Packers Head Coach Candidate: Jim Harbaugh


Jim Harbaugh’s success in both the NFL and college football has led to an interesting phenomenon: just about any time a high profile job opens up, Harbaugh’s name comes up as a candidate.

It doesn’t matter whether he’s interested or not or whether the job is a fit or not. If there’s a potential job opening, someone will connect the dots.

And now that the job in question is in Green Bay, someone is bound to bring up Harbaugh as a contender to shepherd the Packers into the twilight of Aaron Rodgers’ career and beyond.

The details on Harbaugh

Most recent job: Head coach for the University of Michigan (2015-present)
Record as a head coach: 96-40 as a college coach; 44-19 in the NFL
First job: Quarterbacks coach, Oakland Raiders (2002)
Packers connection: Minimal Packers connections, but his parents have lived in Mequon since former Tom Crean, who married their daughter (Harbaugh’s sister), became the head basketball coach at Marquette in 2003.

The background on Jim Harbaugh

Harbaugh is a rare example of a successful professional athlete who went on to become an equally (or perhaps even more) successful coach. Very few people who have succeeded at their sport’s highest level have the skills (or desire) to bridge the gap from player to coach.

After 14 years in the NFL as a player, Harbaugh joined the Oakland Raiders staff as a quarterbacks coach in 2002. Under Bill Callahan, the Raiders went 11-5 that season and represented the AFC in the Super Bowl, losing to Jon Gruden and the Buccaneers. Harbaugh again coached the Raiders’ quarterbacks in 2003 but moved on after a disappointing season.

After leaving Oakland, Harbaugh’s coaching career took off. He signed on as the head coach at the University of San Diego in 2004 and led the Torreros to a 29-6 record over three seasons there, including 11-1 campaigns in 2005 and 2006. While at San Diego, Harbaugh coached linebacker Eric Bakhtiari, the older brother of Packers’ offensive lineman David Bakhtiari.

In 2007, Harbaugh became the head coach at Stanford University, where he helped build the Cardinal into the football force they are today. While there, Harbaugh most notably worked with quarterback Andrew Luck, who led the Cardinal to a 12-1 record and an Orange Bowl win in 2010.

In 2011, Harbaugh furthered his reputation as something of an itinerant football coach when he took the job as the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. Under Harbaugh, the 49ers became an instant force in the NFC. The 49ers advanced to the NFC Championship game in each of Harbaugh’s first three seasons (beating the Packers in 2012 and 2013 on their way) and went to the Super Bowl in 2012. Facing his brother John, Harbaugh’s 49ers came up short in his only championship appearance as head coach to date.

After conflicts with ownership led to a disappointing 2014 season, Harbaugh left the 49ers for something of a homecoming, returning to his alma mater to become the head coach at the University of Michigan. Though they have yet to beat rival Ohio State, Harbaugh’s Wolverines have won at least 10 games in three of his first four years in Ann Arbor. After compiling a 10-1 regular season record in 2018, they’re slated to play in the Peach Bowl.

Jim Harbaugh’s biggest moment

Harbaugh’s teams have been successful in every one of his coaching stops to date, but his signature moment is probably his 2012 playoff run with the San Francisco 49ers.

The #2 seed in the NFC Playoffs that year, the 49ers had a first-round bye but played host to the Packers in the divisional round. Bolstered by a career day from quarterback Colin Kaepernick, the 49ers defeated the Packers 45-31.

In the NFC Championship, Harbaugh’s 49ers fell behind 17-0 in the first half but rallied to defeat the Atlanta Falcons 28-24.

Advancing to the Super Bowl, Harbaugh and the 49ers played the Baltimore Ravens closely but failed to score on a key late drive. Despite a first and goal from the Ravens’ seven-yard line, the 49ers couldn’t reach the end zone an ultimately fell 34-31.

In Jim Harbaugh’s own words

Harbaugh is known for his intense competitiveness, approaching every day with “enthusiasm unknown to mankind” in his desire to be the very best at whatever he does. Whatever the competition (real or imagined), Harbaugh wants to win.

As a younger man, that desire extended to his height. He wanted to be at least 6-2, and hearing that milk built strong bones, he figured out a way to get access to the dairy product as a milk distributor at St. Francis Elementary School as a student.

"I prayed about it a lot – 'I want to be 6-2, I want to be 6-2,'" he told HBO in an interview for a profile on Real Sports. "So we started delivering milk every day and we got one free milk for delivering all the milk. But every kid that was absent, every kid that was sick, every kid that didn't show up or didn't want their milk, that tray would go back to the little milk room and I would just drink as much milk as my belly could hold. I drank a lot of milk.

"Whole milk. Not the candy-ass 2%. I finally got to 6-3."

Harbaugh still drinks plenty of milk to this day. He describes it as a “natural steroid” (along with steak, water, and sleep) and he’s been known to pair milk with a steak on occasion.

What are the chances Jim Harbaugh is the next Packers head coach?

Jon’s Rating: 2/5

As with Lincoln Riley (and to a lesser extent Kliff Kingsbury), there are inherent obstacles to prying a college coach out of his job. Being a successful college coach is a great gig, potentially a lucrative lifetime appointment if you do the job well enough. And Harbaugh, though he hasn’t achieved his ultimate goal at Michigan, has been quite successful. Michigan seems pleased: they’re paying him $7 million per year plus extensive perks and incentives.

But Harbaugh has a well-deserved reputation for two things: being a little bit (perhaps more than a little bit) hard to work with and moving to new jobs every few years. So far, he’s never stayed at any coaching job for more than four years, and he’s about to finish his fourth season at Michigan. If there’s a window for hiring Harbaugh, it would appear to be opening.

Harbaugh’s personality may not make him an ideal fit in the reserved culture of Green Bay, and it’s possible he’d clash with quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers’ feelings shouldn’t be a primary consideration, but the goal of the Packers’ next hire is to maximize Rodgers’ remaining years in the NFL. Is Harbaugh the right person to do that?

Gary’s Rating: 1/5

Perhaps the most common narrative that followed Jim Harbaugh when he left the San Francisco for the University of Michigan was how he wore out his welcome with the 49ers. Harbaugh and an excellent front office won often in San Francisco, and the enthusiasm inside the building towards the coach faded faster than most anticipated.

Now, Harbaugh is four years into his tenure at Michigan. He’s winless against their hated rival Ohio State, and that puts the best, most optimistic evaluation of his tenure with the Wolveries as a modest success.

If Harbaugh wasn’t tempted to return to the NFL to coach Andrew Luck – the quarterback who he recruited and won big with at Stanford – it’s hard to see Harbaugh interested in the job in Green Bay. Rodgers is older than Luck, and there doesn’t seem to be anyone inside the building that has a strong relationship to Harbaugh.

The one individual who may change that is headhunter Jed Hughes. If he does become part of the search process in Green Bay – he helped Murphy with the general manager gig – he has significant ties to Michigan and even helped bring Harbaugh to the university. Perhaps he will be the one to take him away from it.