As the all-day head coaching interview was winding down Monday evening, and the jet that would fly candidate Nathaniel Hackett back to Green Bay was idling patiently on a nearby runway, there was just enough time to grab a quick dinner at the incomparable Los Dos Potrillos restaurant.
Broncos general manager George Paton, his top deputy Darren Mougey and Hackett each unwound with a margarita. Hackett ordered tamales. Hackett then hit the airport and flew back to Green Bay, where after eight hours in Broncoland, he transitioned from Denver head coach candidate back to Packers’ offensive coordinator.
Sources say Hackett was impressive. "Extremely smart" is usually the most common initial description of Hackett, and not just in football -- although his deep-rooted knowledge of the sport as the son of a longtime offensive coach is evident.
Hackett was not offered the job over dinner. Doesn’t mean he won’t be eventually. Sources say that contrary to widespread speculation, the Broncos are not giving serious consideration to Hackett in hopes he can also deliver Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. If Hackett gets the Broncos job, it will be on his own merits, which include his impressive work with passing-challenged quarterback Blake Bortles for the 2017 Jacksonville Jaguars.
Dan Quinn, the former Atlanta Falcons head coach and current defensive coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys, is also in the mix, as is Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell, who as a senior quarterback at San Diego State in 2007 completed 32 passes for 368 yards to the junior receiver Mougey.
O’Connell cannot be interviewed a second time for the Broncos head coach position until Monday at the earliest because his Rams are preparing to play their rival 49ers in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday.
Paton may take that long to make his decision.
Since firing Vic Fangio as Broncos head coach on Jan. 9, Paton has engaged in a deliberate, thorough search process that featured 3 ½ to 4-hour interviews with 10 candidates in seven cities over a nine-day first stage. The interview Monday with Hackett at Broncos headquarters, and Los Dos, began stage 2.
One reason why Paton hasn’t rushed the second stage of the search is he hasn’t needed to. Of the nine NFL teams with head coaching vacancies, none were filled until Tuesday night, when Jacksonville selected their former first-round quarterback Byron Leftwich, who had been Tom Brady’s offensive play caller in Tampa the past two seasons.
Quinn had a second interview with the New York Giants this week, but the clear frontrunner there is Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. Quinn will also get a second look with the Chicago Bears, who may go with Leslie Frazier, a starting cornerback from their famed ’85 defense and the Bills' defensive coordinator.
Sources say the Broncos are planning to have Quinn in for a second interview, but the day has yet to be determined.
On Tuesday, a day after their long meeting with Hackett, Paton and his five-person search committee – Mougey, Kelly Kleine, Rich Hurtado, Ray Jackson and Patrick Smyth -- regrouped Tuesday. They like all three finalists. After moving fast through the initial stage of the search, Paton has slowed it down before making his final choice.
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