Funny isn’t it. If Jim Harbaugh remains at Stanford, he could be coaching a better quarterback than he likely would with the 49ers or Broncos. Then again, if Harbaugh leaves the Cardinal for his suitors in San Francisco or Denver, Andrew Luck may very well jump to the NFL too.
As the mystery double feature unfolds, there’s one overriding factor to consider: Harbaugh has outgrown The Farm. After taking the once-horrible Stanford program to the elite of college football, what more can he achieve there? With the impending departure of nine starters, plus possibly Luck, the ever-ambitious Harbaugh isn’t going to stick around while more lucrative and prominent opportunities are there for the taking.
Now, if Stanford was as football-crazed as it was in the Jim Plunkett and John Elway days, maybe he stays. But, nobody entices a school to spend $80,000 on a private bathroom at his office as Lord Jim did only to see thousands of empty seats each week at the beautifully refurbished Stanford Stadium.
Sure, the University of Michigan job beckons. But his alma mater can’t offer what I believe Harbaugh truly wants: The biggest stage. Harbaugh has NFL coaching experience and aspirations. He was an offensive assistant with the Raiders when they went to the Super Bowl in 2002, Oakland’s quarterbacks coach in 2003 and quietly interviewed for the Jets coaching job in 2009. Throw in the intense rivalry with older brother John Harbaugh, whose Baltimore Ravens by the way host the 49ers next season and you have all the makings of a return to the pros for the one-time NFL Comeback Player of the Year.
After watching Stanford’s multiple-set, pro-style attack put up more than 40 points per game this season, there’s no doubt Harbaugh has the offensive talents to succeed in the NFL. Maybe he brings Vic Fangio, the Cardinal’s well-respected defensive coordinator and former longtime NFL assistant with him.
The question is, where? While Broncos new executive Elway has the Stanford connection in his corner, Denver is light-years from being a good team. Likewise for the Carolina Panthers, who have a coaching vacancy and the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft.
A source told me the Raiders are hot for Harbaugh’s services and that’s what prompted the Tom Cable dismissal Tuesday. Though some outlets have reported Hue Jackson already has the job locked up.
Meanwhile, the 49ers are closer to home and only a couple of players away from being a playoff contender. Look for Jed York to go all out to get Harbaugh. The team’s young president was once foolishly wowed by the self-promoting wizardry of Mike Nolan. Then he impulsively fell under the spell of Mike Singletary’s Svengali-like persona. Harbaugh’s hard-charging, college “rah-rah” style may not work with some grizzled NFL veterans, but York would probably do cartwheels at Candlestick Park to get him to coach in S.F.
Luck’s story is equally intriguing. The 21-year-old quarterback is scheduled to take a 19-credit course load next semester. How do you prepare for the NFL combine, OTA’s and mini-camps while pursuing a degree in architectural design? A Stanford source told me Luck was telling friends he wants to stay in school, but that was before he put on a passing clinic in the Orange Bowl that all but guarantees his status as the first or second overall pick in the draft.
Unfortunately for the 49ers, three of the six teams selecting ahead of them — Panthers, Cardinals and Browns — also need a QB. After beating Virginia Tech, Luck intimated Harbaugh’s future plans would influence his. Right now it looks like the Cardinal will have a new coach and quarterback in 2011.
KGO (810 AM) Sports Director Rich Walcoff can be heard weekdays from 5 to 9 a.m. on the KGO morning news. He can be reached at RichWalcoff@gmail.com.