If the Jets begin another coaching search in a few weeks, as most expect they will, a familiar name is sure to come up.
Jim Harbaugh has played a role in each of the last three coaching searches conducted by the Jets. There is reason to believe he will be a prominent name mentioned again this time around.
Harbaugh is in the midst of the worst season of his coaching career. His Michigan team is 1-3, the school’s worst start since 1967, two years before the legendary Bo Schembechler arrived in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines were embarrassed Saturday by Wisconsin, their 28-0 halftime deficit the largest in the 93-year history of the Big House.
It feels like Harbaugh’s time at Michigan is coming to an end. He has one year remaining on his contract after this season, has never beaten rival Ohio State and has failed to develop a quarterback during his six years at the school.
But firing Harbaugh won’t be easy for the school. This is like the Yankees firing Yogi Berra. Harbaugh was a legendary player at Michigan. His father was a longtime assistant coach at the school. Harbaugh has not won enough, but he has won 10 games three times, his players graduate and there have not been any scandals.
This is where the Jets come in.
The Jets could give Harbaugh and Michigan an easy out. If Harbaugh were to depart to return to the NFL and the chance to run the Jets, that’s a clean break for Harbaugh from his alma mater.
The Jets have been interested before. The team interviewed Harbaugh in 2009 before hiring Rex Ryan. At the time, Harbaugh had been the coach at Stanford for two years and while impressed, the Jets felt Ryan was the right guy for them.
At the end of the 2014 season, the Jets gauged Harbaugh’s interest as it was clear his run with the 49ers was over, but Harbaugh had decided to go to Michigan and the Jets hired Todd Bowles.
Near the end of the 2018 season, there was a report that the Jets were going to make a run at Harbaugh after firing Bowles. The Jets quickly shot down the report and never chased Harbaugh, instead hiring Adam Gase.
Gase has not been fired yet, but the feeling is he will be gone after this season, if not earlier. Team CEO and chairman Christopher Johnson along with general manager Joe Douglas will have to search for a new coach and Harbaugh is intriguing for a few reasons.
Despite not elevating Michigan as expected, Harbaugh’s record in the NFL is hard to argue with. The 49ers went 44-19-1 with Harbaugh at the helm. They went to the NFC Championship Game in three of his four seasons and the Super Bowl in one. He was the NFL Coach of the Year in 2011.
Harbaugh, 56, has also shown he can develop quarterbacks, although not recently. He coached Andrew Luck at Stanford, revived Alex Smith’s career in San Francisco and went to a Super Bowl with Colin Kaepernick.
One of the biggest mysteries of his time at Michigan has been his failure to recruit and develop a quarterback there. Would that stop the Jets from entrusting him with Trevor Lawrence if they take him No. 1?
The bigger concern with Harbaugh is his ability to play well with others. Harbaugh and 49ers GM Trent Baalke clashed and had a power struggle that Baalke ultimately won. Harbaugh has now been in the college game where coaches are kings of the program without anyone challenging their authority. The Jets hired Douglas 15 months ago to rebuild the team. They are not going to give Harbaugh or any other coach personnel power.
Maybe Harbaugh won’t be interested in personnel if he returns to the NFL, but his history would be a point of concern. There is no known link between Douglas and Harbaugh other than Harbaugh’s brother, John, coaching the Ravens while Douglas was in the scouting department there. That is hardly a strong bond.
Harbaugh checks a lot of boxes. He has been a head coach before. He took the 49ers from laughingstock to Super Bowl team. He is a quarterback expert, having played the position in the NFL and coached it.
The Jets have flirted with Harbaugh before, but the timing has not been right. The timing feels right this time and it could be a match.
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