Jim Harbaugh finally made good on the hype at Michigan, leading the Wolverines to the College Football Playoff after slaying Ohio State. He did so after taking a pay cut and embracing charity. His magical season took place during a period of great change for the coaching industrial complex as salaries exploded. Look no further than the juicy and lengthy deals signed by James Franklin at Penn State and Mel Tucker at Michigan State. So it would be reasonable to think the latest speculation the former San Francisco 49ers coach would leverage NFL rumors into a larger payday. And that's how I'm choosing to process the latest report from The Athletic's Bruce Feldman.
But life's rich tapestry always surprises and there exists the possibility Harbaugh returns to the pros in the hopes of rectifying Super Bowl disappointment. If that event horizon snaps into focus, here are the three most likely destinations for the sought-after coach. You know, if Hell freezes over.
Las Vegas Raiders
Harbaugh started his coaching career with the organization in 2003 so there's an existing relationship. Rich Bisaccia has done yeoman's work keeping the train on the tracks and setting up a playoff eliminator with Los Angeles this weekend. But Mark Davis loves two things in this life: P.F. Chang's and making a big splash. His previous mega-contract, given to Jon Gruden, proved disastrous due to ugly off-the-field incidents. Harbaugh's track record speaks for itself, and it includes decades of evidence that while he may be quirky, he's not going to go and get himself canceled. The job is made more enticing by the emergence of Derek Carr as one of the NFL's most competent and mentally tough quarterbacks. Harbaugh tends to look for himself in his signal-callers and one could imagine a productive relationship there. Jumping ship from Michigan seems only possible if the opportunity to win right away is obvious.
Harbaugh played for the club from 1987-1993 and is the perfect ideological fit for his brand of throwback, smashmouth ball. Matt Nagy has been on borrowed time for months now and it appears to be a matter of when, not if, the Bears look in a different direction. Justin Fields presents a bright future and pairing him with someone with a track record of development would be a no-brainer. Yes, Harbaugh's shining NFL success came on the West Coast but he is a Midwesterner at heart. With Aaron Rodgers not long for the division, the playoffs don't seem an unreasonable goal next year and certainly not in 2023.
Before you laugh, remember Hell has frozen over so we'll all have bigger fish to fry in this scenario. Shad Khan took a huge and predictably terrible gamble on Urban Meyer so Harbaugh is definitely his type. Trevor Lawrence has been oddly pedestrian but is still super young and carries a high ceiling. Such a move would also likely need to come with the departure of Trent Baalke as that relationship isn't all roses and butterflies.
Rumors of NFL interest have been rampant since Ann Arbor brought its favored son back into the fold. No one should be jumping at taking future odds on it actually happening this time. But the news didn't get out there by accident. Better to be prepared.