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Broncos express interest in Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh

Harbaugh boasts history of turning teams around
Big Ten Championship Football
Posted at 1:44 PM, Jan 02, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-03 15:24:10-05

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — CEO Greg Penner feature's a disarming voice that belies his intensity.

In his role in charge of the Broncos, he wants a winner. The broader vision, as laid out in August by his wife Carrie Walton-Penner, is to create an organization athletes want to play for, people want to work for and fans want to root for. Several components must coalesce to realize this vision. But nothing matters more than winning.

And that's something the Broncos have not done since Super Bowl 50, missing the playoffs seven straight years and posting six straight losing seasons. Penner fired coach Nathaniel Hackett a week ago, reaching his flashpoint after an embarrassing 51-14 loss to the Rams that featured a sideline skirmish between teammates Dalton Risner and Brett Rypien and Randy Gregory throwing a punch at a Rams player after the game.

Penner is spearheading the search for a new coach, joined by general manager George Paton, and members of the ownership group, including Condoleezza Rice. A source confirmed Pro Football Talk's report that the Broncos have reached out to see if Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh is interested in talking to them about their vacancy. Penner is prepared to swing for the fences, multiple industry sources believe, and Harbaugh fits this plan.

Simply put, he checks a lot of boxes that Penner seeks in the Denver's next coach, its fifth since winning Super Bowl 50.

“I’ve worked with a lot of great CEOs, and it starts with really strong leadership. That’s going to be the most critical factor here in a head coach. Obviously, the X’s and O’s are important, but we need a strong leader for this organization that’s focused on winning. That starts with culture. It’s instilling a sense of accountability and discipline. We need an identity on offense," Penner said last Tuesday.

"At the starting point, it has to be about culture and leadership. Those characteristics are what we’ll be focused on the most," he said.

After some rocky seasons, Harbaugh, 59, found his footing at Michigan the past two seasons, leading the Wolverines to a 25-3 record and back-to-back victories over Ohio State.

Harbaugh owns a six-game bowl losing streak, but his reputation for turning around programs is proven. He put University of San Diego on track, revived Stanford, where the Penners both went to graduate school, and restored the San Francisco 49ers glory. When Harbaugh took over in 2011, San Francisco had posted eight straight losing seasons. Harbaugh guided the 49ers to a 13-3 record and an appearance in the NFC Conference Championship. A Super Bowl loss to his brother John Harbaugh's Ravens followed the next season.

Harbaugh went 44-19-1 in four years in San Francisco, and worked with mobile quarterbacks Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick.

A source told The Athletic in a piece published Monday that "it's a done deal (Harbaugh goes to the NFL) if he gets an offer." Harbaugh interviewed for the Minnesota Vikings job last season on signing day, but chose to remain at Michigan. His buyout is $3 million, per multiple reports, and he can be terminated if he does not inform his athletic director if he participates in a job search or interview.

Harbaugh figures to have multiple options. He has been linked to the Broncos and Colts. Harbaugh played quarterback for the Colts, where he posted a 20-26 record and finished fourth in the MVP voting in 1995 after throwing 17 touchdowns with five interceptions.

Names connected to the Broncos include Sean Payton (landing him would require surrendering draft picks to the Saints), Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who finished second to Hackett in Denver last January, former Colts coach Frank Reich, Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier and former Stanford coach David Shaw. Paton indicated that the team wants to interview current defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero for the job as well.