Broncos plan to interview Jim Harbaugh this week; could new big-money extension keep him at Michigan?

The Denver Broncos plan to interview University of Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh for their head coaching job early this week, per sources.

Harbaugh, 59, has been weighing his NFL options in recent weeks and now is set to interview virtually with Denver in the coming days, along with several other candidates.

After the Broncos fired Nathaniel Hackett with two games left in his first season on Dec. 26, the expectation has been that Denver’s new regime would swing big, and Harbaugh certainly fits the bill. He was 44-19-1 as the 49ers’ head coach from 2011-14, leading San Francisco to the NFC Championship Game three times and to an appearance in Super Bowl XLVII before leaving to return to his alma mater.

Sources say the Broncos also have 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 among the top targets for the Broncos, who have said they intend to interview their DC, Ejiro Evero, as well.

There are connections in Denver for Harbaugh. Condoleezza Rice, a member of the Broncos’ ownership group and search committee, has deep ties to Stanford University, where Harbaugh coached before his first NFL stint. Greg Penner, the Broncos’ co-owner and CEO, got his MBA from Stanford.

This isn’t the first time Harbaugh has considered a return to the NFL. He interviewed last year with the Vikings, who ended up hiring Kevin O’Connell. Harbaugh returned to Michigan and said at the time he wouldn’t consider returning to the NFL again. The Wolverines were 13-0 this season before falling to TCU in the College Football Playoff semifinal on New Year’s Eve.

Amidst recent reports of NFL interest, Harbaugh released a statement on Thursday saying in part: “As I stated in December, while no one knows what the future holds, I expect that I will be enthusiastically coaching Michigan in 2023.”

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 end up being 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, coming off a COVID-shortened season, Harbaugh took a paycut that nearly halved his salary. Then, following the team’s first Big Ten title since 2004, he had his pay restored — 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 have been some discussions with Michigan about a raise in the past couple of weeks, nothing has come to fruition yet, helping open the door to NFL interest.

Harbaugh also had a brief conversation with the Panthers that didn’t amount to 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 in their Ring of Honor.

While Harbaugh is listening to NFL teams, those close to him consistently speak of his love for Michigan and how much that job still means to him. There’s still time for the school to reciprocate that love contractually, and with the Broncos interview looming, the clock might be ticking to make it happen.

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