The fame, money and competition are some of the elements that elevate the National Football League over college football. That’s why many NFL “experts” are flabbergasted at even the slightest possibility that San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh would leave the NFL to go back to the college level to coach the Michigan Wolverines.
With the Niners firmly out of the playoff picture, the Harbaugh-San Francisco divorce is all but final. Now the question is: With all the potential suitors out there, where will Jimmy be coaching next season?
When it comes to coaching, Harbaugh has “it.” He’s had success everywhere he’s been. The guy is demanding, crazy and a perfectionist. Because of these qualities and his great track record, it’s easy to see why he’s a hot commodity. Harbaugh has been connected to openings at Michigan for years. Yesterday, the Wolverines finally showed their claws and pounced on the chance to get their man. It was reported that they made him a $49 million offer over six years. If he accepts (and if those numbers are accurate), Harbaugh would become the highest paid college coach and one of the highest paid coaches in all of football.
The offer is sizable and respectable, but it’s far from a done deal. They still have to wait two weeks until the NFL season ends. After that, there are many teams that are expected to enter the Harbaugh sweepstakes. Some teams that have been mentioned are the Oakland Raiders, New York Jets, Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins. With all of those interested potential NFL employers, why would Harbaugh leave the pros to go back to college?
The college game and the professional game are different in some aspects, but they have innate similarities as well. It’s true that the competition level is higher in the pros, but that’s how it’s supposed to be. College is where those men in the NFL were molded. Coaching college football provides coaches a unique opportunity to forever have an impact on the lives of young men. If Harbaugh goes to Michigan, he wouldn’t have to deal with player contracts or prima donna attitudes. He would have players who are ready and willing to fight for him, rather than with him. There are pundits saying recruiting is a turn off, but that’s overblown. Recruiting is a year-long process, but he’ll have help. He would have his assistants out there recruiting for him. Besides that, with his pedigree, there would be kids lining up for the chance to play for him.
Harbaugh is a unique guy. He’s a devout family man and highly competitive. He’s also loyal to those close to him. People in NFL circles can’t see why Harbaugh would want to leave the professional level to go back to college, but for Michigan fans it’s easy to understand. Michigan offers things that NFL teams can’t. There is no doubt that Michigan is a blue blood program. They are currently struggling, but it’s still a top job. They have resources that others would kill for. Their brand can compete with others in the pros without a doubt.
Along with that, they are close to the heart. Harbaugh loves Michigan. He attended U of M and played as quarterback under coach Bo Schembechler from 1983-1986. He hasn’t forgotten about his alma mater and what it means to him and his family. He still fondly talks about the University of Michigan and the city of Ann Arbor. The love that one feels for Michigan can’t be explained, but Harbaugh gets it. The game day atmosphere in Michigan Stadium can’t be emulated by any stadium in the NFL.
If Harbaugh were to stay in the NFL, he would just be another elite coach. If he were to coach at Michigan and be successful, he would be a legend who lives way beyond his years.
Michigan is vulnerable and it needs saving. Harbaugh could get paid top dollar and save his beloved program at the same time. It’s a win-win for him. He would have the fans and administration’s unwavering support. He has the opportunity to get a Big Ten title and the national championship that eluded him as a player and coach.
The NFL isn’t going anywhere. He can have a successful run at Michigan and leave with a succession plan—like he did for Stanford. He’s only 50 years old, so there’s plenty of time for him to coach at Michigan and go back to the NFL. The jump from college to the pros and then back to college has been done before.
The timing is perfect and it makes sense for all parties. Harbaugh has an unprecedented opportunity to honor the man he loved, respected and played for. He has the opportunity to lead his program to success, not from the field this time, but from the sidelines. He has the opportunity to be immortalized forever next to his mentor. The question isn’t, “Why would he go back to Michigan?”
The questions is, “Why wouldn’t he?”