If Jim Harbaugh is indeed finished as the 49ers head coach (which has not been 100 percent established yet), then the market for such a talented and successful coach is going to be great, as we've already seen from weeks and weeks of open speculation about where he may land next.
Most of the focus seems to be on the University of Michigan job, which makes a certain amount of sense. Michigan is a storied program that has struggled during the last few years, and to keep the fan and donor mood more positive it would seem likely that Michigan would hire a coach with a history of success, and a name that will draw interest.
Harbaugh-to-Michigan has even gone beyond just prognosticating and pontificating, with Marcellus Wiley stating that Harbaugh has already agreed to and signed a deal with the school.
Now, while Wiley may be as "confident as can be" in his sources on this story, we've all seen supposed done deals like this go sour after information was leaked. So let's not dress Harbaugh in the Maize and Blue just yet.
The other destination getting a lot of traction in the news is the Oakland Raiders. Right now, the Raiders have an interim coach (Tony Sparano), and are on an active search for a permanent solution (as permanent as that job can be) for their head coach.
Again, there are certainly factors that would make the Oakland job attractive to Harbaugh, and a natural destination given his past association with the team as quarterbacks coach from 2002-2003. Right now the Raiders have a promising young quarterback in Derek Carr, and some young developmental pieces in place on defense.
With Harbaugh's hard-nosed reputation and the Raiders' image as a tough and nasty franchise, the fit seems ideal.
But there's a possible destination that has only been mentioned, that could be an even more attractive and natural landing spot than either of the above jobs. The only problem? There's already someone in the job. I'm speaking about the head coach job of the Chicago Bears, currently occupied by Marc Trestman.
There are rumors that Trestman and his staff are done after the season is over, and the fact that there has been no formal move towards that end may be why Harbaugh has been a little silent on what his future may hold. Is he perhaps waiting to see if the job in Chicago opens up before committing to Michigan, Oakland or any other job?If there's one coach who might be able to find the great quarterback lurking inside the depths of Cutler's stoic exterior, it's Jim Harbaugh.The Bears are a franchise in flux right now, with seemingly no direction and little in the way of kumbaya as a team. There are rumors of in-fighting, dissension with coaches and players, and of course...Jay Cutler.
Who better to wrap their sinewy arms around that hot mess, dip into the psyche of Cutler, and pull it all together than Jim Harbaugh, the guy who was the team's first-round draft pick as a quarterback in 1987.
The Bears franchise holds a special place in Harbaugh's heart, and his admiration of former head coach Mike Ditka, who still maintains contact with the team, is well documented.
Despite all the problems in Chicago, Harbaugh wouldn't be walking into a complete rebuild should he end up there. There are viable offensive weapons inf the form of Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, and Martellus Bennett, and a defense with some studs that needs to be retooled.
And then there's Cutler...the guy who needs someone to pick him up, dust him off, and coach him both physically and mentally, much like Harbaugh did with Alex Smtih in San Francisco. If there's one coach who might be able to find the great quarterback lurking inside the depths of Cutler's stoic exterior, it's Jim Harbaugh.
The fact that Harbaugh's parents are less than a two-hour drive from Chicago would be another factor to consider, as they have been forced to make numerous trips each year to the West Coast to visit their grandchildren.
But all of this hinges on what Bears' ownership decides to do with Marc Trestman at the end of the season. Do they scrap the experiment after only two seasons, and start fresh again, or do they give him a chance to prove that the two-year downhill slide isn't going to be a continuing trend?
The biggest sticking point for luring Harbaugh back to the Windy City would be money. Harbaugh still has one year left on his contract with the 49ers, on which he's owed about $5 million in base salary. Any NFL team looking to take Harbaugh on their own payroll would likely have to either provide cash and/or draft picks to the 49ers.
A situation like this could start a bidding war, and ultimately a coach-trade deal similar to what transpired between Oakland and Tampa Bay with Jon Gruden in 2002, where the Buccaneers gave up two first-round picks, two second-round picks, and $8 million for Gruden.
The questions remain about whether Harbaugh has more desire to return to the college ranks, or if he wants to remain in the NFL, and there are legitimate arguments in both directions. Harbaugh's personality and temperment may fly a little better with youthful, wide-eyed college players who are in need of discipline and direction.
But, Harbaugh may be at a point where his next two-fold goal is to finally bring home a Super Bowl trophy, and to give the 49ers ammazzo in the process. Chicago (if available) would seem the more desirable spot in which to do that.
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