Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers parted ways last night, as expected; interestingly, he won exactly 49 games as their coach, including one NFC Championship. He’s now purportedly headed to Michigan, according to literally every report under the sun. He was QB of the Wolverines from 1983 to 1986, apparently considers Bo S. a second father, and will make about 10 times more than Michigan’s university president makes, so that’s all great. Here’s the problem: it might not really represent progress for Michigan at all.
First off, remember this: people like to think of Harbaugh as an amazing college coach at Stanford. Mostly, he was. But in reality, he was only 29-21 overall and his two bowl appearances were a Sun Bowl (loss) and an Orange Bowl (win). Those last two years — the bowl years — he had the privilege of having a QB who might have been NFL-ready at the moment he stepped on a college campus (Andrew Luck).
Harbaugh’s narrative grew after Stanford, because he took a team (49ers) that Mike Singletary and co. seemed to be running in circles with … and suddenly they made three straight NFC Title Games and 1 Super Bowl.
In short, you can make a pretty basic argument that he’s a better NFL coach than a college coach, honestly.
This is where the concern starts to seep in.
I think Harbaugh returning to college is good for a lot of things: the perception of the Big 10, the University of Michigan, ESPN going to more Big 10 games, and — of course — the Michigan vs. Ohio State rivalry, which is one of ** the ** rivalries in sports.
One of the major ideas around Harbaugh-to-Michigan was that Harbaugh vs. Urban Meyer could become “The 10 Years War” Part 2.
I think that would be great for college football. Problem is, it won’t happen.
Here’s what is MORE likely to happen:
- For the next couple of years, every single NFL opening will be tied to Harbaugh.
- Consider: next year, it’s very possible the Giants’ job will open up (Coughlin is older, team isn’t winning). That’s America’s largest media market. You don’t think Harbaugh will instantly be tied to that? The media loves to throw stuff at the wall.
- College football is a grind. In the weeks before your major bowl game, you’re recruiting. It’s basically a 9-10 month job with no off days. The NFL has huge off periods.
- Harbaugh will probably win at Michigan, and he’ll get a QB like himself (as Luck was, mostly), and they’ll go 10-2, 11-1, etc. Awesome.
- But eventually, all those rumors — Giants, Dolphins, Bucs, Rams, Jaguars, Raiders, Bears, etc. — will catch up to him.
- He’ll probably head back to the NFL in 4-5 years.
Remember: Harbaugh’s biggest professional foil, insofar as we can tell, is Pete Carroll. He was in the NFL, went back, and then went back again. When he went back the second time, he won a Super Bowl. Only three guys have ever done that.
Here’s the broader question, then: if you’re a Michigan fan and you know he’s probably around for 4-6 years max and then he’s probably going back to the NFL, is it worth it for a bunch of 10-2 seasons where you’re re-setting again in a half-decade? His longest stop ever is just about four years. What makes this different? The idea of it being “home?” The money?
Look, in college football, a home run hire can make a difference immediately — Saban hasn’t been at Alabama for 10 years yet (although he’s approaching it), and Meyer hasn’t been at OSU for that long either. Harbaugh may do that for Michigan. But I just don’t see him staying even for the duration of this reported contract.
Is that real progress?
Also remember re: potential Year 1 —