ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — To begin the process of finding his successor as Denver Broncos general manager, John Elway received a list of about 30 potential candidates.
Through his own relationships with other NFL executives and after making several calls around the league, Elway narrowed the GM candidates list to five. Elway, who now has the singular title of president of football operations, is heading the Broncos’ GM search committee that also includes chief executive officer Joe Ellis, head coach Vic Fangio and chief communications officer Patrick Smyth.
That committee will conduct its first round of interviews via Zoom on Friday and Saturday. According to multiple sources, Minnesota Vikings assistant general manager George Paton and Bears' and former Broncos' executive Champ Kelly will be interviewed on Friday. The Saints' Terry Fontenot, the Broncos' own Brian Stark and Patriots and former Broncos' executive Dave Ziegler will be interviewed via remote on Saturday.
A finalist or two can then be brought in for in-person interviews, likely no later than Monday. With six other teams also looking for GMs, the Broncos are expected to act quickly and could have their decision made by early next week.
The team also needs to replace Elway’s right-hand man Matt Russell as director of player personnel. Russell has retired and to prove it, he has already cleaned out his office at the Broncos’ UCHealth Training Center headquarters.
The new GM will have considerable say on who will fill Russell’s void so first, a look at the Broncos’ five GM candidates:
Anthony “Champ” Kelly
Assistant Director of Player Personnel, Bears
Considered a co-favorite for the Broncos’ GM position, Champ Kelly, 41, began his NFL personnel career as a Broncos’ regional scout in 2007. He was with the Broncos for eight years, the last five as assistant director of pro scouting. He joined the Bears in 2015, where he worked with former Broncos’ head coach John Fox and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. Kelly helps with both college and pro scouting, and the draft process with the Bears.
He has already interviewed for the GM opening in Carolina.
Kelly grew up in Campbellton, Fla., and played receiver and defensive back at the University of Kentucky where he also received his bachelor’s degree in computer science and his master’s in business administration. He also played in the United Indoor Football league, where he was a two-time All Star defensive back. He and his wife Stephanie have three daughters – Claire, Chloe and Caroline.
VP Player Personnel, Assistant General Manager, Vikings
The other co-favorite, he’s essentially the Matt Russell of the Vikings. Paton (pronounced Peyton) has been GM Rick Spielman’s right-hand man for 14 years in Minnesota. He also spent six seasons in Miami as the Dolphins’ director of pro personnel (2001-06) after he first broke in with the Bears. Spielman was also Paton’s boss in Chicago and Miami. The most experienced and accomplished executive among the Broncos GM candidates, Paton reportedly has previously been a frontrunner for GM jobs with the Jets and Browns only to withdraw from consideration.
A source close to Paton said he is ready to make the step up to GM this year. He has already interviewed for the GM opening in Detroit. In Denver, Paton figures to get a strong recommendation from Broncos' offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, who held the same role with the Vikings during its famed Minneapolis Miracle season of 2017.
Paton, 51, grew up in Los Angeles and played defensive back for UCLA from 1988-91 before playing in professional leagues in Italy and Australia. He and his wife Barbara have a daughter, Bella, and son, Beau.
Assistant Director of Player Personnel, Patriots
Not as experienced as the other candidates, but neither was Sean McVay when he got the Rams’ coaching gig. Born in Tallmadge, Ohio, Ziegler attended John Carroll University, where he was a three-time Division III All American as a receiver and returner and is a member of the school’s Hall of Fame. It’s also the same small school that produced Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and now Texans’ general manager Nick Caserio.
Ziegler got his NFL start with the Broncos through McDaniels in 2010 and stayed for two more seasons under GM Elway and coach Fox. His greatest claim to fame with the Broncos occurred in 2011, when after the lockout, the team needed to fill out its training camp roster with one of two undrafted defensive backs – a smart one who ran well but wasn’t a burner; or a burner who wasn’t quite as smart. Ziegler and coach Fox went with the smart one – Chris Harris Jr.
Ziegler joined the Patriots in 2013 and has worked his way up from assistant of pro scouting, to director of pro scouting, to Caserio’s right-hand man as assistant director of player personnel. Anyone who has worked eight years under Bill Belichick and the high-pressured Patriots environment figures to be advanced beyond years.
Ziegler and his wife Carissa have two sons, Asher and Camden and a daughter, Georgina.
Director of Pro Scouting, Assistant GM, Saints
Spent his entire 16-year NFL career with the Saints where he has worked his way up from pro scouting assistant to pro scout to director of pro scouting. Groomed by Saints’ longtime GM Mickey Loomis, Fontenot, 40, grew up in Lake Charles, La., and played college football at Tulane, where he graduated with a degree in business and organizational information technology.
Fontenot has been busy, as he’s interviewed for the GM openings in Detroit and Atlanta, while also helping the Saints prepare for their first-round NFC playoff game Sunday against Champ Kelly’s Bears.
Director of College Scouting, Broncos
The local kid-does-good candidate, Stark grew up in Fort Morgan and graduated from the University of Colorado. He began his professional career working as an assistant recruiting coordinator and student assistant at CU, before continuing as a coach and recruiter for the University of Washington and San Diego State. He spent three seasons as offensive coordinator for Yale (2009-11) before joining the Broncos as a regional scout in 2012.
Stark, 47, was promoted to national scout for the Broncos in 2016, then was elevated again to college scouting director after the 2017 draft. Since he took charge of college scouting, the Broncos have put together three consecutive impressive drafts that garnered the likes of Bradley Chubb, Courtland Sutton, Josey Jewell, Phillip Lindsay (undrafted free agent), Noah Fant, Dalton Risner, Drew Lock, Dre’Mont Jones, Jerry Jeudy, KJ Hamler, Michael Ojemudia, Albert Okwuegbunam and Essang Bassey (undrafted free agent).
Stark and his wife Sarah have two sons, Jackson and Alex.
Broncos podcast: Klis' Mike Drop
Denver Broncos headlines, game previews and interviews with our 9NEWS insider Mike Klis.
HOW TO LISTEN
SUGGESTED VIDEOS: Sports
MORE WAYS TO GET 9NEWS
Subscribe to our daily 9NEWSLETTER
HOW TO ADD THE 9NEWS APP TO YOUR STREAMING DEVICE
ROKU: add the channel from the ROKU store or by searching for KUSA.
For both Apple TV and Fire TV, search for "9news" to find the free app to add to your account. Another option for Fire TV is to have the app delivered directly to your Fire TV through Amazon.