The rumors have been out there for a while that Jim Harbaugh is a possibility as the Wolverines' next head football coach. Whether he's owed a ton of contractual money, or the university can buy him out, it's almost a foregone conclusion that current head coach Brady Hoke won't be back next year. Instead of getting better -- his teams are getting worse. A likely beatdown awaits them in their season finale @ Ohio State (21 point underdogs), in which case the once mighty Wolverines won't even be bowl eligible. Roughly 40 bowl games will be played and they won't get into any of them? In Maize and Blue land, this is not only unacceptable, but an outrage. So yeah, the Hokester's fate is pretty well already sealed.
The question then becomes, who will take his place? Harbaugh? Maybe, maybe not. First, obviously, he has to want to come, and he's already got a pretty sweet gig going on as head coach of the San Fran 49ers. Or does he? More on that to follow.
It's hard to tell where Harbaugh's true loyalties lie, if indeed he has any. Let's look at his history. With apologies to Charles Dickens, it might be called a tale of two cities -- or at least general areas.
Though born in Ohio, Harbaugh split his time in high school between Ann Arbor, home of the Wolverines, and Palo Alto, a little southeast of San Fran. Upon graduating, he accepted a scholarship back at Michigan, where he would be the starting QB for three years.
Then off to the NFL, which included playing for several teams over a 14 year career. Upon retiring as a player, Harbaugh wanted to get into coaching, much like his daddy and older brother John had.
Back to California. First with San Diego U. He was highly successful there for 3 years, then moved on up, both geographically and status-wise to Stanford for 4 years. More success. Prior to the 2011 season, the San Fran head job came open. Though he was right back in the same 'hood where he graduated high school, now he was the head coach of an NFL team.
The season before, the 49ers had gone a not so good 6-10. But huge success came quickly again for Harbaugh. The turnaround was astounding. Consider the next three years of the 49ers.
2011. A 13-3 record, and would go on to the NFC championship game.
2012. An 11-4-1 record which would result in a Super Bowl appearance.
2013. 12-4, and another NFC championship game.
Alas, San Fran would lose all the above. Harbaugh's teams were terrific, but could never seem to get over the final humps. Yet who could find fault with a new coach taking over a losing program and posting a 36-11-1 record in his first three years? Without naming them (you know who they are), there are at least several NFL franchises that haven't experienced any glory in January, much less the Super Bowl, for so long they'd do ANYTHING to have such a coach that could quickly turn their teams into contenders like Harbaugh did the 49ers.
But despite his success, the worm has turned on Jim Harbaugh. The 49ers are still pretty good, but their chances of ever reaching another Super Bowl any year soon aren't very good. For that matter, this year the Niners will be lucky to even make the playoffs.
Their recent nemesis and defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks just strutted into San Fran's brand new stadium and methodically beat them down. A rematch in two weeks up in Seattle likely doesn't bode well either for Harbaugh's crew.
In the meantime, the high flying Arizona Cardinals, even minus their starting QB, sit atop their division. The Cards play woeful Atlanta this Sunday. Assuming they win, they'll be 3 games ahead of San Fran in the same division, with 4 games remaining. San Fran can pretty well forget about winning the NFC West.
Worse, their chances of making the playoffs at all this year have become somewhat slim. There's only two wild card spots available, and with Detroit, Dallas, and Seattle all in the mix -- and all with current better records -- chances are good the 49ers will find themselves without a chair when the music stops.
If that happens, would they want to give Harbaugh the heave-ho in San Fran? Probably not. Good grief, how can you run a coach out of town when he's far and away the best one you've had in over a decade?
Still, Harbaugh is no dummy. He understands the NFC landscape, where his team is now, and where it likely will or will not be in the foreseeable future. The Niners were so close to glory, but now they appear to be slip-sliding away.
And that's what might make the potential Michigan job so interesting. The money would likely be roughly the same, maybe in the 5-7 million dollar a year range. They'd certainly offer him a long-term contract, say 5-6 years, so financial security wouldn't be a concern. As we all know, those poverty stricken devils, trying to get by on a measly $1,000,000 per year, have a hard time making ends meet. How can one afford groceries and laundry soap on a paltry $2800 a day? Ahem.
Though Harbaugh's 49er contract runs for another year, it's also no big secret that there have been tensions between him and the front office. It's been rumored that, even if his team wins the Super Bowl this year (not likely, as mentioned above), he won't be back for the 2015 season. Could the 49ers trade him to another NFL team for a draft pick or two? Sure. It's happened before. But that doesn't mean Harbaugh would report to his "new" team. And what other NFL team would Harbaugh find attractive? Remember the tale of two cities. It would have to be either northern California or Michigan. The current mess of the Raiders? Please. The Lions are out. They just signed a new coach.
You know what will be really interesting? Assuming the Univ of Michigan's season comes to an end in Columbus -- and Brady Hoke is gone shortly thereafter -- whether they keep their head coaching spot open for another month until the NFL season concludes. First they have to hire a new athletic director. Then he/she will have to address the head football coach problem. The pressure will be on after the anticipated blowout at Ohio State.
It's one thing if they run out and hire another yahoo like Hoke. Given their recent blunders, don't put it past them. But if they truly want a "Michigan man", and offer Harbaugh the chance to coach the team he once starred for.....