David Shaw could be a ‘big swing’ OC for Sean Payton with Broncos

PALO ALTO, CA - NOVEMBER 26: Head Coach David Shaw of the Stanford Cardinal waits to enter the stadium before an NCAA college football game against the BYU Cougars on November 26, 2022 at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, California. (Photo by David Madison/Getty Images)
PALO ALTO, CA - NOVEMBER 26: Head Coach David Shaw of the Stanford Cardinal waits to enter the stadium before an NCAA college football game against the BYU Cougars on November 26, 2022 at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, California. (Photo by David Madison/Getty Images) /

It feels as though it’s been an eternity since former Denver Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett gave up play-calling duties, handing them over to Klint Kubiak. In fact, this happened on November 20th, over ten weeks ago.

The Broncos have had fairly consistent turnover at play caller for the last decade or so, but that figures to be put to rest with the news of the team acquiring new head coach Sean Payton from the New Orleans Saints. However, the question of the offensive coordinator still looms large. The Broncos have had seven in the last decade, ranging from Adam Gase to Rick Dennison, all the way to Rick Scangarello, the position has been turnover more than your favorite breakfast pastry.

Despite the great chance that the Broncos’ new offensive coordinator won’t be calling plays, the position still holds great importance to the 2023 team, and beyond. There will be several names that are bandied about for the position, with Joe Lombardi already being connected to the job by 9News’ Mike Klis, but one name that was dubbed a “sleeper” candidate for the head coaching job could be revisited for the Broncos’ coordinator vacancy.

Predominantly Orange’s Aric Manthey wrote about how Shaw checks all the head coaching boxes just last week.

Former Stanford coach David Shaw could make a ton of sense for Sean Payton’s staff. Shaw would offer the potential for continuity, a wealth of experience and notable success, a connection to the people signing the checks, and most importantly, a connection to Sean Payton.

Potential for Continuity

David Shaw, now 50, does not come off as a potential coordinator who could leave for a promotion within a year or two. He has spent nine years in the NFL as an assistant and served as Stanford’s head coach from 2011 through the 2022 season. His coaching career began at Western Washington in 1995, and he has held a coaching position every year since. However, his interview with the Broncos was his first reported professional interview in quite some time. When he stepped down from Stanford, Shaw told reporters that there was no desire to coach elsewhere, but his interview with the Broncos raises some immediate questions about the validity of that statement.

It is completely possible that Shaw has no desire to coach, but took the interview due to his ties to Broncos ownership (which we will dive into later), but the opposite of that can be true just the same.

Given his age and his connections to ownership, it’s fair to believe that Denver’s offensive coordinator gig would not be a stepping-stone job for Shaw. He would likely find a good deal of job security with the Broncos, and likely far more than he would as an offensive coach with a different team, and would be around familiar faces. There is reason to believe that Shaw’s tenure as Broncos’ offensive coordinator, assuming all goes well, could be a lengthy one. It would offer offensive continuity, along with Payton, that Denver has not seen in quite some time.

Résumé of Success

During his time at Stanford, Shaw won three Pac-12 titles and amassed 96 wins to only 54 losses. He took a talented squad left behind by Jim Harbaugh, maximized their potential, and won back-to-back Pac-12 titles in the 2012 and 2013 seasons.

After a disappointing 2014 campaign, Shaw rebuilt the program and was able to shed himself of the notion that all his successes were due to Harbaugh and the foundation he had laid at Stanford during his time there. The Cardinals won a third Pac-12 title in 2015, and also accumulated their 4th 10-win season in five years under Shaw. Shaw was also under the headset for some of the biggest names in the NFL during his time, including former NFL Quarterback Andrew Luck, and 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey.

On the NFL side of things, Shaw worked under John Gruden and Bill Calahan as a quality control coach from 1998-2000 and quarterbacks coach in 2001, a stretch in which the Raiders did not finish under .500 and won multiple playoff games. From 2002-2005, Shaw held roles as the quarterbacks coach and wide receivers coach for the Ravens, but a mediocre offense held them to just one playoff berth in those four seasons.

Also of note, Shaw has held the roles of quarterbacks coach, wide receivers coach, tight ends coach, running backs coach quality control coach, and pass game coordinator during his coaching career, allowing him a variety of experience and expertise on the offensive side of the ball.

The Stanford Connection with the Denver Broncos

Anyone following along with the Broncos’ head coaching search has heard this phrase by now: The Stanford connection. Greg Penner and Carrie Walton-Penner are both Stanford alumni. Condoleezza Rice was the Provost of Stanford in the mid-to-late 1990s, and the current director of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. The dies to Stanford are deep in Broncos ownership.

On a football operations note, one would hope that ownership is not directly involved in the hiring of coordinators any more than checking off on a salary and eventually signing the checks, but the Broncos ownership group has proven to still be relatively unknown. Also considering that Shaw interviewed for the head coaching job, it is very plausible that he could have impressed ownership, mainly Greg Penner, who might turn around and made a recommendation to Payton. Did this happen? Who knows. Does this usually happen? Not always. But is Broncos ownership like any other we’ve seen in the NFL so far? Not one bit.

Not to say that anything is possible with Walton-Penner ownership, but one could argue that there is no reason to say they “won’t” do a certain thing. While social media was crying that the sky was falling in Dove Valley, the Broncos were negotiating on multiple fronts with multiple coaches, and ultimately getting half of their reported 1A and 1B. To put it bluntly, who knows what ownership will do?

The Sean Payton Connection

This is where this one gets fun. On the offensive staff of a 6-9-1 Eagles team during the Clinton administration sat John Gruden, Juan Castillo, Bill Callahan, new Broncos coach Sean Payton, and, you guessed it, David Shaw. The year is 1997, and Payton was the quarterbacks coach and on his first NFL gig, while Shaw was also on his first NFL gig as the quality control coach. This one season, a singular disappointing Eagles season, is the only time that Shaw and Payton would be on the same staff. However, some quarter-century later, these two found themselves in the same circles again by January, when both were reported as candidates for the Broncos head coaching job.

Its been proven time and time again that the NFL might not be a game of what you do or don’t know, but who you do and don’t know, especially in the realm of assistant coaching jobs. With Lombardi already being rumored to be an option for the Broncos, and the rumored potential for Kris Richards to join Payton’s defensive staff, it is clear that the importance of who you know will play a factor in how Payton builds his staff. And Sean Payton knows David Shaw.

Payton spoke to the Huddle Flow Podcast, hosted by Jim Trotter and Steve Wyche, in December of 2020 regarding the hiring issue of minority coaches in the NFL, and went as far as to personally speak about David Shaw. Payton said:

"“I worked with David Shaw in Philadelphia. I think he’s an extremely bright candidate. Stanford graduate, he coaches at his alma mater. Every time I bring his name up, everyone says ‘David is staying in college’, I understand that. But, Steve Spurrier was staying in college. Nick Saban was staying in college.And there have been a number of college coaches staying in college, and at some point, someone says, ‘No, you’re coming here, because we are going to make you take this job with this amount of money.’ You follow me? Matt Rhule was staying in college, he had two teams.”"

Payton, making the case for an NFL team to take do what he believes needed to be done and bring in David Shaw, clearly thinks very highly of his former co-worker.

All the experience, successes, and connections to ownership aside, Shaw presents himself as a strong candidate for Sean Payton. Even if it is not as the offensive coordinator, Shaw has the experience to be able to help on basically any part of the offensive side aside from the offensive line itself. If Joe Lombardi does wind up joining the Broncos staff, a decision between him and Shaw isn’t exactly destined to happen, considering both have experience working with the quarterback and as a coordinator.

The coaching versatility, connection to ownership, history of success, and connections to Sean Payton present a very viable option for Payton as he begins to bring a team together in Dove Valley.