A year after being firmly on the hot seat and ultimately accepting a big salary reduction from Michigan, Jim Harbaugh led his alma mater to a Big Ten championship and College Football Playoff appearance. With that success, the former 49ers coach is once again firmly on the NFL radar, Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer says.
Earlier this week, Bruce Feldman of The Athletic reported that Harbaugh could be “tempted” to make his return to the NFL, citing both Michigan and league sources. The Raiders are the team with whom Harbaugh has been most closely linked.
“Does he want back in the NFL? Maybe. My understanding is, despite what’s been said publicly, he wasn’t happy about having to take a pay cut last year,” Breer writes in Friday’s “GamePlan” column. “He accepted it only after exploring NFL openings (the Jets and Chargers were among the teams who were asked about him) and finding no interest. After a bounce-back year, and now aligned with an NFL-centric staff, there’s renewed curiosity in him from the pros.”
Breer floats the concept that Harbaugh could be looking to “leverage more money out of Michigan,” after he was knocked from the Big Ten's top salary spot to eighth in the league with his new contract in 2021.
Harbaugh had a highly successful run with the 49ers from 2011–14, going 44-19-1 with a Super Bowl appearance and three straight trips to the NFC championship. Few available coaches have that kind of NFL résumé, and Breer says Harbaugh could see the league as “unfinished business,” after leading Michigan to a top four finish and long-awaited win over Ohio State.
“It’ll be interesting to watch this one over the next couple of weeks, since he’s had unfinished business in the league (getting so close to a championship and falling just short), and leaving Michigan now would constitute going out on a high note, having beaten Ohio State and having won the Big Ten this year,” Breer says. “He just turned 58, so it’s hard to say how many shots he has left to do it, especially if this fall’s success in Ann Arbor isn’t duplicated.”
Like Feldman, Breer cites Harbaugh's relationship with Raiders owner Mark Davis as a potential factor in the decision. Harbaugh's first coaching job was as Raiders quarterbacks coach in '02–03, after which he became head coach at the University of San Diego. The Bears are also named as a potential landing spot.
For Las Vegas, going after Harbaugh may not be so obvious. The team can clinch a playoff spot this weekend, which might make moving on from interim coach Rich Bisaccia, who stepped in after Jon Gruden's departure, difficult.
“The idea that the Raiders could stick with Rich Bisaccia shouldn’t be completely ruled out—owner Mark Davis likes his interim coach, and came out of the Jon Gruden mess wanting to give him a real shot,” Breer says.
Gruden, who began his second stint as Raiders coach in 2018, resigned in early October after the release of racist, misogynistic and anti-LGBTQ emails stemming from the NFL's workplace misconduct investigation into the Washington Football Team.
There are growing indications that Harbaugh's interest is real. On Thursday, 247Sports reported that the Michigan coach told a top recruit that he would “entertain” overtures from NFL teams.
More NFL Coverage:
- Raider Maven: Raiders Can Repeat Prestigious History Against Chargers
- Reassessing the 2021 NFL Draft’s Most Polarizing Player
- Antonio Brown Calls Out Alex Guerrero, Tags Tom Brady in Money Dispute
- Report: Clinton Portis Sentenced to Prison for Role in Fraud Scheme
For more news on the Las Vegas Raiders, head over to Raider Maven.