According to multiple reports
, Jim Harbaugh is mulling a return to the National Football League. Harbaugh coached the San Francisco 49ers from 2011-14, in what was largely an extremely successful stint. Harbaugh won Coach of the Year in 2011 for leading his 49ers to an unexpected 13-3 record, his first as an NFL head honcho. Prior to Harbaugh's arrival, the 49ers had not had a winning season nor a playoff appearance since 2002. The following season was somehow even more of a success, as the 49ers qualified for Super Bowl XLVII, ultimately losing a thriller to the John Harbaugh-led Baltimore Ravens.
Things came crashing down from there. A reported power struggle with at-the-time general manager Trent Baalke that focused on differing team-building philosophies led to Harbaugh's departure from the 49ers following the 2014 season. Harbaugh returned to the collegiate ranks, taking the job at The University of Michigan, where he's resided ever since. Harbaugh most recently led Michigan to the four-team College Football Playoff in 2021 for the first time under its current format.
Harbaugh was an extremely successful NFL coach and holds an all-time record of 49-22-1 (68.8% winning percentage). Should he indeed be interested in making a return to the pro game, these three teams stick out as ideal fits.
LAS VEGAS RAIDERS
The Raiders are undeniably a franchise that will pursue a splash hire at the head coaching position. That line of thinking was present when owners Mark and Carol Davis awarded Jon Gruden with an unprecedented 10-year, $100 million contract to lure him out of retirement. The Gruden decision ultimately backfired, but the Davises will remain steadfast in their pursuit of landing the biggest fish in the sea. Harbaugh qualifies.
Interim head coach Rich Bisaccia has done an admirable job leading the Raiders to what is essentially a play-in game against their AFC West divisional foe Los Angeles Chargers in Week 18, but the Raiders are largely expected to hire a newcomer as the franchise's permanent coach for 2022 and beyond. The city and team have done a lot to make this new journey as grand as possible, from the splendors of Allegiant Stadium to state-of-the-art team facilities, Vegas will continue to operate without much in the way of financial restrictions.
Few teams would be willing to meet Harbaugh's asking price, but Vegas certainly qualifies based on their recent pattern of behavior. Harbaugh may be the No. 1 candidate on Vegas' wishlist.
The Bears are largely expected to cut ties with head coach Matt Nagy at the conclusion of Week 18 while proceeding to embark on an ever-important search for their next head coach. Chicago must approach the situation with great caution, as this hiring may be the most important one in recent franchise history. Rookie quarterback Justin Fields has flashed some exciting and dynamic potential as he continues to develop into the face of the franchise. It's imperative for the McCaskeys and Ted Phillips to make an excellent decision, and Harbaugh would qualify as such.
Chicago's search should largely center around hiring a head honcho capable of assisting Fields in his development as a quarterback, and Harbaugh has an excellent track record in that department. For starters, veteran signal-caller Alex Smith immediately took a step forward in San Francisco under Harbaugh's watchful eye. When it came time to insert Colin Kaepernick into the lineup, Harbaugh boosted his resume by developing Kaepernick into a legitimate dual-threat quarterback while leading the 49ers to three consecutive NFC Championship Games. Fields needs a similar mentor that can unlock his full potential.
Harbaugh also began his NFL playing career as a quarterback in Chicago after the Bears selected him with the 26th overall selection in the 1987 NFL Draft. Harbaugh went on to spend the first seven seasons of his career in Chicago, the majority of which were coached by Bears legend Mike Ditka, who Harbaugh often lists as one of his main influences as a coach.
There's a lot of history between the city of Chicago, the Bears franchise, and Harbaugh, and it could work in their favor should they decide to pursue his services.
Let's make one thing clear. Harbaugh is extremely unlikely to have interest in the Jaguars job as long as Baalke remains their general manager. Harbaugh's deteriorating relationship with Baalke throughout their San Francisco days ultimately led to his untimely departure.
Jaguars owner Shad Khan has signaled his intentions to retain Baalke as the team's general manager despite experiencing a truly woeful season, according to multiple reports
. Jaguars fans have predictably responded
in rather dramatic fashion by taking to social media to voice their great displeasure with this development, and reports
continue to emerge that Jaguars faithful plan to dress up in clown gear to their Week 18 home finale against the Indianapolis Colts in an attempt to make their voices heard. They really
hate this guy.
Should Khan choose to give in to the mounting pressure by re-thinking his stance on Baalke, it could potentially open up the door for Harbaugh to consider Jacksonville as his next destination. Rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence has admittedly struggled through his debut campaign, but still represents a franchise signal-caller worth developing and working alongside. Harbaugh was extremely aware of Lawrence's talents throughout his tear at Clemson, and may be tempted to join Lawrence at the pro ranks should the situation work itself out in a manner he deems appropriate.
We'd list this destination as a distant No. 3 behind the Raiders and Bears, but it's worth monitoring nonetheless.