Jim Harbaugh took over as the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers prior to the 2011 season. Since then, all Harbaugh has done is lead the 49ers to the NFC Championship Games three consecutive years, including a Super Bowl berth in 2012.
It has been one of the most successful coaching tenures in recent memory, but it won’t be enough to save his job. Harbaugh has reportedly been at odds with general manager Trent Baalke for quite some time now and this year’s disappointing campaign will be the tipping point. At 7-6, San Francisco will miss the playoffs. Because of that, the winds of change are blowing by the Bay.
The 49ers could decide to fire Harbaugh, allowing him to go anywhere in the NFL. They could also choose to trade him since he is under contract through next season. Should San Francisco do that, expect it to receive at least one first-round pick and more in the later rounds.
When the Oakland Raiders traded Jon Gruden in 2002 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, they received two first-round picks, two-second round selections and $8 million.
So, where will Harbaugh end up? Let’s handicap the race with percentages.
Oakland Raiders – 50 percent
Harbaugh loves the West Coast. Since breaking into the big time, Harbaugh has been with Stanford and San Francisco, so it makes plenty of sense to stay in California. The Raiders are a once-proud franchise who desperately need some good vibes and a real coach. Additionally, the team might be moving to Los Angeles, making it infinitely more attractive.
Ownership has never been shy in Oakland, so a high-price tag won’t scare off the Raiders. This is definitely the front-runner. The only fly in the ointment is whether Harbaugh believes the team is simply too awful. Does he want to go through a sizable rebuilding project? If not, he will have other options.
New York Jets – 25 percent
New York is always a draw, even though the team is a total mess. Owner Woody Johnson doesn’t have a terrific reputation around the league as a football man, but he’s not dumb. Johnson knows the hiring of Harbaugh would be a huge get for the Jets and turn around the feelings of the fanbase.
Harbaugh would inherit a roster with some talent but absolutely no quarterback and a city that is known for a hoard of media members. Does Harbaugh want to deal with the circus?
Michigan Wolverines – 15 percent
This is the dark-horse. Michigan football has been terrible under Brady Hoke, and very successful NFL coaches do not normally jump from the professional ranks back to college. That said, Harbaugh is a Michigan man and would come back a conquering hero.
It’s not likely he returns to Ann Arbor, but it can’t be ruled out. Some people feel major pressure to right wrongs, and Harbaugh might look at the current state of Michigan football as a serious wrong.
Sit out a season – 5 percent
If the 49ers elect to trade him, Harbaugh could sit out the remainder of his deal and wait for better opportunities in 2016. It is very hard to see someone young, successful and maniacally driven by winning sitting on the sidelines, but it is possible. Maybe San Francisco only tries to move him to Oakland and he absolutely refuses. It’s not probable, but it is possible.
Others – 5 percent
You always have to account for something insane happening. Maybe the New Orleans Saints panic and axe Sean Payton. Maybe Bill Belichick wins another Super Bowl and decided he wants to go fishing more often. Perhaps the New York Giants make an unexpected play at Harbaugh and foil their in-stadium rivals, the woeful Jets.
Expect anything and everything to happen as this drama unfolds.