|Mike Mularkey guided the Atlanta Falcons' offense to 25.9 points per game, fifth-best in the NFL this season. (Paul Spinelli/Associated Press)|
"I respect the decision that Mike Mularkey has made to not interview with the Broncos at this time," John Elway, the Broncos' new executive vice president of football operations, who is spearheading the search, said via his official Twitter account. "I wish Coach Mularkey and the Atlanta Falcons the best of luck in the playoffs."
Mularkey was set to interview with the Broncos on Friday night.
ESPN reported that Mularkey wants to focus on the playoffs but still will interview with the Cleveland Browns on Saturday because they called him first. The network also said Mularkey would be open to an interview with the Broncos if the job remains open after the Falcons' season is over.
Mularkey's move led to speculation that he wasn't sold on Tim Tebow as the Broncos' quarterback.
When talking about coaching candidates during his re-introductory news conference Wednesday, Elway said: "I don't believe that anyone is going to come over and say, 'I don't want Tim Tebow.' If they do, then maybe they are not the right guy for the job."
Also, Elway called Mularkey "Mark" during his news conference Wednesday but later called him "Mike."
With Mularkey scrubbing his interview, the Broncos' search committee that includes general manager Brian Xanders, team president Joe Ellis and owner Pat Bowlen will remain in Denver preparing to interview New York Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell and interim Denver coach Eric Studesville, both Sunday.
A team spokesman said Thursday there was nothing scheduled with Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh, whom Elway hoped to line up for an interview.
Elway said he wanted to hire a coach who already had head-coaching experience, preferably in the NFL, and both Fewell, 48, and Studesville, 43, have been interim head coaches, Fewell for seven games with the Buffalo Bills in 2009.
"I don't believe anybody that's not had that NFL experience can make that jump -- other than Harbaugh. There's nobody (else) in the college ranks that we're interested in talking to," said Elway, who attended Stanford. "And preferably we'd like to have some head-coaching background in the NFL, but it's not a must. If there's a guy who's a coordinator that's up and coming and shows that he can be the head coach and understands that, then he'll be the guy."
Dolphins owner Steve Ross, general manager Jeff Ireland and team consultant Carl Peterson, a former NFL executive, flew to California late Wednesday to meet with Harbaugh on Thursday, league sources told NFL Network insider Jason La Canfora.
One day earlier, Harbaugh met with the San Francisco 49ers about their head-coaching vacancy.
Harbaugh returned Tuesday to the Bay Area following Stanford's 40-12 Orange Bowl victory over Virginia Tech in Miami. Ross, Ireland and Dolphins CEO Mike Dee were on the Stanford sideline before the game.
Elway also was in attendance, serving as a captain for the Cardinal, for which he played before his 16-year Broncos career that landed him in the Hall of Fame in 2004.
Harbaugh is expected to command the highest price tag of any candidate on the market. He is seeking a deal worth around $6.5 million per season, according to La Canfora.
"Well, a little bit, I would guess," Elway said Wednesday. "But I have not talked to Joe about that, exactly what that is. So, ultimately, Joe's going to be a part of those conversations. With Joe being president, he's going to be able to set those (perameters) for us."
Studesville went 1-3 after being promoted from running backs coach upon McDaniels' Dec. 6 ouster. Before Ellis reintroduced Elway on Wednesday, he started out by thanking Studesville for his work "under some adverse circumstances" and praised him for the positivity he brought to the position.
The Broncos are coming off a franchise-worst 4-12 season and own three of the top 50 picks in the April draft with which to begin a massive rebuilding project.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.