If Harbaugh Returns to the NFL
By: Adam Hulse (@AdamHulseSports)
It seems like every offseason since Jim Harbaugh left the NFL for the University of Michigan, his name comes up again when looking at head coaching vacancies. He was successful coaching at the pro level, making it all the way to the Super Bowl with the San Francisco 49ers, so it makes sense why he would be a speculative candidate for job openings. He is best known for bringing a culture of toughness to a locker room and is a great choice for a team looking to turn things around. Also, being a former quarterback himself, he provides expertise with that position as well.
When looking at potential fits for Harbaugh next offseason, a team in a transitional phase at the quarterback position while also relatively close to being competitive is probably the most ideal situation. It seems unlikely that he would even be interested in a full rebuild type of scenario. It’s also important to consider what teams could actually be in the market for a new head coach. All things considered, here are three teams that should consider him for their head coaching job next year if the situation calls for it.
The Broncos are an interesting team heading into this upcoming season. They have a very good roster, including a ton of young talent at the skill positions on offense to go with a solid defense from top to bottom. Their one big question mark right now is at the quarterback position. Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Lock have both showed flashes of hope at times, but have also shown that they may be no better than a backup at other times. In the case of Lock, who is now entering his third season with the team, it’s fair to wonder if head coach Vic Fangio is getting the most out of the young quarterback.
This is likely going to be a “prove it” year for Fangio as the head coach, especially considering the talent on the roster. He has not been good enough through two seasons, going 8-8 and 4-12 respectively. If the team does not show significant improvement and does not show signs of a solution at quarterback, the Broncos could surely be in the market to replace him. The team is built and ready for a coach like Harbaugh if they do decide to go that route. He could help them with their quarterback situation, and potentially turn a talented roster into a winning organization.
Like the Broncos, the Bears are another team in an interesting situation heading into this upcoming season. They did make the playoffs last year, but their season was more of a disappointment than it was successful. They only finished with an 8-8 record, so the postseason appearance was more about the conference being weak than the Bears being good. This lead to them releasing their starting quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, but somehow head coach Matt Nagy survived and kept his job as head coach. He will be on very thin ice this year.
If the Bears struggle at all this year, it’s really hard to imagine any way that they will stick with Nagy. Another important factor with this team is the quarterback situation. They signed veteran Andy Dalton, but more importantly, they drafted their quarterback of the future in Justin Fields. Developing the rookie is the most important task for this team over the next couple of years, and that is where Harbaugh could bring some serious value. After all, Nagy already failed at this same mission with Trubisky, so he will need to show this year he is capable of handling a young quarterback if he wants to keep his job.
The Bengals are a team that is hoping they are near the end of their full rebuild. They finally have some young talent and some reasons to be optimistic. The biggest thing they have going for them is their second-year quarterback Joe Burrow. Before unfortunately getting injured during his rookie season, he was living up to the high expectations he had after his historic season at LSU and being selected first overall in the NFL Draft. He is now highly regarded as a future star in this league.
It is yet to be seen if first-time head coach Zac Taylor is even capable of developing a young stud like Burrow. If Taylor appears to stumble at any point this year in handling this situation, the Bengals may not hesitate to move on from him and to a head coach with a proven track record. This is where Harbaugh could step in. The team is going to do whatever they believe is best for the development of Burrow. At some point, the Bengals want to transition from a rebuilding team to a competitive team, and they need the right coach to do so. Taylor has a lot to prove he is capable of this year, and he can start by improving on his abysmal 6-25-1 record as a head coach.