- There’s an abundance of rumors making the rounds that current University of Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh will be the top candidate to fill the head coaching vacancy with the NFL Las Vegas Raiders.
- The Raiders’ former head coach, Jon Gruden, was forced to resign in October after disparaging emails he wrote between 2010 and 2017 were leaked.
- Raiders’ special teams coach Rich Bisaccia took over as head coach on an interim basis following Gruden’s departure.
The Las Vegas Raiders are expected to hire a new head coach during the off season and over the past few days one name has shot to the top of the rumor mill: current University of Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh. Harbaugh was the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers between 2011 and 2014 and was very impressive in his run in the NFL. Under Harbaugh, the Niners went 44-19-1 including three trips to the NFC Championship Game and a loss to Baltimore in Super Bowl XLVII. Harbaugh’s Niners put up regular season records of 13-3 in 2011, 11-4-1 in 2012 and 12-4 in 2013 before they slumped to 8-8 in 2014. Following a power struggle with San Francisco general manager Trent Baalke, Harbaugh and the Niners ‘mutually agreed to part ways’ in the final week of the 2014 season. That paved the way for his move to the University of Michigan, where he was introduced as head coach on December 30, 2014.
Harbaugh’s put up some good numbers at Michigan as well. During his run in Ann Arbor, the Wolverines have gone 61-24 with the only losing season a 2-4 record in the COVID-19 wracked 2020 campaign. Michigan finished the 2021 season 12-2 though they had nothing for Georgia in a lopsided, non-competitive 34-11 loss in the CFP Semifinal. Harbaugh signed a four year contract extension in January 2021 running through the 2025 football season. The word is that he took a pay cut to remain at Michigan though all the athletic department would let on is that his new deal had ‘revised financial terms’.
Earlier this week, football writer Bruce Feldman reported that Harbaugh could be looking at a return to the NFL:
Why now? The consensus opinion is that Harbaugh is likely of the opinion that he’s taken the Michigan program as far as he can. Structural changes in the world of college football might also be a factor as CBS’ Adam Krueger noted in a Tweet:
Football writer Cyrus Smith concurs:
There will also be a number of high profile NFL head coaching jobs becoming available this off-season. The two that have been linked with Harbaugh are the Las Vegas Raiders and the Chicago Bears. The Bears will almost certainly part ways with head coach Matt Nagy after this season and could also be in the market for a GM if they decide to get rid of Ryan Pace as well.
That said, the Harbaugh to Las Vegas move appears to be the more likely scenario. Raiders’ owner Mark Davis hasn’t *officially* confirmed that he’ll be looking for a new head coach but that’s likely out of respect for interim head coach Rich Bisaccia. Bisaccia has done a nice job since taking over for Jon Gruden and has the Raiders on the verge of making the playoffs. Bisaccia will no doubt be considered for the permanent head coach position and any success he can realize in the postseason will only bolster his resume. That said, the feeling among Raiders’ cognoscenti is that Davis will be looking to ‘go big’ with a head coaching hire. Other candidates that are reportedly under consideration are Stanford’s David Shaw, Clemson’s Dabo Swinney and Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich.
None of the other candidates look as viable as Harbaugh, starting with the fact that he’s friends with Raiders’ owner Davis. Harbaugh began his coaching career as the quarterback coach for the Raiders in 2002 and 2003 under Bill Callahan, where he played a significant role in transforming Rich Gannon into a viable NFL starter. Davis has a track record of hiring coaches with a previous connection to the Raiders. Since moving to Las Vegas from Oakland, the Raiders have gone from one of the most decrepit home venues in sports to one of the best. Their team offices and practice facility in Henderson, Nevada is state of the art and the $2 billion USD Allegiant Stadium is everything that a NFL team could want from a home field.
The Raiders’ are more of a ‘finished product’ than the Bears with a solid foundation of young talent combined with a veteran quarterback in Derek Carr. Chicago has some talent on hand and rookie quarterback Justin Fields has shown promise but it’s still too early to pencil him in as a ‘franchise’ player. The winter weather in Las Vegas offers a definite edge over the often nasty Chicago wind and snow.
There’s no guarantee that Harbaugh is looking to leave Michigan though with his stock as a college coach back at a high level and some strong demand from the NFL he’d be stupid not to test the market. Put it this way, if Harbaugh did want to return to the NFL it would be difficult for him to find a better time to do so. His strong showing as a head coach at the pro level puts him head and shoulders above the other speculative candidates. With all due respect to Dabo Swinney and David Shaw, the ‘Urban Meyer to Jacksonville’ fiasco didn’t do any favors for future college coaches coming to the NFL for the first time. Shaw was a NFL assistant for nine years including four with the Raiders. Swinney doesn’t have that type of connection though he did show up at a Raiders’ game earlier this season.