Jim Harbaugh comes up every offseason as an NFL head coaching candidate. But he’s been in the college ranks now since 2015 and has remained there through consistent rumors that he might ascend back up to the NFL level.
However, it appears it could finally be time for Harbaugh to step back up to the professional level. But before he does, we must pull back the curtain to explain the pros and cons associated with the coach.
Pro: He Is Jim Harbaugh
The Michigan head coach has had irrefutable success at the college and NFL levels. He’s turned around a Stanford program that was in shambles and has won 74 of his 99 games at Michigan, all in khaki pants.
Mike Singletary’s 49ers won seven, eight, and six games in the seasons leading up to Harbaugh’s arrival. Under Harbaugh, the 49ers won 13, 11, 12, and eight games, respectively. He even matched up against his brother John in Super Bowl 47, where San Francisco lost to the Ravens 34-31.
In other words, Harbaugh’s been successful at every stop as a head coach. There is little to suggest he wouldn’t find success if he joined another NFL franchise. But he’s far from a perfect candidate, and there’s a reason why he only lasted four years in San Francisco, despite his ridiculously good 44-19-1 record with the team.
Con: He Is Jim Harbaugh
The rub is that he is Jim Harbaugh. Harbaugh’s not in the coaching business to make friends, although he has made many relationships during his coaching career (which we’ll get to later).
His departure from San Francisco had virtually nothing to do with football. Harbaugh’s relationship with CEO Jed York and general manager Trent Baalke deteriorated to a point of no return. There is a give and take when coaching at the NFL level that isn’t present in college football.
At the collegiate level, the coach is the CEO, CFO, and COO. There is politicking with boosters and university staff, but the coach is the big man on campus. It is a dictatorial relationship. And that’s the reason why Harbaugh didn’t last in his first NFL go around.
That attitude doesn’t stop with members of the front office, either. NFL players are grown men getting paid more than the coach, and that coach simply cannot maintain the same control over their actions as they can at the college level.
What is to stop Harbaugh from wanting a large portion of the control over roster moves at the NFL level, just as he tried in San Francisco? He lost that power struggle and was quickly back at the college level.
That’s the thing with Harbaugh. He can take the risk of elevating back up to the NFL because he will always have the college safety net to fall back on. And because of the success he had in San Francisco, it could be worth the headache he brings along with him for an NFL franchise trying to right the ship.
Pro: Harbaugh Could Put Together a Great Staff
Vic Fangio, Jim Tomsula, Ed Donatell, and even current Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero were part of Harbaugh’s staff. As long as those relationships are intact, Harbaugh shouldn’t have any issues putting together a talented staff, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.
Con: Harbaugh Could Hire Greg Roman
When Lamar Jackson has been healthy, the Baltimore Ravens’ offense has been one of the more efficient units in the NFL. But that’s because Jackson is a special talent who can transcend scheme. And whether it be scheme or play-calling, Greg Roman is not the answer as a professional offensive coordinator at this point.
The problem is Roman’s offense derives from Harbaugh’s, and that offense will struggle to consistently produce a winning product at the NFL level. The run-first approach is not a sustainable one unless you have a running talent like Jackson, Justin Fields, Jalen Hurts, or Josh Allen.
The Bottom Line
Harbaugh is a great coach and deserves another chance at the NFL level. His offense will need to evolve, but as long as he has that self-awareness, Harbaugh should be able to surround himself with an offensive staff to overcome his shortcomings.
He most likely will not be a long-term option. Unless he’s learned how to be a better politician, Harbaugh will be a good coach who flames out quickly back to the college ranks.
But if the ultimate goal of winning football games outweighs the potential, and even likely, powder keg, then he should be very high on many teams’ lists of coaching candidates.