If you want a really good laugh, try the Jim Harbaugh-to-the-Raiders rumor. Harbaugh was the Raiders’ quarterbacks coach for two years, so he knows firsthand how dysfunctional the organization has become. He won’t be a lifer at Stanford, but he won’t be on the Raiders’ sidelines, either.
The truth is, the Raiders coaching job is attractive only for leverage purposes for young coaches.
Before the 2007 season, Al Davis wanted USC assistant Steve Sarkisian to be his next head coach. Like Harbaugh, Sarkisian had been a quarterbacks coach for the Raiders. He interviewed with the Raiders, and then got what he really wanted: a hefty raise to stay at USC. Since then, he’s become head coach at the University of Washington.
Davis turned to another USC assistant, Lane Kiffin, who really wanted a college head-coaching job, but knew he had to get more of a reputation. The Raiders’ job was even worse than he’d expected. Kiffin knew the top college players because he’d tried to recruit many of them, but Davis wouldn’t listen to him. Kiffin advised against drafting JaMarcus Russell, but Davis did that anyway. Kiffin wanted to bring in his dad as defensive coordinator, but Davis wouldn’t do that either, because he wanted a coach he could control.
So, by his second season, Kiffin was in revolt and got his wish, being fired after four games. He’s now landed the type of job he wanted, as coach of the Tennessee Vols.
Harbaugh reportedly tried to emulate Sarkisian last fall; I’m told the delay in his signing of a new contract at Stanford was that he was trying to use the possibility of going to the Raiders as a means of getting more money from Stanford.
It didn’t work. Stanford doesn’t believe in paying the going rate for football coaches, believing that they shouldn’t be paid much more than top professors. That’s a nice philosophical approach, but it’s also the reason Stanford football has lagged for much of this decade.
But they’re not lagging this season. Harbaugh has done a terrific job with this team, getting them to forget about the immediate past and focusing on this season. He has a top-notch running back in Toby Gerhart, who has even hinted he might stay around for his senior season in 2010, and a redshirt freshman quarterback, Andrew Luck, who looks as if he’ll be the latest in a long line of great Stanford quarterbacks. With the help of a strong defense, the Cardinal is off to a 3-0 start in Pac-10 play.
Stanford is in a tough spot Saturday with a road game in Corvallis, Ore., against the Oregon State Beavers. The Beavers usually fly under the radar, but they’re well coached by Mike Riley and have two outstanding offensive players in brothers James and Jacquizz Rodgers.
Whatever happens against the Beavers, Harbaugh has a bright future. I don’t see him going to the NFL. I think his coaching style is much better suited to collegiate ball, where head coaches can be much more hands on. An NFL head coach is more like the CEO of a company, setting the style for the team while assistants do the coaching.
Harbaugh will eventually get an offer which gives him a better chance to succeed, and more money. But it will be with another college, not the Raiders.
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.