I’m not saying Jim Harbaugh is the greatest and most essential football coach on the market. It’s not clear if he’s great, essential or even on the market.
I’m just saying if University of Michigan owner Steve Ross won’t let Miami Dolphins owner Steve Ross hire Harbaugh out of some schoolboy allegiance, it’s an injustice to his pro team. And its players. And its fans.
Ross said three weeks ago as Dolphins owner, “I’m not going to be the person who takes Jim Harbaugh away from Michigan.”
But what if Harbaugh takes himself away from Michigan? The Minnesota Vikings interviewed Harbaugh on Saturday night, Pro Football Talk reported. Harbaugh also talked to the Chicago Bears, I’m told. Maybe that’s the opening Ross awaited.
Harbaugh would make some sense from the nonsense of this Dolphins coaching search. Slow-cooking the process? Losing one candidate in Brian Daboll to the New York Giants, perhaps, because they waited?
The dots connect on this process if Ross and Harbaugh connect. We’ll see. Last week, the word among some NFL officials was Harbaugh was going to wait until after Wednesday’s National Signing Day before exploring NFL options. It’s all about the kids, right?
If the finalists for the Dolphins job are Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel and Harbaugh, it’s no contest who has the best NFL portfolio. Moore hasn’t coordinated a playoff win. McDaniel’s good offensive work is in coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense. How much does that matter?
Harbaugh has done more in taking San Francisco to the Super Bowl in 2013. But he’s also coached 10 mostly mediocre years at Michigan. So it’s up to the Dolphins’ brain trust — Ross, general manager Chris Grier and team president Tom Garfinkel — to decide who works best.
They’re interviewing these guys. They see their plans and staffs. Their jobs — and full careers in Grier’s case — come down to making these right decisions.
There’s another side to this, too: Harbaugh took a pay cut at Michigan a year ago. After making the College Football Playoff this year, does he want some money back? Is that why his name is floating out there?
Harbaugh, too, is known for not getting along with everyone. It’s part of the package. San Francisco picked general manager Trent Baalke over him at one point. That’s got to be a topic for the Dolphins, considering Brian Flores was fired for not playing well with team officials.
If Moore or McDaniel come, the coach won’t be a traditional NFL head coach with full say and power over everything. They’ll run the offense with the quarterback they’re handed. That’s one model.
Harbaugh is the other model. He’ll be the traditional coach and lord of the manor. He’ll decide on the roster, pick his staff and judge the quarterback most of all. Maybe he’ll get along with everyone. Maybe not.
The question all these candidates face is one the Dolphins seem to have decided. The Dolphins think they’re close and point to the rising defense, the free-agent money and the Cincinnati Bengals going from the worst team in 2019 to the Super Bowl.
Cincinnati got Joe Burrow in the 2020 draft. When the quarterback matters, all the other decisions matter. And, yes, it’s a testament to the Dolphins messing up their tanking they missed on him. Then again, they missed on Justin Herbert, too.
Here’s how close the Dolphins are as of right now: They went 2-5 and were outscored 209-109 against playoff teams. If you consider teams that reached the second round, they went 0-4 and were outscored 138-31. Can one offseason close that?
Bottom-line: The coach matters. But it’s not the coach alone — unless he improves the picking of players, the development of players and the general philosophy of this team.
A decade ago, Ross flew across the country with general manager Jeff Ireland to not-so-secretly court Harbaugh. That infuriated coach Tony Sparano and split a franchise.
Ross was right on one thing: Harbaugh was the coach to get then. He developed a team and took San Francisco to the Super Bowl in 2013. But that was then. And now?
Ross’ name is on the Michigan business school. His ring tone on his cell phone is set to Michigan’s fight song, “Hail to the Victors.”
He said he wouldn’t hire Harbaugh from that school. This also is the franchise where Nick Saban once stated before leaving, “Well, I have to say it: I’m not going to be the Alabama coach.”
Harbaugh makes sense of this Dolphins’ slow search for a coach. The only question is if he’s the right guy for the job.