The No. 4 Stanford Cardinal capped off one of their strongest seasons ever with an impressive 40-12 Orange Bowl victory over the Virginia Tech Hokies on Monday. Unfortunately for them, the two most important members of the team may not return next season.
While sophomore quarterback Andrew Luck, a Heisman runner-up, contemplates leaving Stanford for the NFL, much has been speculated regarding head coach Jim Harbaugh. Many suspect that Harbaugh will leave the Cardinal, who just four seasons ago went 1-11, for another head-coaching position, either at the NFL or collegiate level.
One intriguing possibility has reportedly opened up in Michigan, by whom coach Rich Rodriguez was fired on Tuesday. Rumors have circulated that Harbaugh would be interested in becoming head coach of the Wolverines, his alma mater. He played quarterback for four seasons at Michigan in the 1980s. As a junior, he led the Wolverines to a Fiesta Bowl win and a No. 2 finish in the polls. A year later, Harbaugh took Michigan to the Rose Bowl and he finished as, statistically, one of the top quarterbacks in school history.
Considering the success of Harbaugh and the Wolverines over 20 years ago, it is tempting to picture the former star quarterback as head coach of a lesser Michigan team that went 7-5 during the regular season and was blown out by Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl.
However, should Michigan attempt to bring in Harbaugh as head coach, they will be met with heavy competition from the NFL. Several NFL head coaches are on the hot seat and could be let go soon, and Harbaugh figures to be a target of plenty of these teams. The San Francisco 49ers have fired Mike Singletary and the Cleveland Browns let Eric Mangini go. Opportunities could also open up in Cincinnati, Miami, Tennessee, Denver, Oakland, and Carolina.
Harbaugh, whose brother John is the head coach of the 12-4 Baltimore Ravens, was drafted in the first round of the 1987 draft by Chicago, and also played for Indianapolis, Baltimore, and San Diego before retiring in 2001.
His coaching career began as an assistant on his father’s staff at Western Kentucky University from 1994-2001, while his NFL career was still ongoing. After retiring from playing, he served as the Oakland Raiders’ offensive assistant in 2002 and quarterbacks coach in 2003. Harbaugh was then the head coach of the University of San Diego before being hired by Stanford in December 2006.
In January 2009, he interviewed for the New York Jets’ head-coaching position, which was eventually given to Rex Ryan.