As quarterback/head coach combinations go at the collegiate level, few have ever been as logical a fit and maximized that synergy like Houston's own Andrew Luck and Jim Harbaugh at Stanford in 2011.
The head coach who on pure guts nearly willed the Colts to the Super Bowl in 1995 (about five years before they became "The Colts" with Peyton Manning) with the linebacker trapped in a five-star quarterback's body together took Stanford to unprecedented success in 2010 -- an 11-1 record and a win in a BCS bowl.
In the process, their collective brilliance put each one in the best possible bargaining position one could achieve for each of their vocations -- Luck as a lock cinch for the first overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft and Harbaugh as the most sought-after coach maybe in the history of the game, considering his street cred at both the college and NFL levels.
The best-case scenario for both appeared to be taking their act on the road to Charlotte for the next decade with the Carolina Panthers, figuratively together forever. The worst-case scenario -- absolute worst -- both decide to return to Stanford and make a run at a Heisman Trophy (Luck was the runner-up in 2010) and a national championship in 2011.
The likely scenario? Luck going to Carolina (or someone willing to pay a king's ransom to move up to the first overall pick) and Harbaugh going to the highest bidder. In that one, everyone still wins.
And then came this announcement from Andrew Luck earlier this afternoon:
"I am committed to earning my degree in architectural design from Stanford University and am on track to accomplish this at the completion of the spring quarter of 2012," Luck said in a statement. The school announced that Luck wouldn't be made available for comment.
My initial reaction when I saw this news at around 2 p.m. CST today, after peeling myself off the floor from a fainting face plant, was "Okay, this HAS to mean that Jim Harbaugh is coming back to Stanford." Why? Well, because that was the WORST-case scenario, right? Harbaugh and Luck taking one final run at college football immortality. Right?
An hour later, we all got this tweet from about a hundred different places:
"Dan Lebatard reports on 790 The Ticket that Harbaugh has accepted the head coaching position in Miami."
Time to recalibrate the "Worst-Case Scenario" Machine.
In a corner of the universe where ill-advised decisions by 18- to 22-year-olds rule the day, strangely (and sadly) enough, it's Luck's decision to embrace academia and hold off on the Hollywood lifestyle that will draw more criticism than Cam Newton's questionable judgment, Terrelle Pryor's tattoos and the North Carolina football team's agency Rolodex combined.
And (also sadly) I'm about to be part of that problem.
To be clear, for Harbaugh, there was no losing scenario. The worst thing that could have happened to Harbaugh (barring a self-inflicted O'Leary/Price/Haywood-esque wound) is that he stay at Stanford for the next two decades and become the "academic high horse" version of Bear Bryant. Best case...well, I'm not sure if $8 million per year from the Dolphins is the best-case scenario, but it's certainly in the "Best Case Scenario" team picture.
Jim Harbaugh is about to go from rich to incredibly, great googly moogly rich. All while coaching football. He wins.
Andrew Luck comes from a great family. He is a smart kid. And if you could draw up the prototype for the father of a future first round draft choice, it would be Andrew's father Oliver -- former NFL quarterback, highly successful businessman, current BCS conference athletics director.
So why is Andrew Luck going back to school?
Luck isn't the first quarterback with number one overall chops to decide to come back to school for his senior year. There was USC (and current Houston Texan third-string) quarterback Matt Leinart in 2005. Leinart was a virtual lock to go to the San Francisco 49ers at number one overall (Utah's Alex Smith ended up being the pick. Ouch.), but decided that banging co-eds, hanging with celebs, and trying to win a second Heisman Trophy and third national championship was a better use of his 2005.
While I'm certain he got his fair share of trim and whacked down more than a few beer bongs, Leinart accomplished neither of his on-field goals and cost himself tens of millions in guaranteed by falling to tenth overall in the 2006 draft. Let the record reflect that his stock fell not because of injury, a lack of productivity, or any off-field issues. Leinart fell because people had another 13 games to pick away at all of his faults.
Then in 2009, Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford decided to return to college for his senior year to win a second Heisman Trophy and a national championship. It's also worth noting that Bradford was raised in Oklahoma with a mindset that being the "Sooner quarterback" was the end-all and be-all.
Bradford's season lasted all of about one half of football against BYU (and an aborted return to action against Texas) when he sustained a shoulder injury in the season opener. Ironically, without 13 more games to undo the goodwill his Heisman season accumulated in 2008, Bradford had to merely recover from the injury, have some private workouts and knock out some interviews, and he was the first overall pick in 2010.
My point in bringing up the ill-advised case of Leinart and the bizarre case of Bradford? By coming back for his senior year, Luck forfeits one huge chip in his favor right now -- predictability. We know he will be the first overall pick right now. By returning for another year, he is opting to jump on a roller coaster that only goes downhill.
If we mad lib this thing, replace the hot chicks and martinis in Hollywood for Leinart with an architectural design degree, we have Luck's situation. We know for sure Luck will come away with the degree, that's a given. Now without Harbaugh, the chances for a Heisman and a national championship are diminished significantly. (To be fair to Luck, Harbaugh's chances of a national championship at Stanford are nil without him. Again, these two were the perfect pair.)
On top of that, the $50 million lotto ticket on which Luck was sitting can now be snuffed out, if not by whatever harm the new upcoming collective bargaining agreement inflicts on rookie signing bonuses then by some inattentive 20-year-old Stanford offensive lineman or running back who doesn't pick up a blitz properly and sends Luck to the emergency room.
It sounds wrong to say it, it feels wrong to say it, but it's true -- Andrew Luck's returning to Stanford to get his architectural design degree is reckless. And strangely, I have great respect for his conviction. Even stranger, as illustrated by the cases of Leinart and Bradford, his decision to come back and get his degree would make more sense if he didn't play football in 2011.
But Luck is a competitor. Just watch him light up USC's Shareece Wright after that fumble this past season and you'll know, this kid isn't coming back to school to NOT play football. He will play.
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That said, with Harbaugh deciding to take his talents to South Beach (sorry, I couldn't resist), I wouldn't blame Luck for asking if there is a "1-2-3, No Takebacks" rule on his initial decision to come back to school. He has to, doesn't he?
Stanford architectural design graduates design big custom homes. First overall NFL draft choices own big custom homes. Lots of them.
I hope Andrew Luck knows what he's doing.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from noon-3 p.m. weekdays and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.