There is a growing sentiment the University of Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh is open to returning to the NFL. Even if there is only a sliver of interest the Denver Broncos should gauge his interest in their soon-to-be-open head coaching position.
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 4, 2022
The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman is reporting rumblings from both Michigan and the NFL suggested Harbaugh could head back to the professional game.
Fresh off a whipping of Ohio State and a College Football Playoff berth, Harbaugh’s stock could not be higher.
However, the former NFL quarterback is not a flash in the pan. This is not a traditional story of a hotshot coach being lured from his company university gig to brave uncharted rough waters of the NFL.
With Harbaugh’s track record in college and with the San Fransico 49ers, George Paton should definitely pick up the phone and gauge his interest when the season ends.
Harbaugh was drafted by the Chicago Bears in 1987, becoming the starter heading into the 1990 season. Harbaugh performed well early, leading the Bears to back-to-back double-digit winning seasons. A journeyman, Harbaugh found his most success in Indianapolis. Peyton Manning’s predecessor brought the Colts to the doorstep of the Super Bowl in 1995.
Following his retirement from football in 2000, Harbaugh coached quarterbacks for the Oakland Raiders for two seasons before being named as the head coach at the University of San Diego. Leading the Torros to a Pioneer League Championship in 2005 and 2006. Overall Harbaugh’s sported a 29-6 before leaving to take over at Stanford.
Harbaugh built the Cardinal into a national brand while developing Andrew Luck into the next great phenom. Stanford went 29-21 during Harbaugh’s tenure but finished with records of 8-5 and 12-1 respectively.
As an NFL head coach, Harbaugh was phenomenal in San Francisco. Prior to his hire, the 49ers had not had a winning season in 8 years. Harbaugh led the team to the 2011 NFC Championship game , 2012 Super Bowl, and 2013 NFC Championship game in consecutive seasons. With Harbaugh at the helm, the 49ers enjoyed a .695 winning percentage per Pro Football Reference.
Since his departure from the pro game, Harbaugh lead Michigan to a 61-24 record and back into national prominence.
Why should the Broncos bring in Harbaugh?
Harbaugh would be a phenomenal fit in Denver for a variety of reasons. The first of which is, Harbaugh should have and could have remained a successful NFL head coach for a long time.
Harbaugh’s disconnection with then 49ers general manager Trent Baalke led to a mutual parting of ways and a subsequent move to the college game. Balke’s poor drafting and coach selection earned him a one-way ticket out of San Francisco. Since then, Baalke has done a terrible job building the Jacksonville Jaguars and is on thin ice with the fan base. Needless to say, Harbaugh was not the problem then and most likely would have continued winning if he remained as the 49ers head coach.
He understands what it takes to win. Whether it was in the college or professional game, Harbaugh has turned flailing teams into winners.
Just taking his professional experience into account, Harbaugh’s resume translates into exactly what Paton should be looking for.
Like this current Broncos team, the 2010 49ers were a middling team trying to find their way. Harbaugh’s complete view on building a team led to the creation of a dynamic 49ers team. Without a significant amount of turnover from the previous year, Harbaugh was able to build a winner with the old regime’s players.
Harbaugh cultivated a defensive team with a dynamic offense built on winning in the trenches. Denver has the pieces on both the offense and defensive fronts Harbaugh could elevate. Though Harbaugh is a coach with an offensive background, his ability to recognize his teams’ strengths and weaknesses would be a great addition to a team as talented as the Broncos.
Additionally, Denver has struggled to develop a quarterback since the departure of Peyton Manning. Stuck in quarterback purgatory, the Broncos must make their decision on the head coach with solving this issue valued over any other criteria.
In San Francisco Harbaugh proved he could develop Alex Smith, who many wrote off as a bust. Smith played tremendous football for Harbaugh, leading the team to the NFC title game.
When Smith was injured, Harbaugh utilized second-round selection Colin Kaepernick in ways the NFL had never seen. Harbaugh and former offensive coordinator Greg Roman (now with Baltimore) popularized the read-option game in the NFL. Harbaugh’s creativity leads to a dominant run for the 49ers, where he should have remained the head coach.
Finally, Harbaugh brings energy, excitement, and infinity to a stagnant franchise. The Broncos have not been relevant since 2016. Brining in Harbaugh would quickly return the Broncos into the media spotlight. The charismatic and quirky Harbaugh would be a welcome change for Broncos Country.
Additionally, Harbaugh has shown a willingness to play to his team’s strengths and make coaching changes if necessary to do so. Last year, Harbaugh revamped his staff at Michigan through a youth movement, quickly paying dividends.
In the end, Paton could go in a variety of directions to select the Broncos’ head coach next season. However, he could do a lot worse than bringing Harbaugh to the Mile High City.