Along with more reputable media outlets, we had been told multiple times by several different sources that, if Jim Harbaugh were to leave Stanford, his inclination would be to ply his coaching wares in the NFL.
Unfortunately for the Cardinal faithful — and, as it turns out, Michigan fans as well — that turned out to be precisely the case.
Eschewing a very real and legitimate shot at the Wolverines vacancy, or remaining at Stanford with a 2011 Heisman Trophy contender at quarterback firmly in his back pocket, Harbaugh has instead opted to take his talents to the next level. Culminating a week’s worth of rumors attaching him to various NFL openings, Harbaugh has officially agreed to become the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers.
Harbaugh was introduced at a press conference Friday afternoon local time after agreeing in principle on a five-year, $25 million deal.
“Jim Harbaugh has done an outstanding job of advancing the football program at Stanford University and I am grateful for all of his tremendous work,” athletic director Bob Bowlsby said in a statement. “Coach Harbaugh has led the program with integrity, vision, enthusiasm and energy and his teams have played with precision and exceptional passion. Jim has been a relentless recruiter and he has been successful in enticing some of the finest scholar-athletes in the nation to attend Stanford University. We wish Jim all the best with his new challenges and we know that he will continue to be highly successful.”
“We are grateful to Jim Harbaugh for re-energizing the Stanford football program over the past four years,” university president John Hennessy said. “He helped build momentum that we are confident will continue into the future. We made Jim the best offer we could commensurate with our role as a university. We wish him the best of luck and look forward to his continuing contributions to football in the Bay Area.”
As for where Stanford will now turn for a replacement, the current scuttlebutt is that the school may very well look to stay in-house. Specifically, offensive coordinator David Shaw and associate head coach/assistant head coach offense Greg Roman have been mentioned as very real possibilities. Roman was reportedly a finalist for the Vanderbilt opening, and will interview for the Pittsburgh job Sunday.
Other possibilities that have been winding their way through the grapevine? Oregon State head coach Mike Riley and Tulsa head coach Todd Graham. The latter has already interviewed for the vacancy at Pittsburgh, while the former would appear to be a longshot at best, especially after being considered the top contender to replace Pete Carroll at USC last January. Riley ultimately turned down the opportunity, and signed a contract extension through the 2019 season with the Beavers.
Given his deep Pac-10/West Coast roots, and the fact that he’s not currently attached to a coaching job, former Oregon head coach Mike Bellotti will most certainly be mentioned as well.
Regardless of where the Cardinal ultimately turn, this is a very, very significant blow for a program that’s very much on the rise and is/was poised to be a major player on the national scene for years to come. Fortunately for those with a vested interest in the program, Harbaugh left the team in much, much better shape than when he first took over.