The Denver Broncos head coach history shows us some of the great names who have helped the franchise achieve its best moments. A variety of coaches have stayed here for different lengths of time and had very different levels of success, so looking at their names and achievements gives us a way of understanding the team’s periods of success and barren spells.
This list of ten of the Denver Broncos former coaches is an interesting way to look back at the history of the franchise too. If you want to bet on NFL games, this gives a better understanding of how important this role is and the impact that having a top coach has on the franchise’s success.
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Best Denver Broncos Coaches in History
Every fan has their own opinion on who the best head coaches to work for the Broncos are. With no iconic coach who stands head and shoulders above the rest, we need to assess the time spent in Denver by each of the names on our list.
Maybe you’ll agree with our first name on the list but what about the rest? Take a look at our reasons for choosing each of these head coaches and see if you would have made any changes to the names or the order that we’ve put them into.
With 14 years at the Broncos and two Super Bowl wins, it’s easy to see why we’ve chosen Mike Shanahan as the number one former Broncos coach. Mike stayed in Denver in this role from 1995 to 2008, which is the franchise’s greatest period of success.
When a brutal hit on the field ended his playing career, Shanahan started coaching as receivers coach and then offensive coordinator at the Broncos. After working as the Los Angeles Raiders head coach, he returned to Denver. Mike’s habit of scripting the first 15 offensive plays of any game turned Denver into a force to be reckoned with.
He led the franchise to its first Super Bowl in XXXII and then followed this with a win in Super Bowl XXXIII the next year. Along the way, the team set records such as the most points scored during the first quarter of an NFL season. By 2005, he had racked up more wins than any other Broncos coach.
The loss of all-time great Denver players like John Elway and Terrell Davis meant that the Broncos wouldn’t again hit the heights under Mike. However, his earlier success at the franchise means that he is regarded as the most successful head coach to work in Denver. Intriguingly, he was almost re-hired in 2018 when Vance Joseph looked to be on the way out.
𝐂𝐨𝐚𝐜𝐡/𝐂𝐨𝐧𝐭𝐫𝐢𝐛𝐮𝐭𝐨𝐫 𝐒𝐞𝐦𝐢𝐟𝐢𝐧𝐚𝐥𝐢𝐬𝐭 𝐅𝐨𝐫 𝐓𝐡𝐞 𝐂𝐥𝐚𝐬𝐬 𝐎𝐟 𝟐𝟎𝟐𝟒
— Pro Football Hall of Fame (@ProFootballHOF) July 27, 2023
Robert “Red” Miller almost got the perfect start as Broncos coach. Red had already worked as an assistant with Denver, and a few other teams before he got a chance here as head coach. His time in charge at Denver started in 1977 and he led them a 12-2 regular season and to the Super Bowl XII in his first season. However, they lost this game to the Dallas Cowboys and the franchise was left still looking for its first Super Bowl.
His next season saw the Broncos again win the AFC West, but this time they lost the AFC Championship game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Failure in the next couple of seasons meant he was fired from the role in 1980.
Red was back in the news headlines in 1983 when he was named the head coach of the new Denver Gold franchise in the USFL. He began here in 1983 but reports of personality clashes with the owner meant that he didn’t last the first season of the new league. Miller was added to the Denver Broncos Ring of Fame in 2017 and is fondly remembered for showing that the Broncos could make it to the Super Bowl even if his team fell short at the final hurdle.
— DenverBroncos QBClub (@BroncosQBClub) September 27, 2017
Following a playing career as a running back with the Dallas Cowboys, Dan Reeves became the NFL’s youngest head coach when he took the role at the Broncos in 1981. His difficult relationship with star quarterback John Elway was one of the key aspects of his time at Denver.
Many fans feel that Reeves should have guided the Broncos to a Super Bowl win. However, they lost at Super Bowls XXI, XXII, and XXIV during his time here. Having said that, three AFC championships and five divisional titles is an impressive total that makes him one of the most successful of the Denver Broncos former coaches.
After 12 years as head coach, Dan was fired in 1992 and went on to coach the Atlanta Falcons and New York Giants. Elway later said that he owed a lot of his career to Reeves, but the fact that he failed to win a Super Bowl as head coach stops him from being higher on the list.
"You've got to have good people with strong character."
A look back through Dan Reeves' time as Broncos head coach: pic.twitter.com/JuG9uJ20fs
— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) January 1, 2022
John Ralston gets a lot of credit from fans for being the first to have a Denver Broncos head coach history with a winning record with the franchise. He came here in 1972 after several years of college football coaching. His first season ended with a 5-9 record but his second season ended with a 7-5-2 record to give the Broncos their first winning season.
Despite a strong overall record of 34-33-3, John was never able to take Denver to the playoffs. A 9–5 record in his last season wasn’t enough, as he quit early in 1977 after a power struggle at the organization.
Ralston went on to coach as an assistant at teams such as the Philadelphia Eagles and the San Francisco 49ers. He then returned to the head coach role with the Oakland Invaders of the USFL as well as working with teams in Europe.
RIP Coach John Ralston. Led Broncos franchise to first winning season and drafted many players who were members of the legendary Orange Crush Defense. Thank you Coach for your contributions to the Broncos franchise!!!! pic.twitter.com/URMzWcjZkc
— GS (@JetrioG) September 16, 2019
Lou Saban had been coaching football since 1960 when he was hired by the Broncos to be head coach in 1966. He started with Denver for five years and has an overall losing record of 20-42-3. Despite this, we need to remember that the franchise still hadn’t had any winning seasons in its history.
Lou also had to deal with the transition from the AFL to the NFL. After a series of trades, his first season in 1967 started off promisingly with a win but ended with a 3-11 losing record. He slowly improved the team’s results but resigned in 1971 with that season at 2-6-1.
With the benefit of hindsight, it’s now commonly believed that Saban carried out a lot of the work needed in the organization to put a modern operation in place in terms of areas such as the coaching and scouting network.
— Old Time Football 🏈 (@Ol_TimeFootball) July 19, 2022
While John Fox was only in the head coach role at Denver for a relatively short time, he made a huge impact in the Broncos coaches history. Joining the franchise at the start of 2011 as Denver’s 14th head coach, John already had extensive coaching experience including the head coach role at the Carolina Panthers.
His first season saw the Broncos top the NFL in rushing offence, while his second season included consecutive wins in the last 11 games of the regular season. He took Denver to Super Bowl XLVIII but was unable to win against the Seattle Seahawks. When he left Denver, he’d given them the best regular season win percentage they’d ever achieved and hadn’t missed the playoffs in any season. In fact, he was only the second NFL coach to win the division title four times in a row with a new team.
— Crazy Sports Guy (@TrueMNSportsGuy) April 5, 2014
After a playing career spent as a backup to John Elway, this former quarterback had several coaching roles at Denver and elsewhere before being named head coach in 2015 to replace John Fox. The first season got off to a 7-0 start before the team stumbled but the Broncos ended the regular season 12-4 to win the AFC West. He then led the team to a 24-10 win in Super Bowl 50 against the Carolina Panthers.
Sadly, Gary had to retire after suffering a health scare during his second season. However, his place in the franchise’s history had already been assured. He took part in seven Super Bowls overall, including three losses as a Denver player. This gave him the unusual record of being the first person to win the Super Bowl as head coach after having lost an earlier Super Bowl as a player with the same team.
A long career in football coaching has seen Wade Phillips gain a reputation as an excellent defensive coordinator. It was this role that Wade carried out from 1989 to 1992 when the team has the top-ranked defense in 2015 and lost Super Bowl XXIV. In 1993, he was chosen to replace Dan Reeves as the head coach.
The 1994 season ended with a losing record of 7-9 after they lost the last three games. He lost the job after this but came back to Denver as defensive coordinator in 2015. This second stint proves successful, as Denver has the NFL’s top-ranked defense on the way to winning Super Bowl 50 despite struggling offensively. Phillips left the organization again in 2016 when Gary Kubiak was replaced by Vance Joseph as the new head coach, with Joe Woods coming in as the new defensive coordinator.
While he’s best known for his time with the New England Patriots, Josh McDaniels had a short but incident-packed spell that earned him a place in the Denver Broncos head coach history. He replaced Mike Shanahan in early 2009, signing a four-year contract, but the Jay Cutler trading controversy got him off to an awkward start. After six straight wins in his first season, the season ended with a disappointing 8-8 record, with a loss in the last game to the Kansas City Chiefs ending their hopes of reaching the playoffs.
The second season was worse with a 3-9 record that got him fired. The decision to end his contract came after the infamous videotaping scandal, which McDaniels wasn’t to blame for but which damaged his reputation as he failed to report it to the authorities right away. Josh is currently working as head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders.
The four decades of NFL coaching experience gained by Vic Fangio have mainly been gained as a defensive coordinator with different franchises. However, he was appointed as Denver’s head coach in 2019 and his first season concluded with a 7-9 losing record. The loss of Von Miller due to injury and several COVID suspensions disrupted the 2020 season, which ended 5-11.
A great 3-0 start to the 2021 season was followed by a series of defeats that gave an overall 7-10. Poor offensive performances and the failure to reach the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season meant the Vic was fired at the end of the season. After a spell away from the sport, the former Broncos coach returned in 2023 as the new defensive coordinator for the Miami Dolphins.