Michigan football’s Jim Harbaugh a ‘top candidate’ after interview with Denver Broncos

The Denver Broncos officially began their search for a new head coach on Monday, and we’ll give you one guess as to who their first interview was with.

Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh spoke with the Broncos during a two-hour virtual interview, according to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, the first coach Denver brass has spoken with since it fired first year coach Nathaniel Hackett on Dec. 26.

“It’s no secret Harbaugh has been weighing his NFL options in recent weeks,” Pelissero said on Good Morning Football. “He now has emerged as a top candidate in Denver.”

Harbaugh has connections to members of the Broncos ownership group and search committee, like Condoleeza Rice, who has deep ties to Stanford, where Harbaugh coached before his stint in the NFL. Broncos co-owner and CEO, Greg Penner, got his MBA from Stanford, too.

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Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh watches drills at the Los Angeles Angels training facility in preparation before the Fiesta Bowl against TCU on Thursday, Dec. 29, 2022, in Tempe, Arizona.

Per Pelissero’s report, Denver is also interested in bringing in Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Demico Ryans, Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris and their own defensive coordinator, Ejiro Evero.

Harbaugh’s interview comes less than a week after he released a statement through Michigan’s athletic department that week which said in part, “I expect that I will be enthusiastically coaching Michigan in 2023” with the caveat that “no one knows what the future holds.”

This is the second year in a row Harbaugh, 59, has kicked the tires on an NFL return. Last season he interviewed with the Minnesota Vikings, going as far as to fly to Minnesota on national signing day for an in-person interview with Vikings management.

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He was not offered the job and while he returned to Ann Arbor, he expressed that he had a desire to coach again in the NFL. Harbaugh was 44-19-1 in four seasons with the 49ers from 2011-14, going to one Super Bowl (which he lost to his brother, John, and the Baltimore Ravens) and three NFC championship games.

Further muddying the waters of Harbaugh’s future is an impending investigation at Michigan.

On the same day Harbaugh released the statement about his future expectations last week, reports surfaced that the school received a notice of allegations from the NCAA.

The NCAA has sent UM a draft of allegations, which multiple Level II violations which alleges the program contacted multiple prospects during the extended COVID-19 dead period, held practices with too many coaches on the field and watched practices through an unauthorized video feed.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh watches drills at the Los Angeles Angels training facility in preparation before the Fiesta Bowl against TCU on Thursday, Dec.  29, 2022, in Tempe, Arizona.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh watches drills at the Los Angeles Angels training facility in preparation before the Fiesta Bowl against TCU on Thursday, Dec. 29, 2022, in Tempe, Arizona.

Harbaugh is on the hook for a Level I violation — the most serious of offenses — for misleading investigators, the Free Press has confirmed.

“Yesterday, we received draft allegations from the NCAA regarding our football program,” Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel said in a statement on Friday. “We have cooperated and will continue to cooperate with this investigation. Out of respect for the NCAA’s enforcement process, we will not offer further comments.”

Harbaugh, 74-25 in eight seasons at UM, has enjoyed unprecedented success over the past two years, going 25-3 with two wins over Ohio State, two Big Ten championships and two trips to the College Football Playoff.

In the past week, five starters — WR Ronnie Bell, DB DJ Turner, TE Luke Schoonmaker, DE Mike Morris and DT Mazi Smith — have announced they will enter the upcoming NFL draft, with more possibly to come in Zak Zinter, Trevor Keegan and Cornelius Johnson. But Michigan’s 2023 roster got a huge boost Monday when star running back Blake Corum announced he would return.

Corum said he told Harbaugh first before he made the public announcement and that his coach was “happy,” but said he did not ask about whether he will be around for the upcoming season.

Michigan Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh celebrates the 43-22 win against the Purdue Boilermakers in the Big Ten championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Dec.  3, 2022.

Michigan Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh celebrates the 43-22 win against the Purdue Boilermakers in the Big Ten championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Dec. 3, 2022.

“I kind of avoided that question because I want him to do what’s best for him,” Corum said. “I told him I support him in whatever he does, because that’s how I really feel. I support the coach with whatever decision he makes.”

The Broncos are not the only potential landing spot for Harbaugh, who reportedly spoke with Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper about their opening, although it was not characterized as an interview.

Then, there’s the Indianapolis Colts, for which he played from 1994-97 and a member of the team’s ring of honor since 2005. On Tuesday, Colts GM Chris Ballard was asked by reporters specifically if Harbaugh was on the list of calls to make. Ballard declined to get into specifics

“I’ll lead the search,” he said. “(Owner) Mr. (Jim) Irsay will make the final call.”

Contact Tony Garcia at apgarcia@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter at @realtonygarcia.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan football’s Jim Harbaugh a ‘top candidate’ for Denver Broncos

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