Denver Broncos officially name Sean Payton head coach

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FILE – New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton walks on the field before an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers in New Orleans, Jan. 2, 2022. The Carolina Panthers have received permission from the New Orleans Saints to interview Sean Payton for their vacant head coaching position, according to a person familiar with the situation. (AP Photo/Derick Hingle, File)

The Denver Broncos named Sean Payton the 20th head coach in franchise history Friday, 40 days after firing rookie head coach Nathaniel Hackett.

“Sean Payton is an outstanding leader and Super Bowl champion with a brilliant offensive mind. He shares our commitment to winning championships for Broncos Country and we’re excited to welcome him as our new head coach,” owner and CEO Greg Penner said in a statement.

“Sean knows how to build a championship culture with high expectations. He coaches with intensity and attention to detail while setting and maintaining high standards. Sean pours his heart and soul into winning with preparation, creativity and a genuine love of the game."

The Broncos reached an agreement earlier this week to compensate the New Orleans Saints, who had Payton under contract for two more years.

A person familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the Saints would receive the Broncos' first-round selection, No. 29 overall, in this year's draft and a 2022 second-rounder and the Broncos would receive New Orleans' third-round selection next year.

Payton, 59, will be formally introduced Monday at team headquarters. He has already been busy interviewing candidates for his coaching staff.

Payton, who worked in broadcasting this season after stepping down from the Saints when Drew Brees retired, went 152-89 in 15 seasons with New Orleans and 9-8 in the playoffs. He led the Saints to a 31-17 win over the Indianapolis Colts in the Super Bowl following the 2009 season.

“It is rare in any sport to hire a head coach with Sean’s credentials and we appreciate the first-class manner in which the Saints approached this process,” Penner said. "We also appreciated the opportunity to meet and learn from the other highly qualified, outstanding coaches we interviewed.

“Our goal was to identify a strong leader for the Denver Broncos who is focused on winning, and we found him in Coach Payton.”

Payton's first order of business after building his staff will be to help quarterback Russell Wilson navigate a comeback following the worst statistical season of his 11-year NFL career.

The Broncos went 5-12 last season, extending their playoff drought to seven years. Hackett was fired on Dec. 26 with a 4-11 record, making him just the fifth head coach not to make it through his first season in NFL history. Interim head coach Jerry Rosburg went 1-1 to close out the Broncos' sixth consecutive losing season.

The Broncos were arguably the league's biggest disappointment in 2022 given the blockbuster trade with Seattle for Wilson that cost Denver four premium draft picks and three players and the hiring of Hackett, who turned out to be the biggest flop of last year's hiring cycle, overseeing an offense that averaged fewer than 16 points per game.

Wilson signed a $245 million extension before the season, one that doesn't even kick in until next year. He has vowed to do everything in his power to bounce back in 2023.

The Seahawks own the Broncos' No. 5 overall selection in the upcoming draft. The first-rounder they sent to New Orleans for Payton is No. 29 overall. They obtained that pick from the Miami Dolphins in the Bradley Chubb trade last year. The pick originally belonged to the San Francisco 49ers.

Payton was the headliner during this year’s cycle of head coach openings. Just five teams were searching for new coaches: the Broncos, Texans, Panthers, Colts and Cardinals.

The Broncos conducted an extensive search, beginning with a virtual visit with Jim Harbaugh, who decided to stay at the University of Michigan. Also considered were Dan Quinn, DeMeco Ryans, Raheem Morris, Ejiro Evero, Jim Caldwell and David Shaw. The Texans hired Ryans, who was a finalist in Denver, on Tuesday.

Penner led the search with assistance from limited partner Condoleezza Rice and general manager George Paton.