a hot coaching candidate. It provided multiple examples of Ryans continually showcasing all of those attributes throughout his football career, both as a player and a coach.

During his college days in Alabama, his teammates called him “Coach” because of his on-field knowledge. As a rookie in Houston, he already knew what everyone on the offense, let alone the defense, was supposed to do on every play.

This excerpt says it all:

It’s a cliché to call a player a “coach on the field,” but with Ryans, it was unimpeachably true. Ryans’s defensive coordinator in Philadelphia, Bill Davis, told NFL.com’s Jim Trotter that he would build two defensive game plans for each week – one that the defense could run no matter what, and another that they could only run if Ryans was on the field. Davis would also give Trotter his Ryans prediction: “DeMeco’s so talented, he will go to the next level and be a phenomenal head coach in this league because of the way he handles himself on a day-to-day basis.”

Intelligence. Work ethic. Leadership. Check. Check. Check.

Watching Ryans on the sidelines during a 49ers game is evidence of his passion. To say he’s excitable, or into the game, would be an understatement. The Ringer story included a textbook example:

Many people don’t want to consider Ryans because he’s a first-time head coach. After watching Vance Joseph, Vic Fangio and Nathaniel Hackett all fall on their faces, it’s understandable that some don’t want to take that gamble again.

But that defeatist attitude would limit the Broncos options. It would take the best choice off their board.

DeMeco Ryans is going to be a great head coach in the NFL. To not have that in Denver would be a huge miss.

The oddsmakers know something. Here’s hoping it’s a sign that Penner is going to throw everyone in the Mile High City a curveball and bring the best candidate available in to fix the Broncos.

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The best candidate for the Broncos is quietly moving up the leaderboard