The Denver Broncos plan to interview University of Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh for their head coaching job as early as this week, according to sources.
Harbaugh, 59, has been weighing his NFL options in recent weeks and is now set to interview virtually in Denver along with several other candidates in the coming days.
After the Broncos released Nathaniel Hackett two games into his first season on December 26, Denver’s new regime has been expected to swing big, and Harbaugh certainly fits the bill. He was 44–19–1 as head coach of the 49ers from 2011–14, leading San Francisco to the NFC Championship Game three times and an appearance in Super Bowl XLVII before returning to his alma mater.
Sources say the Broncos have also requested and received permission to interview Sean Payton, who remains under contract with the Saints and would need to be acquired in a trade. Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn is also expected to be one of the top targets for the Broncos, who have said they intend to interview their DC, Ejiro Avro, as well.
Harbaugh has connections in Denver. Condoleezza Rice, a member of the Broncos’ ownership group and search committee, has deep ties to Stanford University, where Harbaugh coached prior to his first NFL stint. Greg Penner, co-owner and CEO of the Broncos, has an MBA from Stanford.
This isn’t the first time Harbaugh has considered returning to the NFL. He interviewed with the Vikings last year, which hired Kevin O’Connell. Harbaugh returned to Michigan and said at the time that he would never again consider returning to the NFL. The Wolverines were 13–0 on the season before losing to TCU in the College Football Playoff semifinals on New Year’s Eve.
Amid recent reports of NFL interest, Harbaugh released a statement on Thursday, saying: “As I said in December, while no one knows what the future holds, I look forward to enthusiastically joining Michigan in 2023.” Will give coaching.
The powers that be at Michigan could help make that a reality by offering Harbaugh a contract that makes him one of the highest-paid coaches in college football and gives him a long-term commitment. Harbaugh could become Michigan’s longest-tenured coach since Bo Schembechler, and he loves his alma mater. But it hasn’t been a smooth ride.
In January 2021, after a COVID-shortened season, Harbaugh took a pay cut that nearly halved his salary. Then, after the team’s first Big Ten title since 2004, his salary was reinstated—but it was still less than Penn State’s James Franklin and Michigan State’s Mel Tucker. Harbaugh earned $8.05 million in 2022. While there has been some talk with Michigan about an increase over the past few weeks, nothing has come to fruition so far, helping open the door for NFL interest.
Harbaugh also held brief talks with the Panthers, which did not result in anything. It’s possible he could also emerge as a candidate with the Colts, with whom he played four seasons (1994–97) and earned a spot on their Ring of Honor.
While Harbaugh is listening to NFL teams, those close to him constantly speak of his love for Michigan and how much this job still means to him. There is still time for the school to get that love contractually, and with the Broncos interviewing, the clock may be ticking to do so.