Broncos’ Top Candidate Revealed in HC Search: Report

Jim Harbaugh

Getty Michigan HC Jim Harbaugh walks back to the sideline.

During one of the slowest head coaching searches in NFL history, the Denver Broncos have continued their search for their next leader.

Entering the offseason, the Broncos had two top candidates on their wish list, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh and former New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton.

According to Brock Huard of Fox Sports on January 24, Harbaugh was Denver’s top choice, but he backed out.

“Harbaugh was their guy. This is not from the team side of it, on pretty good account that this job was his if he really wanted it and he deliberated it,” Huard said. “Ultimately, just picked the kids and the student athletes, the young men there that all came to the school for him over this job in Denver which was a surprise to me.”

A source has also told me that Denver was all-in on Harbaugh as their top choice as well.

Ian Rapoport also reported that there was interest between Harbaugh and the Broncos.

Harbaugh is the Perfect Fit for Denver, Colin Cowherd Says

Fox Sports’ Colin Cowherd said he thought that Harbaugh was a better match in Denver than Payton, posting on Twitter that his “style is the perfect fit” for the Broncos.

“Harbaugh’s calling card — college and pro — [is] he builds strong offensive lines and run games,” Cowherd said January 10 on his radio show. “He did it at Stanford, he did it at the 49ers, he did it at Michigan. Three for three, that’s what he does, builds o-lines and build run games.

If Harbaugh were to coach in Denver, he would have to fix the Broncos’ offensive line, which gave up an NFL-worst 63 sacks, tying the franchise record for most in a season (1963).

“You rebuild the o-line, it’s what Jim does,” Cowherd said. “Javonte Williams, an emerging star running back got hurt, he returns and then you ask Russell Wilson to use his mobility like he asked Andrew Luck to, Colin Kaepernick to, Alex Smith to. Harbaugh’s had the mobile quarterback and he’s always done it the same way. We have a blueprint for Jim, Denver’s the blueprint.”

Denver’s rushing attack ranked in the middle of the pack in the NFL at just 113.8 rushing yards per game. In a West Coast offense, the running game needs to be effective and the top priority and it wasn’t this season for the Broncos.

While Harbaugh was coaching the San Francisco 49ers from 2011 to 2014, his rushing attacks never ranked worse than eighth in the NFL and they owned a top-four attack for three out of the four years. San Francisco averaged 139.2 yards per game on the ground in Harbaugh’s four seasons.

New Favorite in the Clubhouse?

As the coaching search continues for the Broncos, there seems to be a new favorite for Denver over Payton.

“My understanding is that Broncos CEO Greg Penner has started to cut down the rest of that list,” according to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero.

“The other name to keep an eye on here is 49ers’ defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans.” Pelissero added, “Don’t count out Ryans just yet.”

Mike Evans of 104.3 The Fan in Denver said, “The idea that has surfaced that I have been hearing is that Sean Payton has some character issues that is perhaps scaring away Greg Penner.”

In the same video, Darren McKee said he’s heard the same thing.

“Wow, you are the third person that has said something like that to me about what they’re hearing about him behind the scenes in the past 12 hours.”

So far the Broncos have yet to schedule a second interview with a candidate, per Adam Schefter of ESPN.