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League sources: Broncos narrow head coaching search with Quinn, Hackett, O'Connell in mix

Other candidates informed they are no longer under consideration. Quinn, Hackett have been favorites from search beginning, but O'Connell emerges as darkhorse.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — After interviewing 10 head coach candidates for 3 1/3 to 4 hours each, it was time for George Paton to start narrowing his list.

Paton, the Broncos’ second-year general manager, sat down with his five-person search committee – director of player personnel Darren Mougey, executive director of football operations Kelly Kleine, salary cap expert Rich Hurtado, director of player development Ray Jackson and chief communications officer Patrick Smyth – for deliberations Saturday and again Sunday.

After those two meetings, the Broncos started calling candidates to inform them they are no longer under consideration.

Several league sources tell 9NEWS that two of the candidate favorites from the start – Cowboys’ defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett – plus a darkhorse candidate, Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O'Connell, are still in play.

Paton is expected to bring in either Quinn, Hackett or both for in-person interviews this week at Broncos’ headquarters. The Broncos cannot interview O'Connell until after the Rams play in their NFC Championship Game on Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers. 

RELATED: Broncos head coach update: Paton to meet with committee to determine next move

Credit: AP
Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn watches team warmups before the first half an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

RELATED: Dan Quinn gets strong endorsement from former Falcon and Bronco Jacob Tamme

Other coaches whom Paton and his search committee interviewed over the past two weeks: Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, Patriots inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo, Packers’ quarterbacks coach Luke Getsy, Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn, Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon, Chiefs' offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and Bengals’ offensive coordinator Brian Callahan.

The Broncos could have their new head coach by week’s end. It will be the team’s fifth head coach in nine seasons, following John Fox, Gary Kubiak, Vance Joseph and Vic Fangio, who was fired two weeks ago after posting a three-year record of 19-30.

Quinn is the only candidate with head coaching experience as he posted a 43-42 regular-season record in 5-plus seasons for the Atlanta Falcons from 2015 through five games into 2020. Quinn led the Falcons to the 2016-season Super Bowl, where they blew a 28-3, third quarter lead against Tom Brady and the Patriots and lost in overtime. The Falcons then won a first-round playoff game in 2017, before the team began its slide of losing seasons that has now reached four in a row.

Hackett, 42, has extensive offensive coordinator experience with the Bills, Jaguars and Packers. He could help the Broncos lure Packers’ star quarterback Aaron Rodgers or other veteran quarterbacks who may be on the trade market this offseason like Seattle’s Russell Wilson, San Francisco’s Jimmy Garoppolo or Minnesota’s Kirk Cousins.

Credit: AP
Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett seen during pregame of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions, Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)

O'Connell would help the offensive-starved Broncos tap into the genius of Rams' head coach Sean McVay, whose coaching tree is beginning to spread throughout the league. O'Connell was a third-round draft pick of the New England Patriots where he spent the 2008 season as a backup.

After bouncing around as a No. 2 or 3 backup for several years, O'Connell started his coaching career with the Cleveland Browns in 2015. He was a top offensive assistant for a couple years under Jay Gruden at Washington before he became McVay's top offensive assistant in 2020.

Although O'Connell doesn't call plays, he works side by side with McVay in putting together the offensive game plan each week. Paton and his search committee interviewed O'Connell on Thursday night in Los Angeles. O'Connell's Rams then torched the Tampa Bay defense for 366 yards passing while sprinting to a 27-3 lead.

Credit: AP
Los Angeles Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O'Connell on the field during pregame warmups prior to an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings, Sunday, Dec. 26, 2021 in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Stacy Bengs)

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