Everyone has an opinion on where Jim Harbaugh’s next coaching job will be but no one knows the truth… not ESPN, not any of the correspondents covering Michigan football, and maybe not even Harbaugh himself at this moment.
What we do know is that this is a major decision that will impact the foreseeable future of the University of Michigan and an NFL team. When it’s all said and done one will be ecstatic while the other will be disappointed.
As soon as the disappointing 2014 season ended with the loss 42-28 loss to Ohio State, fans wasted no time in listing the former Wolverine quarterback as its number one option to replace head coach Brady Hoke. At the time many who heard his name associated with Michigan dismissed it because Harbaugh’s current team the San Francisco 49ers was still in contention for the playoffs as the organization hoped to make a run at another NFC championship game – its fourth straight.
But what many didn’t know is that the trouble in Santa Clara had reached a boiling point.
Despite the on-field success and the support of his locker room, Harbaugh was treading on thin ice. The 49ers were ravaged by injuries and off-field issues this season, and because the NFL is a “what have you done for me lately” league, some began to wonder if San Francisco had missed its opportunity as a Super Bowl contender and the tarnish was wearing off on Harbaugh’s tenure as coach. It also didn’t help that as a former quarterback, Colin Kaepernick regressed this year under a coach that was known for being a quarterback guru.
It was already known that he did not have the best of relationship with General Manager Trent Baalke and Team President Paraag Marathe, but when CEO Jed York sent this tweet after the 19-13 home loss to the Seattle Seahawks:
The proverbial ish hit the fan.
Seeing that made Wolverines fans giddy like a teenage girl having her crush say hi in the hall, but the excitement had to be tempered. Yes Harbaugh’s time in San Francisco was coming to a screeching halt – which was unfortunate for a coach that in his short time with the 49ers amassed a record of 43-16 and is considered the best coach the team has had since George Seifert – but that did not mean he was a lock to head back to the college ranks.
There is something about coaching in the NFL and being able to reach the ultimate pinnacle of the sport – the Super Bowl. It is what drives the ego of many coaches across this continent and you have to wonder if Harbaugh would be willing to walk away from an opportunity to have his name etched in history as being one of the few coaches to have won one. The instant response would be a resounding no, but looking at the coaching jobs that are rumored to become available when the NFL season ends next week: the New York Jets, the Oakland Raiders, the Chicago Bears and maybe even the Atlanta Falcons, he will have options if he so chooses. Unfortunately for him — and any other prospective coaching candidate — none of those teams, outside of Atlanta, have the pieces in place to contend for a playoff berth, let alone be a Super Bowl contender.
So would Harbaugh be willing to suffer through 1-2 down seasons in order to construct an NFL roster to his liking – that’s if he is given the autonomy he is seeking to make personnel decisions.
Michigan fans are hoping no…
After winning the Sugar Bowl and finishing 11-2 in his first season in 2011, Brady Hoke had everyone thinking that Michigan was back as being one of the powers in the Big Ten Conference. But it was clearly revealed through the gradual downward trend in victories in the following seasons that the former Ball State University and San Diego State head man was in over his head with the job in Ann Arbor. After three tumultuous seasons under former head man Rich Rodriguez, the fans and university felt it needed a “Michigan man” to lead the program back to prominence.
And while Hoke understood the importance of the regional recruiting, that only a receiver should wear the #1 jersey, and acknowledge the legends of the past, he failed to do the one thing he was hired for and that’s to win on the field.
Against rivals: Notre Dame, Michigan State, and Ohio State, Hoke compiled a record of 4-7. He also struggled on the road only winning six out of 18 true road games – those victories were against Northwestern (three times), UConn, Minnesota and Illinois. And while he didn’t lose to Appalachian St. or Toledo, his struggles against mediocre teams and the inability to develop the talent from those great recruiting classes led to him ultimately being fired.
So now Wolverine fans must hope that the prodigal son Harbaugh is able to come home and rescue a program that, despite being the third most valuable program in college football, has not been relevant in the national cope of football powers since 2006.
If this happens, Harbaugh would have his name written in the Wolverines history book next to his beloved hero Bo Schembechler and the only man to win a national championship Lloyd Carr as legendary coaches in school history – for Harbaugh that distinction could be just as fulfilling as hoisting the Vince Lombardi trophy in the NFL.
And despite what the pro-NFL contingency feels, Harbaugh doesn’t need to use the alleged 6-year $49 million contract offer from his alma mater as a leverage to become one of the highest-paid coaches in the league – his coaching resume speaks for itself.
The NFL has a revolving door for coaching opportunities and there will always be jobs available – including some in the future that would be more attractive than the woeful Jets or Raiders. However this would be the only time the Wolverines position will be open for a long time, and for that reason that reason I fully expect within the week that Harbaugh will follow his heart and accept the offer to coach the Michigan Wolverines.
But then again what do I know, he could very well choose to stay in the NFL — thus revealing that his goal of winning the Super Bowl supersedes the desire to restore his former university to relevancy.
Over the next few days there will be a barrage of tweets and news reports from “inside sources” claiming to know what Harbaugh is going to do, so grab your popcorn because it will definitely be interesting.