Late Saturday evening, John U. Bacon confirmed the rumors that have been swirling since Brady Hoke was fired as head coach of Michigan. Jim Harbaugh will return to his alma mater as its next head coach, according to Bacon, who is a professor at the university who has close ties with the football program.
I just got off the phone with more sources tonight. It’s done. Jim Harbaugh is coming to Michigan – and his friends are flying in Monday.
— John U. Bacon (@Johnubacon) December 28, 2014
How do I know this? From his friends who are flying in.
— John U. Bacon (@Johnubacon) December 28, 2014
If Harbaugh moves to Ann Arbor as expected, San Francisco must find its next head coach. Here are six potential candidates.
One of the most highly regarded assistants on Harbaugh’s staff, Tomsula, the 49ers’ offensive line coach, is often one of the top one or two names mentioned when discussing the next head coach of the 49ers.
Tomsula has been with San Francisco since 2007 and even took over the team on an interim basis back in 2010, going undefeated in that short stint. It was one game, but nonetheless, he led his team to victory.
The comfort of naming Tomsula head coach is almost a guarantee there will be no clash between head coach and the front office, which is exactly what punched Harbaugh’s ticket out of town.
Like Tomsula, Fangio is another member of San Francisco’s staff that could be in the mix to get a promotion this offseason. Fangio, the team’s defensive coordinator, has helped the 49ers’ defense rank in the top five in terms of points allowed, rush defense, first-downs allowed, opposing quarterback rating, total yards allowed, takeaways and third-down defense each of his first three seasons.
This season, Fangio has helped the 49ers overcome injuries to Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman, in addition to a suspended Aldon Smith and the loss of three starting defensive backs in free agency. Through 16 weeks, San Francisco ranks fifth in defense DVOA.
Fangio is one of the popular names that has surfaced for head coaching jobs each of the past few years, and this year will be no different. One of the hottest commodities on the market, San Francisco could risk losing Fangio if it doesn’t name him head coach.
Jim Mora Jr.
Mora is one of the handful of college football coaches that could be looking to make the leap to the NFL, but what separates Mora from the rest of the pack is that he already has professional experience as an NFL head coach.
Mora was the Atlanta Falcons’ head coach during the Michael Vick era. He also has experience coaching in the NFC West, working with the 49ers from 1997 to 2003 as defensive backs coach and then defensive coordinator, and another stint in Seattle as the team’s defensive backs coach from 2007 to 2008 before one year as the head coach in 2009.
Having endured so much success at UCLA since his arrival, many expect Mora to make the return back to the pros. He’s 22-11 in three years at the helm of the Bruins, helping the program return to both Pac-12 and national relevancy.
Could Shaw success Harbaugh … again? Shaw took over at Stanford once Harbaugh left to take the San Francisco opening, and once again his name is being floated around to replace his former colleague.
Reports indicate the job could be Shaw’s if he wants it, though it’s unknown whether he’s ready to take an NFL head coaching job. There’s some indication Shaw wants to have an even more successful year with the Cardinals so that he can leave on a high note.
Shaw has NFL experience and runs Harbaugh’s system in Stanford, which is good to keep organizational continuity. In addition, hiring Shaw would be a touchdown for the 49ers’ fan base.
Yes, another 49ers assistant, Roman offers more stability within the organization and would allow the team to continue to try and develop Colin Kaepernick. Like Tomsula or Fangio, it would be only a slight turnover and allow the organization to avoid any potential rebuilding phase.
Roman has interviewed for a handful of head coaching jobs over the past few years, including at Stanford, where he was edged out by the aforementioned Shaw. This isn’t the sexiest of hires, but could be the most logical and one of the easiest moves to make.
Since 2011, Roman’s offense has ranked in the top 10 of rushing each season and currently stands sixth in that category in 2014. In addition, from 2011 to 2013, the 49ers committed the fewest turnovers in the league (44).
Gruden is a candidate for every head coaching opening, from the NFL down to the high-school ranks. Despite the fact he’s signed with ESPN to call Monday Night Football games from now through infinity, we refuse to believe he’s not considering any of them.
With the 49ers, above all else, Gruden has a pretty realistic shot to be in Super Bowl contention as soon as 2015. The issue comes in the form of whether Gruden would be comfortable with Jed York and Trent Baalke having so much organizational power.
Gruden has ties to the Bay Area dating back to his time with Oakland, but there’s no actual indication he is mulling the 49ers’ gig. No job he’s been linked to has developed beyond the rumor mill, but hey, you never know.