Flirty Jim Harbaugh wasted Denver’s time, but now Broncos must pivot fast

Jan 17, 2023, 6:00 AM

Let’s hope another NFL team never wastes their time on Jim Harbaugh.

Because he certainly wasted Denver’s.

The Broncos were informed on Monday afternoon that Harbaugh will return to Michigan next year, ending their pursuit of a guy they really wanted. There’s no doubt with their Stanford ties, the Walton-Penner Family Ownership Group (WPFOG) was extremely high on making Harbaugh the franchise’s 20th head coach.

9NEWS and 104.3 The Fan Broncos insider Mike Klis reported Harbaugh was a perceived “co-favorite” for the Broncos job. Klis did point out Harbaugh’s interest may not have been genuine, considering he was the only one of eight candidates to interview on Zoom.

And that’s the crux of this whole thing. Harbaugh was never seriously considering the Broncos. He played them like a fiddle, likely driving up his price at Michigan while using Denver. He’s the ultimate flirt, but never intended on leaving his alma mater. It’s the second straight year Harbaugh’s had commitment issues, before ultimately not returning to the NFL.

On one level, you have to give him some credit. Everyone thought the possibility of him coming to the Mile High City was real. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported on-air on Saturday that this was legitimate.

“As far as Harbaugh and the Broncos, there is some strong mutual interest here, guys. Not saying it’s going to happen, but at least both sides like each other,” Rapoport said.

While there’s a small hedge in there, Rapoport never called it what it was. And that’s a complete and total farce. Harbaugh knew no one could understand his true intentions, and the more leaks to the media about the NFL, the better. We all bought in, including Broncos CEO Greg Penner, and we were duped.

But now Penner can’t feel sorry for himself. He has seven other worthy candidates that actually want to be the team’s next head coach (or so we think), and needs to shift his full attention and focus their way. Sean Payton is obviously atop that list, but Broncos Country must brace for the possibility he also doesn’t pan out.

With the Carolina Panthers entering the Payton sweepstakes on Sunday, he’s now being courted by four teams. I’m no mathematician, but that means Denver’s odds are less than half. Payton reportedly likes the Broncos and wants to work with Russell Wilson, but could that also be a smokescreen?

We know Payton is going to want the most money possible, just like Harbaugh. These guys are great football coaches, but they’re also good businessmen. While Harbaugh doesn’t have a new deal from Michigan yet, you can bet it’s coming shortly. Penner needs to be careful he doesn’t get used by Payton. It already happened with Harbaugh; it can’t happen again.

So with Denver interviewing Payton later this morning, they need to gauge his true interest. Penner must sniff out if it’s honest or not, because no time can be wasted if it isn’t.

The Broncos will interview Raheem Morris, DeMeco Ryans and Dan Quinn this week. They’ve already completed interviews with current defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero, former NFL head coach Jim Caldwell and former Stanford head coach David Shaw.

It’s hard to sit here and pick a favorite, because Harbaugh was the favorite. Then again, that’s what he wanted all of us to think. So until Penner can decipher who is actually all-in on the job, it’s difficult to make a prediction.

That’s where this will get fun again. For as much as the Harbaugh news stings, it opens up all kinds of possibilities. This might’ve gone from a two-horse race to a seven-horse race, just like that. Payton’s got the lead, but could easily be caught.

For the WPFOG this can be a valuable lesson. Although they did nothing wrong, they were led on. Penner and the bunch can’t let that happen again, or the Broncos might miss out on another one of their top choices.



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Flirty Jim Harbaugh wasted Denver’s time, but now Broncos must pivot fast