Why Jim Harbaugh is interviewing for the Vikings, and what’s next in the process

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh is looking to return to the NFL, and the Minnesota Vikings have some interest.

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, one of the more intriguing personalities and accomplished coaches at any level of football, is intrigued by a potential return to the NFL. And the Minnesota Vikings have a mutual interest in Harbaugh to potentially become their next head coach. The process began on Saturday with the Vikings interviewing Harbaugh for the open position, previously held by Mike Zimmer.

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Vikings interviewed Jim Harbaugh on Saturday

The Vikings interviewed Harbaugh virtually through Zoom on Saturday (January 29) afternoon after they requested and were granted permission to speak to Harbaugh. As required by his contract, Harbaugh informed Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel of the interview request, according to multiple sources not authorized to speak publicly.

Harbaugh is battling a perception that he’s grumpy in a way akin to Zimmer. However, those who know him well say that is a completely false assumption.

Harbaugh’s interview comes after the Vikings have previously interviewed Todd Bowles, Nathaniel Hackett (who was hired by the Broncos), Jonathan Gannon, Patrick Graham, Raheem Morris, and several others.

Why is Jim Harbaugh considering a return to the NFL now?

Harbaugh and the Wolverines had a resurgent season in 2021. They won 12 games, a Big Ten conference title, beat rival Ohio State, and earned a College Football Playoff berth one year after a 2-4 finish during a COVID-shortened season led to a major pay cut.

So why does Harbaugh suddenly have interest in the NFL now? And why the Vikings after previously being linked to the Miami Dolphins and Las Vegas Raiders?

“The best players play in the NFL, and the best coaches coach in the NFL,” one source said. “Jim loves college football, but he feels like he has unfinished business in the NFL, so he’s exploring this opportunity. Jim has always had interest in coaching in the NFL again.”

Countering the claims of being difficult to work with

Another source noted that Harbaugh is extremely positive, consistent, and honest in his demeanor and dealings with players and coaches, countering the frequently cited narrative that Harbaugh can be difficult to deal with as completely false. One source emphasized that Harbaugh — a family man with a quirky personality — has an incredible work ethic and mind for the game.

Harbaugh is friends with actor Jason Sudeikis and was a loose inspiration for the Ted Lasso character from the Emmy Award-winning AppleTV+ television program, consulting with the Big Ten Conference Coach about gameday wardrobe choices after getting to know each other when Harbaugh appeared on the television show “Detroiters.”

Why Harbaugh and the Vikings could be a match

Although Harbaugh had a strained relationship with then-San Francisco 49ers general manager Trent Baalke, he built a strong connection with new Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah. That has led to this conversation between the Vikings and the brother of Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh, whose team defeated Jim’s 49ers team in the only head-to-head coaching matchup between siblings in NFL history.

Adofo-Mensah worked for the 49ers in research and development and overlapped with Harbaugh when he was the head coach in 2013 and 2014. Eight years later, they’re talking about working together again. Adofo-Mensah has been effusive in his praise of Harbaugh to the Wilf family, the Vikings’ owners. Like most NFL owners, there’s a natural hesitation because Harbaugh has had so many previous flirtations with the league.

A proven track record in the NFL

The Vikings have plenty of other options, including 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans, Los Angeles Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell, New York Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, among others. However, none have Harbaugh’s track record as an NFL head coach.

Harbaugh has a 44-19-1 record with the 49ers, the fifth-best winning percentage in NFL history. That ranks him ahead of any active NFL coach in terms of winning percentage. In four seasons with the 49ers, Harbaugh made the playoffs three times as he made it to three consecutive NFC championship games. San Francisco fired him after the 2014 season when they went 8-8 and missed the postseason.

The financial impact to Harbaugh if he leaves Michigan for the NFL

Harbaugh received a 50% cut in pay in 2021, down to $4 million after the 2020 debacle. But incentives allowed him to earn back most of that shortfall. He signed a four-year contract extension in 2021 and is due for a raise. Harbaugh can get one, per sources, whenever he wants to sign off on a revised contract that will give him a significant boost in pay back to at least the $8 million level he was at previously.

There’s a $4 million buyout of Harbaugh’s contract that reduces $1 million each season. Had Harbaugh left for any reason by choice in 2021, he would have been required to pay a $2 million buyout. In 2022, that amount drops to $1.5 million, $1 million in 2023, $500,000 in 2024, and no money in 2025.

For Harbaugh, it’s not about the money. It’s about the love of the game and the challenge, per sources familiar with Harbaugh’s approach to football and business.

Whether that passion for the sport brings Harbaugh back to the NFL remains to be seen. But he is serious about this pursuit of being an NFL head coach once again, and the Vikings entered this interview with an open mind.

Aaron Wilson is the NFL Insider for Pro Football Network. Follow him on Twitter: @AaronWilson_NFL.

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