I'll go ahead and say it -- what's the big deal about Jim Harbaugh?
Sure, I understand that he took Stanford to never before seen (by Stanford) heights of winning 12 games including a BCS bowl. I understand that he transformed the identity of the team in the process, turning them from a perceived wine-and-cheese bunch to a hard-nosed unit that physically beat up opponents this season. I even understand that he had some success as an NFL quarterback.
He's competitive, he's fiery, he eats lightning and craps thunder. I get it.
But is he the second coming, a cinch lock to immediately turn around whatever team he coaches regardless of level (college, NFL)? Is he worth undermining your existing coach just to interview and have him tell you "No thanks?" (Ask Miami midway through next season.)
The Jim Harbaugh Saga has ended not far from where it began -- in the Bay Area -- and the pot at the end of the rainbow has $25 million of the San Francisco 49ers' money in it over the next five years.
I can't remember a coaching candidate during football's silly season in recent years that got more universal respect from every level of football than Harbaugh. His alma mater fired their coach partially in hopes of landing Harbaugh. NFL teams, some with openings and at least one still employing their head coach, made him their first choice.
For a guy whose coaching résumé includes all of one bowl win and zero games coached (hell, zero offense-coordinated, too) in the NFL, the amount of love being shown to Harbaugh is really mind-boggling, especially when you consider that the last college coach to be so strongly considered in NFL circles was Nick Saban when he went to the Dolphins after the 2004 season. We all saw how that went.
And naturally, the one team openly interviewing Harbaugh while their head coach twisted in the wind? The Dolphins. Gotta love owners.
As with any decision that affects so many moving parts, the Harbaugh Decision has winners and losers, so consider this post an appendix to yesterday's analysis of Andrew Luck's choice to go back to Stanford for his senior year:
1. NFL Coaching Candidates. As I indicated earlier, nobody (other than every first-round NFL rookie of the last few years) has been paid more for having done less. If Jim Harbaugh, a guy who had one really special season at a major college and zero NFL head coaching experience, is worth $5 million, what is Bill Cowher worth? What's Jon Gruden worth? $8 million? $10 million? Seriously.
2. Tony Sparano. I would have put him in the "LOSERS" category, but news just came out that the Dolphins are prepared to extend his contract for another year to help smooth over any hurt feelings (and there should be numerous) that may have risen from their flirtation with Harbaugh. Of course, he may want to read the fine print and make sure the thing is guaranteed. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross seems just slippery enough to slip in some clause about losing the buyout if you wear sunglasses on the sidelines.
3. Harbaugh Haters. If you're an NFL head coach, I don't care who you are, it's still about quarterback play. If your quarterback is Drew Brees, Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, you have a fighting chance. If your quarterback is Alex Smith, Troy Smith or David Carr, you're fucked. Harbaugh is fucked until they get a quarterback. (NOTE: Actually, best-case scenario for him long term would be a bottoming out this season so he can go get his boy, Andrew Luck, next season. Maybe they meet in the middle -- San Fran goes, say, 6-10 and Luck is just shaky enough to make a Leinert-esque drop to around 10th in the 2012 draft. Seems fair.)
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1. Andrew Luck. Okay, we believe you now, Andrew. You really are going back to college to get a degree and graduate with your class. Damn, much respect. There's no way to argue that this is smart business. There's also no way to argue that it's not incredibly admirable, if that makes sense.
2. Stephen Ross. The Dolphins owner flew all the way across the country to interview Harbaugh, offer him $8 million per year (reportedly) and have Harbaugh say, "Nah, I'm good." I would love to have been a fly on the wall for any conversation involving Tony Sparano and people above him on the Dolphins food chain.
3. Oregon haters. Go ahead and cue Oregon's fight song, whatever it is. With USC ready to get into the meaty part of their probation, Stanford under Harbaugh was the Pac-12's last hope to stop a Chip Kelly Reign of Terror. Now, who's gonna do it? Oregon State? UCLA? Cal? Arizona? Ironically, the best-equipped team to do so may be Pac-12 newbie Utah. Get ready for LOTS of Quack Attack talk the next five years.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 12-3 p.m. weekdays and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.