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It appears that Michigan is going to get its man.
Multiple reports have indicated Sunday that San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh is coaching his last game for the 49ers and he’ll be headed back to his alma mater with an announcement coming as early as Tuesday.
If everything falls into place, Harbaugh will return to Ann Arbor and replace Brady Hoke, who was fired earlier this month after going 31-20 in four seasons. Speculation regarding Harbaugh’s future with the 49ers has been building throughout the season. Injuries and uneven quarterback play have affected the team on the field this season with reports of a division between management and Harbaugh constantly in the background off the field.
Harbaugh won at least 11 games in each of his first three seasons and guided San Francisco to three consecutive NFC title games and a Super Bowl appearance in the process. This season the 49ers were 7-8 and out of the playoffs entering Sunday’s season finale with Arizona.
While Harbaugh does carry the reputation of someone who can be difficult to work with at times, one thing is certain: he’s a winner. It started with FCS San Diego where he went 7-4, 11-1, and 11-1 before heading to Stanford. Harbaugh faced a difficult rebuilding job as coach of the Cardinals and he had to make Stanford relevant in a conference being run by USC and an emerging power in Oregon. He did it.
Stanford won four games in Harbaugh’s first season and then won five and eight before going 12-1 and winning the Orange Bowl in Harbaugh’s final season with the Cardinals.
Harbaugh showed that same upward trajectory with the 49ers and was a play or two away from winning a Super Bowl but now a clash of egos between he and San Francisco 49ers general manager Trent Baalke appears that it will result in Harbaugh headed to Michigan and San Francisco and Baalke at a crossroads.
If, as expected, the 49ers and Harbaugh part ways, San Francisco will be facing a crucial hire. Seattle has established itself as one of the league’s powers and Arizona appears set to contend for the next few years with Bruce Arians running the show and the Cardinals winning games despite a slew of injuries and using four different quarterbacks. The Rams even appear headed in the right direction with a young core and if the 49ers aren’t careful, they can go from one of the division’s premiere teams to being one left behind.
Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, and Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase are some of the hot names that will be on San Francisco’s radar. Other candidates could include Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, UCLA coach Jim Mora Jr., former Texans coach Gary Kubiak, current San Francisco defensive line coach Jim Tomsula, and current 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.
Whoever the 49ers choose to replace Harbaugh, they will have big shoes to fill and have to hit the ground running the one of the league’s toughest divisions.
Harbaugh is a perfect fit for Michigan, which is benefiting from its own deep pockets and the dysfunction in San Francisco. Multiple reports have Michigan offering Harbaugh $48-50 million for six years.
A quarterback for the Wolverines from 1983-1986, Harbaugh would be viewed as a savior for a program that still has name recognition but has lost its place among the nation’s elite. The Wolverines are coming off a 5-7 season and have not won a Big Ten title since 2004 so Harbaugh would not have much in the way of pressure from recent success hovering over him.
What Harbaugh will be dealing with is a loaded Big Ten East Division in terms of coaching star power and quality teams.
Ohio State, Michigan’s hated nemesis, is rolling under coach Urban Meyer. The Buckeyes are in the semifinals of the inaugural College Football Playoff and have won 10 of the last 11 meetings with the Wolverines. One of the first things Harbaugh will need to do at Michigan is level the playing field with Ohio State.
But the Buckeyes aren’t Michigan’s only problem and they won’t be Harbaugh’s either. Right now the Wolverines don’t even rule their own state, longtime “little brother” Michigan State does.
The Spartans have a top-flight coach of their own in Mark Dantonio. Michigan State has won the last two meetings with Michigan and six of the last seven. The Spartans have also racked up double-digit win seasons in four of the last five years and won’t be going away any time soon.
Throw in Penn State, which has a strong coach in James Franklin and will be getting stronger and stronger as the Jerry Sandusky saga fades over the years, and Harbaugh will definitely have his work cut out for him.
But one thing he has shown is that he can handle it. He has won and built programs at every stop along the way during his career and San Francisco’s shortsightedness could turnout to be a huge long-term gain for Michigan.
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