Will Jim Harbaugh Leave Stanford for Michigan or NFL?

After leading his team to an 11-1 season, there is plenty of speculation that Jim Harbaugh will leave Stanford following the Orange Bowl for another coaching job. He has been rumored to be targeted by Michigan in the collegiate ranks, and Carolina, San Francisco, Denver, and Oakland in the NFL. Quite simply, he is one of the most coveted coaches. The question is whether or not the former quarterback will be available.

It’s hard to get inside Harbaugh’s head to know what he’s thinking, and not even his brother knows what he’ll do (either that, or John Harbaugh won’t tell us the plans), but that won’t stop us from speculating. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Andrew Luck is projected to be the top pick in the NFL draft should he leave school. We shared a report suggesting Luck is leaning towards returning to school, which would be an incentive for Harbaugh to remain on the Farm. Still, I think Harbaugh’s leaving for the NFL after the game, and here’s why.

Harbaugh has led Stanford to two straight bowls, coached two straight Heisman Trophy runner-ups (Toby Gerhart and Andrew Luck), and he’s beaten USC three of four times. His credentials can’t get much more impressive and his stock cannot get much higher. Stanford is not a destination job and it is unlikely that this is where Harbaugh wants to remain for the rest of his career. In short, what better time to leave than now, especially if Stanford beats Virginia Tech.

I don’t think Harbaugh is going to Michigan for a number of reasons. Three years ago, he criticized his alma mater for their academic treatment of athletes. Even though there are new people running the show in Ann Arbor who would love to replace Rich Rodriguez with Harbaugh, we’re talking about a guy who turned down Michigan after Lloyd Carr was fired. Harbaugh is putting together a dominant program in the Pac-10, if he leaves, why make a lateral move to another college, especially one he hasn’t spoken about fondly the past few years.

In contrast, Jim Harbaugh played professional football, has many connections in the NFL, and his brother coaches the Ravens. Harbaugh strikes me as a guy who would want to coach in the NFL to compete at the highest level where the pay is also the greatest. He also did not outright deny interest in the Raiders job two years ago when it came up, unlike the Michigan job.

There are four jobs in the NFL currently available (Carolina, Cleveland, Denver, and San Francisco), and there could be more (Cincinnati, Oakland, Tennessee). Harbaugh will likely be able to dictate his salary, role, staff, and anything else he wants from one of these teams. Everything adds up to Harbaugh ultimately leaving Stanford for the NFL after the Orange Bowl.

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  • Anonymous

    I’m shocked that nobody has responded to this story. I believe (hope!) that JH will end up at Michigan. He’s often said that he’s a college guy and a college coach. His greatest strengths, his ability to recruit and to motivate, are meaningless in the NFL. He’s a very competitive guy who would prefer to control his own destiny rather than dealing with the parity, salary caps and free agency of the NFL. Ask Pete Carroll what he misses most about coaching in college? Answer: Winning every week! JH’s dad coached under Bo at Michigan. JH grew up in Ann Arbor. He played for Bo at Michigan and remains a Bo protege. He’s about to lose his QB, most of his offensive line and 20+ seniors. If Stanford can’t sellout their stadium this year they never will! Michigan is his dream job and if he doesn’t take it now he may never get another opportunity. The NFL will ALWAYS be there. Although NFL money is greater in the short term, the average tenure of an NFL coach is less than three years. The list of former college coaches who tried the NFL then came racing back to college is long including Nick Saban, Steve Spurrier and Bobby Petrino etc etc. JH could be a savoir and hero to restore Michigan football to its former glory – and could be here for 20+ years.

  • Anonymous

    I agree with “rselvala.” And here’s my two cents worth:
    The article states that “we’re talking about a guy who turned down Michigan after Lloyd Carr was fired.”

    First of all, Lloyd Carr was not fired. He retired. And secondly, Jim Harbaugh had only coached at Stanford for a few years when Lloyd Carr retired. If he took the job at Stanford to show what he could do as a coach, then it would not have helped his career to abandon Stanford before he proved that he could turn the Cardinal program around. Harbaugh has now proven that, especially after trouncing Virginia Tech. So the fact that Harbaugh turned Michigan down earlier isn’t proof that he isn’t interested in the job.

    The fact that Harbaugh criticized what was happening at Michigan three years ago doesn’t mean he would never coach there. That was then, this is now.

    And to call moving from the football coach at Stanford to the football coach at Michigan a “lateral move” shows how little the author seems to know about college football. And I mean no disrespect to Stanford.
    Everyone else will understand what I mean, so I don’t have to spell it out.

    I don’t pretend to know what Harbaugh will do. But I would be surprised if he didn’t weigh very carefully, this opportunity to rescue the great Michigan football tradition from a very terrible “blip” in it’s long and otherwise proud tradition.

    And an article quoting “someone close to the Stanford coaching staff” recently said that Harbaugh would like to coach at Michigan and is young enough to coach at Michigan and later coach in the NFL.

  • http://larrybrownsports.com Larry Brown

    I don’t dispute the notion that Michigan is a much more prestigious program than Stanford. That’s not what I meant when I said a lateral move. When I wrote lateral move, I was referring to going from one college program to another. If Harbaugh makes a move, I think it will be vertical to the NFL, as I outlined in the story. That’s what I meant.

  • Anonymous

    There’s not a whole lot of precedent for coaches that were strong at the college level being strong at the pro level. I think it really comes down to two things: how important money is to Jim Harbaugh and how appealing the idea is to him of reviving his ailing alma mater.

    Success in the NFL would bring him money for sure, but most first time NFL coaches don’t stay with their jobs very long before they join the coaching carousel. And let’s face it, Michigan still looks at Bo Schembechler as their last great coach (despite Lloyd Carr’s national title), and there would be a lot to be said for the immortality that could be attained by turning the program around and assuming that mantle.

    That being said, who knows what in the world is going through his head.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RU4JFERKQLQP7677XHSVVE27MA RaviS

    Lloyd Carr was not fired, and anyone who believes that despite all evidence to the contrary is ignorant and pompous. The author has still not corrected this grievous error, despite being informed of it a week ago.

    Early in the 2007 season, despite the Wolverines’ humiliating loss to Appalachian State, AD Bill Martin met in his office with Lloyd and told him that the only person whose opinion of his job performance mattered was Bill Martin, and that as long as that was the case, he had a job as head coach of Michigan for as long as he wanted. That is the truth.



    What is the author’s evidence that Harbaugh was ever offered the job as M football head coach in 2007? There is none.