One day after Atlanta offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey canceled his interview with the Broncos, Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh decided to join the San Francisco 49ers without ever entertaining Elway's offer.
Elway had told Harbaugh he'd love to talk to him about the Broncos job if he decided to jump to the NFL, but Harbaugh didn't consider Denver as a destination, interviewing with the 49ers and entertaining a cross-country courtship by the Miami Dolphins this week before accepting San Francisco's offer Friday.
The Broncos are in need of a massive makeover following the Josh McDaniels misadventure that included a series of bad personnel decisions which led to a 4-12 season, the worst in franchise history.
The major rebuilding project needed in Denver might be scaring away some coaching candidates.
A new coach also will have to be able to work in the shadow of Elway, the enormously popular Hall of Famer who won two Super Bowls in the 1990s and who already has said he's eager to watch the quarterbacks at practice and give them advice.
The new coach also must be willing and able to mold Tim Tebow into a pro style passer, according to Elway, who this week became the Broncos' chief football executive and is leading the coaching search.
Elway said on his weekly radio show on 87.7 The Ticket in Denver on Friday morning that he thought Harbaugh was staying in the college ranks, either at Stanford or maybe Michigan, his alma mater. Stanford looked like the leader after star quarterback Andrew Luck decided to stick around for another season.
Elway had reached out to Harbaugh while serving as an honorary captain for his alma mater at the Orange Bowl, where the Cardinal beat Virginia Tech 40-12 to finish 12-1.
"I told Jim when we were down at the Orange Bowl that if he was interested in coming to the NFL, we would love to be able to talk to him," Elway said on his show.
Harbaugh's price tag might have been too high for the Broncos, anyway. They're already on the hook next year to former coaches Mike Shanahan ($3.5 million) and McDaniels, who was due $3.2 million in 2011 before an undisclosed settlement.
With Harbaugh taken, Elway said he's not interested in interviewing any other coaches looking to jump from the college ranks to the NFL.
"I think Harbaugh's a different guy because he's been in the NFL. But outside of that, I'm inclined to stay in the NFL," Elway said.
First up for interviews on Sunday are New York Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, who was an interim coach in Buffalo in 2009, and Eric Studesville, who went 1-3 as interim Broncos coach after his promotion from running backs coach following McDaniels' firing last month.
Elway tweeted Friday afternoon that he "just received permission to speak with Jaguars Offensive Coordinator Dirk Koetter," who went 66-44 as head coach at Boise State (1998-00) and Arizona State (2001-06).
Elway also said he's seeking permission from the Houston Texans to interview offensive coordinator Rick Dennison, a longtime Broncos assistant who has never been an NFL head coach, and is considering calling former Giants coach Jim Fassel, who tutored Elway in college and in the pros.
"Jim is a possibility. I know him really well from him being my college coach and for two years here and he definitely got some experience with the Giants," Elway said. "So, he's been on the list. We've thrown his name around a little bit. So, we haven't finalized anything on him."
Fassel went 58-53-1 from 1997-03 in New York and led the Giants to the Super Bowl following the 2000 season, where they lost to the Baltimore Ravens.
General manager Brian Xanders said on Sirius/XM Radio on Friday that San Diego Chargers defensive coordinator Ron Rivera and New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams are among those the Broncos are targeting.
Mularkey canceled his interview with the Broncos that was slated for Friday night in Atlanta, saying he wanted to focus on the playoffs, although he kept his scheduled interview with the Cleveland Browns on Saturday.
Mularkey indicated he'd like to talk to the Broncos if the job is still open when the Falcons finish their season -- but that could be a while.
"It's tough to wait until another month just because you lose the good coaches that are out there and everything," Elway said. "But I think that he's somebody that is very high on a lot of people's lists and he's still very high on our list. And so I think that we'd still like an opportunity to talk to him."
Elway has indicated his next coach should be a believer in Tebow, the rookie quarterback who started the last three games after supplanting Kyle Orton but needs to transform into a pocket passer to be successful in the NFL.
"When Tim came out of college, he didn't come out of a pro-oriented type offense. He came out of the option, the shotgun, the pistol/cannon look ... so footwork-wise and technique-wise what I've been able to see over the last three games is that's got to improve," Elway said.
"I think we have high expectations of Tim to come in and do it right now because of who he is and the college career that he had. But there's a lot of things that the next head coach who comes in has got to be able to work with him on as far as the technique and accuracy."