Returning to the NFL sidelines?
Whispers around the NFL now consist of the possibility that Michigan head football coach Jim Harbaugh might bolt the Wolverines after four seasons.
It wouldn’t be an absolute shock if Harbaugh did in fact leave the program and return to the NFL sidelines. He lasted exactly four seasons with both Stanford and the San Francisco 49ers before returning to college back in 2015.
An interesting personality has led to clashes with powers to be in the past. Whether that’s the case at Michigan remains to be seen. But one thing is clear. Harbuagh would garner a ton of interest if he did indeed decide to bolt Ann Arbor for the NFL.
Here, we rank the most likely potential landing spots.
This one just makes perfect sense. Seen as a quarterback guru dating back to his days with Andrew Luck, Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick, Harbaugh would absolutely love to have a chance to mold Baker Mayfield’s career in Cleveland. It’s pretty much a match made in football heaven.
Imagine Harbaugh joining the Browns and bringing in experienced defensive minds to help on the other side of the ball. With the likes of Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward already starring, this could quickly become a contending team. It would be similar to when Harbaugh took over the 49ers’ job back in 2011.
Green Bay Packers
What better way for the Packers to go out there and find an innovative offensive mind for Aaron Rodgers as he enters the twilight of his career? Rodgers would excel big time in Harbaugh’s already pro-style offense, ushering in a new era in Green Bay that includes a respected former Super Bowl head coach.
We already know Rodgers’ rift with former head coach Mike McCarthy. His strong personality coupled with Harbaugh’s MO could make for a volatile situation. Even then, it’s hard to imagine a better fit for either Harbaugh or the Packers. Remember just how much success a similar quarterback in Andrew Luck had with Harbaugh at Stanford.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The premise here is more than simply having Harbaugh oversee the potential progression of Jameis Winston under center in Tampa Bay. Though, that would certainly be an attractive option for both the head coach and this long-downtrodden organization.
Could Harbaugh get the most out of a player in Winston that has regressed in recent seasons? We may never know. What we do know is that the status quo with current head coach Dirk Koetter is not sustainable. This job would be extremely enticing for Harbaugh, especially considering the combination of young talent and solid veterans the Bucs boast.
New York Jets
Losers of six consecutive games heading into Week 14, there’s a really good chance New York will move on from head coach Todd Bowles less than a calendar year after extending him. More so than the Jets’ struggles, they simply need to find an offensive mind that will help young quarterback Sam Darnold progress on the field.
New York didn’t exhaust a huge draft bounty to move up for the USC product this past April, only to see him waste away under Bowles. What better situation for Darnold than being molded by one of the most-respected offensive coaches and play callers in the entire football world? And for Harbuagh, coaching in the nation’s largest media market would sure be an upgrade over Ann Arbor.
The idea would be similar to Darnold in New York. We’re pretty much at the point where first-year head coach Steve Wilks has to be viewed as a downright failure in the desert. Should Arizona decide to move on from him after one season, the team would then be in search for an offensive-minded head coach to help rookie quarterback Josh Rosen.
It’s also vitally important to note just how successful Harbaugh has been in terms of using running backs in his offense. Toby Gerhart was an example of that at Stanford. The same can be said for Frank Gore in San Francisco and Karan Higdon with the Wolverines. David Johnson would excel big time in this scheme.
One of the hallmarks for the successful teams Harbaugh led in San Francisco was a dominant level defense. Sure having solid assistants such as Vic Fangio, Jim Tomsula and Ed Donatell helped there. But it wasn’t a fluke. Heck, look at how good this year’s Michigan defense has been. In going to Jacksonville, Harbaugh would be inheriting one of the best young defenses in the NFL.
Harbaugh would also pretty much have the ability to add any available quarterback of his choice. After being benched in favor of Cody Kessler, Blake Bortles doesn’t have a future in Jacksonville. Whether it’s someone like impending free agent Teddy Bridgewater or a first-round quarterback prospect, the options are almost limitless here. Heck, Harbaugh has said in the past that a certain former San Francisco 49ers quarterback should be playing in the NFL. Food for thought.
It seems to be a foregone conclusion that Marvin Lewis will be out of a job one way or another following the season. Heck, an argument can be made that the longtime Bengals coach will be fired before the end of the month. Cincinnati heads in Week 14 having lost six of seven and at a clear crossroads.
Harbaugh’s former 49ers team liked Andy Dalton a whole heck of a lot prior to them selecting Colin Kaepernick in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft. Maybe it could be a way to save the struggling quarterback’s career. Even then, Cincinnati has an opportunity to get out from under Dalton’s contract this offseason. That would enable Harbaugh to start anew at this position.
Jay Gruden was dealt a bad hand this season. Starting quarterback Alex Smith went down with a season-ending injury back in Week 11. Backup Colt McCoy followed suit this past week. Washington is now having to rely on Mark Sanchez to start as it looks to remain relevant in the NFC Playoff race. Should that not come to fruition, it would not be a shock to see Gruden fired following the season.
The backstory here would be rather amazing. Depending on how his rehab goes from the devastating injury he suffered back in Week 11, Alex Smith is penciled in as the Redskins’ starter of the future. Having seen his most success with Harbaugh in San Francisco, this would be one heck of a great fit.
How about staying in Michigan and looking to help the Matthew Stafford-led Lions offense take that next step? Sure firing Matt Patricia after one season seems to be a long shot of an idea. Even then, Detroit has regressed big time in his first year in that role. A change in philosophy could be in the cards in the Motor City.
Detroit has the young offensive players to excel in Harbaugh’s scheme. That includes rookie running back Kerryon Johnson and stud young receiver Kenny Golladay. It also has pieces on defense to help overcome the struggles we’ve seen this season. If Detroit were to move on from Patricia (highly unlikely), Harbaugh would have to be atop its wishlist.
Jason Garrett might have saved his job with the Cowboys’ current four-game winning streak. The Cowboys are seemingly overwhelming favorites to win the NFC East. And coaches are rarely fired after leading a team to the postseason. Though, there’s certainly a scenario in play that suggests owner Jerry Jones would go against the grain by adding a coach in Jim Harbaugh that will be highly coveted should he decide to return to the NFL.
Jones loves to make the splashy moves. Bringing Harbaugh to the Big D would be a prime example of that. That’s not even focusing on just how great of a fit this would be. Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and Amari Cooper working under Harbaugh’s scheme would be all sorts of sexy. And with one of the best young defenses in the NFL, we’d be talking about perennial Super Bowl contention in Dallas.