Report: Jim Harbaugh Top Broncos HC Candidate If Sean Payton Turns Down Job

Tyler Conway@@jtylerconwayFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 11, 2023

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 31:  Michigan Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh looks on before the VRBO Fiesta Bowl college football national championship semifinal game between the Michigan Wolverines and the TCU Horned Frogs on December 31, 2022 at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Denver Broncos are reportedly determined to land a splashy name in their head coaching search.

Jeremy Fowler of ESPN reported Wednesday that Jim Harbaugh will become the Broncos' top target should Sean Payton, their current top option, turn down the job.

Payton and Harbaugh are the two biggest names in the NFL coaching carousel this offseason.

The Broncos are looking to replace Nathaniel Hackett, who lasted only 15 disastrous games before being fired late in his first season with the franchise. Hackett was the last head coaching hire of the previous ownership group, and it seems likely the Walton-Penner group wants to send a message to fans with its first hire.

Payton is the top coach on seemingly every team's radar as he prepares to return to the sidelines. The 59-year-old went 152-89 over his 15 seasons with the New Orleans Saints, making the playoffs nine times and winning Super Bowl XLIV.

Any team that hires Payton will have to give draft-pick compensation to the Saints because Payton still has two years remaining on his previous contract with New Orleans.

While the Broncos are without their first- and second-round picks in 2023 because of last offseason's Russell Wilson trade, that's unlikely to be a deterrent if the ownership group is determined to land Payton.

Harbaugh is flirting with an NFL return for the second straight offseason. He's spent the last eight years at Michigan, his alma mater, and has led the Wolverines to the College Football Playoff in each of the last two seasons.

It's clear Harbaugh feels he has unfinished business left in the NFL after the way his tenure with the San Francisco 49ers ended. He went 44-19-1 in four seasons with the Niners but exited unceremoniously amid a power struggle with then-general manager Trent Baalke.