The idea of Jim Harbaugh returning to the NFL has seemed like a leverage play since the rumor started floating around, shortly after Michigan’s loss to eventual national champion Georgia in the Orange Bowl.
Three weeks ago, the talk was fuzzy: maybe the Raiders would be interested in Harbaugh, and maybe Harbaugh would be interested in going to Las Vegas. It was specific enough to be a real threat, but easy enough to dismiss as idle chatter. Harbaugh took a pay cut last year, then finally beat Ohio State, won the Big Ten, and got to the College Football Playoff. An NFL rumor could pave the way to getting that contract redone to stay in Ann Arbor.
It’s a lot more serious when the report, from ProFootballTalk, is Harbaugh interviewing with the Vikings on Saturday night. That doesn’t read so much as the Vikings vetting Harbaugh for the job as Harbaugh talking to new Minnesota general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and seeing if it’s something he wants to do. The Vikings aren’t going to reject the best and most accomplished coach they could hope to land.
Where Michigan should be afraid is that Minnesota is a much better situation for Harbaugh to return to the NFL than Las Vegas would be.
If Harbaugh’s wish is to return to the Super Bowl, after losing it to his brother nine years ago with San Francisco, why would he sign up for needing to play Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert four times a year just to be able to make the playoffs, then maybe have to deal with Josh Allen, Joe Burrow, or Lamar Jackson (not to mention coaching against brother John) in the AFC playoffs?
Meanwhile, the Vikings finished 8-9 this season, but in second place behind the Packers, who are either going to lose Aaron Rodgers or delay an inevitable drop-off for one more year. With all due respect to Justin Fields — and Harbaugh should have that from college — nobody is scared of the Bears, and the Lions are the Lions until proven otherwise, which is a long way from happening. In the NFC playoffs, your opposition is topping out at quarterback with Kyler Murray, Dak Prescott, or Matthew Stafford.
Kirk Cousins isn’t great, but he can hold his own against those guys, and you can absolutely imagine Harbaugh building an offense around three-time 1,000-yard rusher Dalvin Cook, and just enough throws to Justin Jefferson.
Harbaugh may be able to see that, too. If he likes the idea, the NFL coaching cycle is going to get a lot more interesting, and the college carousel is going to pick right back up where it left off.