Pat Bowlen's search for Mike Shanahan's successor begins Saturday with a trip to the East Coast.
Bowlen and chief operating officer Joe Ellis will meet in New York with Steve Spagnuolo, who has been the Giants' defensive coordinator the past two seasons. The 49-year-old Spagnuolo was the architect of the pass rush that stymied Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in last year's Super Bowl, and has helped the Giants earn the top seed in the playoffs this season.
Then it's on to Boston, where the Broncos' brass will interview Patriots assistant Josh McDaniels, a 32-year-old rising star who worked his way up from graduate assistant to offensive coordinator under Bill Belichick.
Tampa Bay assistant coach Raheem Morris, also 32, is the first candidate who will travel to Denver for his shot at the job. He'll interview at team headquarters on Wednesday.
Morris, who has served as the Buccaneers' defensive backs coach for the past two seasons, will replace Monte Kiffin as Tampa Bay's defensive coordinator if he doesn't land the head coaching job in Denver.
The Broncos also are reaching out to other coaches to gauge interest in one of the league's prime jobs, one Shanahan held for 14 seasons, winning two Super Bowls in the 1990s but just one playoff game in the decade since John Elway's retirement.
High atop the wish list is believed to be Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, who is preparing his second-ranked Sooners to face No. 1 Florida in the BCS championship game in Miami on Thursday. It will be his fourth shot at the national title in a decade at the school.
Another intriguing possibility is Dallas offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, who turned down offers last winter from Baltimore and Atlanta after the Cowboys made him the highest-paid coordinator at $3 million with the promise he'd be head coach Wade Phillips's successor.
The Broncos finished 8-8 this season and are 24-24 in three seasons since losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2005 AFC championship game. They have failed to make the playoffs three straight seasons for the first time since 1980-82.
Still, Bowlen's decision to fire Shanahan came out of the blue and stunned the fraternity of coaches and front office personnel across the NFL.
Bowlen had often said Shanahan could coach his team as long as he wanted, but the owner changed his mind and decided he needed fresh faces in charge of a franchise that has been mired in mediocrity because of bad personnel moves and dreary drafts, particularly on defense.
Bowlen said he doesn't foresee his new coach holding as much power as Shanahan did as vice president of football operations. Shanahan fired general manager Ted Sundquist, Bowlen's hand-picked deputy, last winter and went through a series of defensive coordinators as he tried to patch up a unit that consistently was one of the league's worst.
Sundquist was replaced with personnel chief Jim Goodman and assistant general managers Jeff Goodman and Brian Xanders, a trio that Bowlen said this week would remain in place.
Bowlen said he wants to hire a coach and then a GM, a reversal of the traditional process that could eliminate some candidates who would presumably want a say in hiring the coach In his only public comments since firing Shanahan, Bowlen said Wednesday that the Broncos vacancy "is a very highly thought of job and I expect that I will get a very good head coach."
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