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Would Jim Harbaugh Really Leave Michigan for the NFL?

Ryan Phillips
Jim Harbaugh, Playoff Semifinal at the Capital One Orange Bowl - Georgia v Michigan
Jim Harbaugh, Playoff Semifinal at the Capital One Orange Bowl - Georgia v Michigan / Michael Reaves/GettyImages
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With the NFL coaching carousel in full swing, one name keeps standing out from the crowd. Everyone wants to know what Jim Harbaugh will do. Could he really leave Michigan for the NFL? Well, it appears he's at least considering it and might jump at the right chance.

Harbaugh finally returned his alma mater to national prominence in 2021 after several long years of disappointments. The Wolverines won the Big Ten and reached the College Football Playoff, where they were dispatched with ease by eventual champion Georgia in the semifinal. Harbaugh also finally beat Ohio State and led Michigan to its first Big Ten title in 17 years. Even with that unceremonious exit in the Orange Bowl, the 12-2 season and a No. 3 national ranking was a triumph for the Wolverines' head coach.

After all that building and a big season, would Harbaugh actually leave? He'll essentially be allowed to stay as long as he wants, and the program is finally at the level he's been striving for. Would he really walk away? Well, after three mostly rough years at Stanford, Harbaugh led the Cardinal to a 12-1 record and an Orange Bowl win in 2010. They finished ranked fourth in the nation and looked like a budding national power. Where was Harbaugh the next year? Coaching the San Francisco 49ers.

Harbaugh's stock was never higher than it was after leading a moribund Stanford program to national prominence. He wisely cashed in and went to the NFL. History may be repeating itself.

Harbaugh's stock is high once again, after enduring some tough years. Michigan went 2-4 in 2020 and that followed a lackluster 9-4 campaign in 2019. Until this season he'd never lost fewer than three games in a season. Now he's considered a viable option for the NFL once again. And a job he has ties to is open.

On Wednesday, The Athletic's Bruce Feldman reported Michigan insiders believe Harbaugh would take the Las Vegas Raiders job if it was offered to him. The 58-year-old's coaching career began with the Raiders when he served as the team's quarterbacks coach from 2002-03, and he's had a long friendship with franchise owner Mark Davis. Harbaugh also met his wife in Las Vegas and has family ties to the area.

Harbaugh had never coached somewhere more than four years before his current seven-year run at Michigan. It's possible he's getting antsy for a new challenge. The Raiders fired general manager Mike Mayock this week, opening the door for Harbaugh to possibly hand-pick a personnel guy he can work with. The stars are aligning for this to work out.

Would Jim Harbaugh actually leave Michigan? History, sourced reporting and current circumstances say yes. Making it actually happen is a different matter.

The Raiders would have to pay a hefty sum to get Harbaugh to leave his alma mater. Davis might be reluctant to do so after his last big, splashy hire didn't work out so well. Make no mistake, the failure of Jon Gruden and his 10-year, $100 million contract will loom large over the Raiders' coaching decision.

Harbaugh appears there for the taking, but we'll see if both sides actually pull the trigger.

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