ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Broncos’ coaching search is underway.
The Broncos held their first interview on Monday with Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, as was first reported by NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero. The interview was conducted remotely and lasted two hours, according to Pelissero. Harbaugh has also spoken with the Carolina Panthers, but the call isn’t considered an interview and no interview is scheduled, according to CBS Sports’ Jonathan Jones.
Harbaugh, 59, has been a top candidate for NFL head coach jobs for the past half-decade but has chosen to return to Michigan each cycle. He interviewed with the Vikings last offseason but was not offered the job. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport told Pat McAfee Monday that he believes Harbaugh would return to Michigan if the Wolverines increased his salary from $7 million per year to the level of the highest-paid coaches in the sport, but added “I have not heard that they are ready to pay him like that.”
The Broncos, meanwhile, are owned by the Walton-Penner Ownership Group. The group is led by Walmart heir Rob Walton, whose net worth is three times more than any other principal owner in the NFL. The Broncos will be “ultra-aggressive” in hiring their next head coach, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, which indicates they will spare no expense in bringing in a a top candidate.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is one of six members of the Broncos’ ownership group. She has deep ties to Stanford, where Harbaugh was head coach from 2007-10. She was a key piece of Harbaugh’s recruiting strategy, primarily speaking at group recruiting events like Junior Days and occasionally one-on-one with recruits. She’s also worn a headset and sat in the coaches’ box with Harbaugh’s Cardinal staff. Rice was expected to be involved in interviewing candidates for the Broncos job.
Harbaugh left Stanford for San Francisco, spending four seasons with the 49ers. Prior to his arrival, the 49ers hadn’t finished a season with a winning record in eight years but went to three consecutive NFC Championship Games in three seasons and made a Super Bowl appearance. After his fourth season, an 8-8 disappointment, boiling tensions led to the 49ers choosing general manager Trent Baalke over Harbaugh.
After his firing, Harbaugh took over his alma mater Michigan, where he’s spent the past eight seasons. His hard-nosed coaching style and quirky personality—for example, telling his quarterback not to eat chicken because it’s a “scared bird”—fit the college game well. His physical, power-running scheme fits the Big Ten Conference particularly well. The Wolverines have been one of four teams selected for the College Football Playoff in each of the past two seasons. The NCAA gave Michigan—and Harbaugh personally—a notice of allegations of recruiting violations last week.
If Harbaugh’s video-call interview with the Broncos was a success, he’ll likely be brought back around for an in-person interview. The second interview is unlikely to take place before next week, when the Broncos have had a chance to speak with their other candidates.
The Broncos have requested interviews with four other coaches; Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris, 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans, Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and former Saints head coach Sean Payton. The Broncos will also interview their own defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero for the position on Tuesday.
Stay up to date on everything related to the Broncos’ search for their 19th head coach with our 2023 Head Coach Tracker.
Read more about all of the Broncos’ head coach candidates in our Hot Board 2.0.