We’re less than a week away from Black Monday, the day when NFL coaches typically receive word that they have been fired. Obviously this is a tough time for many, and I wish no ill-will towards those who’s futures are in flux. However, openings across the league create hope and potential for a fresh start.
This discussion seems to be occurring preemptively with the New York Jets.
The New York Jets still have a head coach (Todd Bowles), but according to Pro Football Talk, the organization has their eyes set on Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh. The Jets have won a total of 14 games the past 3 seasons, but have a franchise QB in Sam Darnold, another high pick for the upcoming draft (currently number 3), and at this moment, a projected $106 million in cap space for the offseason. If Harbaugh thinks Darnold has what it takes to be a good QB in this league, the pieces could be in place for a quick turn around in New York.
But would Harbaugh leave Michigan?
The 4-Year Rule
Since Jim Harbaugh got into coaching, he has an amazing tendency to… well, not stay long. Harbaugh has never stayed at one place for more than 4 seasons.
Oakland Raiders*: 2002-2003
San Diego (college): 2004-2006
San Francisco: 2011-2014
Harbaugh is currently in Year 4 at Michigan, which has people thinking he might be ready to look elsewhere.
I see the argument. His track record could tell people that Harbaugh is so intense that by the end of Year 4, everyone just wants to move on. I think that might be the narrative that is taking place now. This seemed to be the case with the 49ers, but every other move he’s made seems like he was moving up the ranks for his career. He started off as an assistant, and then made the jump to head coaching at a smaller school. After a successful 3 years at San Diego, he made the jump to the Pac-10 by going to Standford. After turning that program around, intrigue arose from the NFL, at which point he decided to stay local and coach the 49ers.
By the end of his stay in San Francisco, tension between he and the front office led to his departure. It was a perfect storm really. Harbaugh was immensely successful, but did not have a good working relationship with the the owner and GM. It was also at this time that Michigan had fired their coach, Brady Hoke, which led to a pursuit of Michigan alum Jim Harbaugh. If that job had not opened at that time, I promise you Harbaugh would have stayed in the NFL; coaches who win at a 69% rate (nice) are highly valued.
Michigan was a unique opportunity at a perfect time.
Why he should stay
At Michigan, Harbaugh has gone 38-13. After the retirement of Urban Meyer, Harbaugh may have a chance to make Michigan the Big 10 powerhouse they were of years’ past. According to 247 sports, Michigan currently has the 8th ranked recruiting class for 2019. Harbaugh also finds himself in the middle of a hefty 7-year, $52 million contract.
Harbaugh went to school at Michigan, and it took Michigan coming around to get him out of the NFL. He’ll have to get into the College Football Playoff at some point in the next few years to appease some boosters, but year in and year out, Michigan has not been this good in over a decade (the Llyod Carr days).
At 55, Harbaugh could be at Michigan for at least another decade, and he can build a legacy at the school that puts him at the level of Bo Schembechler (a coach Harbaugh played for).
If Michigan means the world to him, and winning a championship at the school means something to Harbaugh, he’s not leaving anytime soon, and I would completely understand that.
Why he should go
At 55, Harbaugh is still young enough to cement his legacy as an all-time great NFL coach. I know that is a big statement, but just look at his first four seasons with the 49ers. He was 44-19-1, and led the 49ers to 2 NFC Championship appearances, and a trip to the Super Bowl. If he came back to the NFL and won at the level he did in San Francisco, he’d be one of the best coaches in the league.
“the Jets plan to make Harbaugh a financial offer he can’t refuse”
To get Harbaugh to leave Michigan, it would take a LOT of money, but according to Mike Florio, money may not be an object for Woody Johnson and the New York Jets.
Much like when Harbaugh got to San Francisco in 2011, maybe he could see the AFC East as a division he could help take over in the near future. In the 4 years before Harbaugh got to San Francisco, the winner of the NFC West won 7, 10, 9, and 10 games respectively (starting from 2010 and working back).
Now I understand I’m comparing the NFC West to a division with that includes Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, but maybe Harbaugh could be talked into thinking the Patriots window is almost closed, and when the day comes, the division could be wide-open. With a franchise QB and the potential to spend big in free agency, maybe that day could be sooner than later, and maybe the Jets could be the ones in position to take over.
Lots of maybes, but that’s the argument New York will need to make… unless the money is all that matters.
I think Jim Harbaugh will coach in the NFL again, but I do not think it will be with the New York Jets.
I’ve written before about my desire for Harbaugh to replace Bill Belichick sometime in the future, and I think it would have to take an opportunity like that to get Harbaugh to leave Michigan.
Harbaugh has unfinished business at Michigan, and I think Michigan is different than any other coaching job he has had. Every other time he has left a coaching job, it was for a definitive step up. The only time he changed course was when he was forced out of San Francisco, at which point Michigan came calling, an offer he could not refuse.
If Harbaugh were to leave, it would have to be under three circumstances:
- He wins a championship, and feels he’s completed his goals at his alma mater (a la LeBron James in Cleveland)
- A dream job opens in the NFL
- He is fired from Michigan
If he wins at Michigan, maybe another challenge will intrigue him. Maybe a job like replacing Bill Belichick intrigues him. Harbaugh could have worked his way into the Colts job, coaching Andrew Luck in the pros (like he did at Stanford), but he chose not to; maybe there is not a dream position. Finally, like San Francisco, maybe Harbaugh reaches a point where he cannot please the powers that be at Michigan, and each side decides to move on… Remember, with all the winning Harbaugh does, it would have to be something huge (unless he’s told it’s title or bust).
I think a good comparison to keep in mind is Pete Carroll. Carroll was a decent NFL coach in the 90s, but once he got to USC in 2001, he made them a powerhouse. However, by 2009, with NCAA sanctions looming, and a year that was a setback compared to previous seasons, Carroll, at age 58, decided to take one more crack at the NFL by joining the Seattle Seahawks. Carroll has won one Super Bowl (and gotten to another) in his 9 seasons with Seattle, and just signed an extension with the team, keeping him on as the head coach through 2021.
If Harbaugh wants to have his cake and eat it too, he could coach at Michigan for another three seasons, hopefully win a championship, and then go back to the NFL and try to win a championship there, following a timeline similar to that of Carroll.
Or maybe he takes just takes the money and the challenge of taking down Tom Brady.
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