It's like clockwork. Every year around this time, when the coaching carousel starts to spin, Jim Harbaugh's name comes up for open NFL jobs. It's been that way since he's been in Ann Arbor. In years past, I would have to come out and say that Harbaugh isn't going anywhere regardless of what "experts" in other markets were saying. This year, I won't be doing that.
There seems to be real smoke when it comes to Harbaugh's potential return to the league and some of the reasons why are legitimate and go beyond football. Of course, one job that's already open is in Detroit. The firing of Matt Patricia (and Bob Quinn) immediately resulted in Harbaugh's name popping up for the Lions gig.
John Maakaron, the publisher of AllLions.com, has been monitoring all possible candidates since Patricia was removed of his duties and Harbaugh is certainly on the list.
"One of the reasons Jim Harbaugh will earn an interview with the Detroit Lions, and why his name is constantly linked to NFL teams is because of the success he had in the NFL," Maakaron explained. "Taking a team to the Super Bowl is no small feat, and Harbaugh continues to be a name that is respected in NFL circles.
"For Detroit, one of the factors that has prevented the organization from having success over the past decade is constantly hiring the big-name assistant and bypassing experienced head coaches who have had previous success in the league.
"It would be negligent for Detroit not to interview Harbaugh and pick his brain regarding what ails the Lions organization."
Even though Maakaron thinks Detroit will kick the tires with Harbaugh, he doesn't necessarily see the two parties being a good fit for one another.
"The reason why I don't think Harbaugh ends up with the gig in Detroit is because he is not known as being a players coach," Maakaron explained. "He inevitably wears out his welcome, and Detroit is at the point where they need a players coach after listening to Matt Patricia bark obscenities at them for the past 2.5 seasons."
Since it's likely of interest to readers here, why not get Maakaron's take on what the Lions will do.
"In the past week, San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman has raved about the defensive scheme of defensive coordinator Robert Saleh and how much the players respect him," Maakaron stated. "I am of the opinion that everything happens for a reason and this message was intended to get the attention of teams looking for a leader...(i.e. The Detroit Lions.)
"Detroit will likely hire their general manager by mid-January and then the search process will begin in earnest. I expect Detroit to interview many candidates and then eventually Rod Wood and Sheila Ford Hamp will defer to the general manager to hire the next head coach.
"At the moment, the hot names are Saleh and Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy. But, you will notice the situation will remain fluid until the decision is made on who is the next hire. Make sure to stay tuned to SI All Lions, as we will thoroughly analyze potential GM and head coaching candidates."
If Harbaugh did land in Detroit, it would certainly be an interesting welcome. Obviously Lions fans are primarily made up of Michigan and Michigan State fans. Spartans can't stand Harbaugh and U-M fans are pretty much done with him. He likely wouldn't be welcomed with open arms by the Lions faithful, but stringing a few winning seasons together would make everyone forget about his tenure in Ann Arbor in a hurry.
While I don't think Harbaugh ends up in Detroit either, I do think him being with an NFL team in some capacity in 2021 is more likely than him being at Michigan. His welcome has been worn out, he's lost the team, the powers that be are feeling the pressure and factors beyond football are definitely part of the equation for Harbaugh and his family. If you've noticed, several people in the know have started to talk more about Harbaugh being done at Michigan than in the past. Sure, many prominent sports media personalities have been very wrong about Harbaugh before, but it definitely feels different this year.