Owner Pat Bowlen, chief operating officer Joe Ellis and personnel chief Jim Goodman jetted off to New York on Saturday for a dinner meeting with New York Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, followed by a Sunday conversation with New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.
The trio will return to Denver for interviews at team headquarters next week with Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator Raheem Morris and Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett.
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Also, the first internal candidate emerged when deputy Rick Dennison asked for an interview next week.
Dennison, 50, is a dark horse but does have the deepest ties to the Broncos. He was a linebacker in Denver from 1982-90, playing in three Super Bowls, then joined Shanahan's staff in 1995, coaching the special teams, offensive line, and serving the last three seasons as offensive coordinator.
The Broncos had the second-ranked offense in the league last season but what did them in was poor special teams play and a dreadful defense, the culmination of a series of bad personnel moves and poor drafts.
Spagnuolo, 49, who turned down the Washington Redskins job last year, has also drawn interest from the New York Jets for their coaching vacancy. He is the architect of the pass rush that stymied Tom Brady in last year's Super Bowl stunner and who has helped the Giants earn the top seed in the NFC playoffs this season.
McDaniels, 32, is a rising star who has worked his way up from graduate assistant to offensive coordinator under Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
"We are excited and energized to begin our head coaching search," Ellis said in a story posted on the Broncos' Web site Saturday. "Although we are still in the early stages of an extremely thorough process, there are a number of qualified individuals whom we are looking forward to speaking with in the coming weeks. We are confident that we will find the right fit for the Denver Broncos."
When Bowlen fired Shanahan after 14 seasons that included two Super Bowl wins, he said he wanted a coach who was "a 10 in every area" and would immediately put the Broncos back among the league's elite.
"I want somebody to come in here and win a Super Bowl. That is my No. 1 goal," Bowlen said. "... I hope I can pick the right coach, personnel people and right players and we can go on and win the next Super Bowl."
In addition to the five candidates they've lined up for interviews, the Broncos are also believed to be very interested in Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, who is preparing for his fourth shot at a national championship when the Sooners face Florida in the BCS title game Thursday.
The Broncos, who have won just one playoff game since John Elway's retirement a decade ago, finished 8-8 this season and are 24-24 in three seasons since losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2005 AFC championship game.
Despite a rash of injuries, they appeared primed to end their playoff drought this season but lost their last three games, including a 52-21 blowout at San Diego last week. It was the most points they had allowed since their infamous 55-10 loss to San Francisco in the 1989 Super Bowl.
Although Bowlen said it was simply time for a change, Shanahan told the NFL Network in an interview that aired Saturday that he thinks he'd still have his job had the Broncos made the playoffs.
Shanahan has said he still wants to coach but will take a couple of weeks off before weighing his options.