Jim Harbaugh

Bears Coaching Confidential: Jim Harbaugh

Bears Coaching Confidential: Jim Harbaugh

With the Bears' beginning their head coaching search this week, NBC Sports Chicago Bears Insider JJ Stankevitz and producer Paul Aspan will examine 10 coaching candidates who could be considered by Ryan Pace and team ownership. We've covered four coordinators already in Josh McDanielsJohn DeFilippoSteve Wilks and Pat Shurmur. Today: The biggest fish who might be in the pond. 

JJ: Jim Harbaugh is the biggest name and most accomplished coach to be linked to the Bears job, even if it’s just via tangential rumors. Not only did he play seven years with the Bears in the 1980’s and 1990’s (with a winning record as a starter), but he won 11 or more games in three of his four seasons with the San Francisco 49ers and took them to Super Bowl XLVII. But would he leave a high-paying job at Michigan for the uncertainty of the NFL? Let’s entertain this one for a moment. 

Paul: This is my reaction when people automatically rule him out.

Amani Toomer (Michigan alum) just compared him to PARIS HILTON

1. I didn't even know she was still doing things until she apparently got engaged this week (these things just show up on my twitter feed, don’t ask me how). At least hit me with a Kardashian comparison. Even if it's Khloe. The Kardashian curse can't makes things any worse for this franchise after the last four years.

2. Tara Reid is a much more accurate comparison. America's darling for a small spell but you always knew there was some crazy underneath...so after a little success it's just fully on display. But would you really say no??  Chicago could be Harbaugh's SHARKNADO PHASE!!!  

3. We're talking about a guy who broke his hand by punching Jim Kelly (then an analyst) when he was QB in Indianapolis because in Harbaugh's mind, Kelly questioned his toughness. This is the same guy who clearly said something obscene enough to get Jim Schwartz to storm after him like a madman after a mid-field "handshake." As I write this, it's dawning on me that both of these altercations came against another guy named Jim. So he's got a Jim superiority complex, that's fine, just keep Jim Miller away from Halas Hall.

Let's play ultimate devil's advocate here:

1. You mentioned it, the fact of the matter is he took a 49ers team that wasn't good before or since him to the NFC championship three years in a row, and he was a massive power outage away from winning a Super Bowl with them. Something everyone now believes Jimmy Garoppolo will surely do next in the near future.

2. He has his defensive coordinator from his 49ers days - Vic Fangio - already in place in Chicago.nThat 49ers team had a top 3 scoring defense in each of those NFC championship game seasons and there are at least some ingredients for a strong defense on this Bears team.

3. He got just about everything he could out of Alex Smith and then turned on a dime and did the same with Colin Kaepernick. No reason to believe he wouldn't accomplish the same with Mitch Trubisky. 

4. He's an OG Bear and brings it full circle back to the Ditka days. Granted the post Super Bowl Ditka days.

I think we agree there’s no chance of this happening, but after another bowl game loss and the heat getting turned up on Harabugh in Ann Arbor, maybe he should consider leaving a little more seriously. I was actually holding out hope that with the Ravens missing the playoffs, Baltimore might break up with his brother, John, putting him in the mix, but no luck.

JJ: Look, there’s little doubt Harbaugh would be a home run hire -- in fact, he’s probably the only guy on our list that would really invigorate the fanbase as soon as he stepped in front of the cameras at Halas Hall. Paul spelled that out well in the points above. But if we assume the Bears would be interested in him, there are still three key reasons why he’s a longshot, none of which involve Tara Reid or the Kardashians or Sharknado:

1. Why would he leave Michigan? He’s making $7 million, and would probably have to be offered more than that to leap back to the NFL. His contract at Michigan runs through 2021, and while some folks want to put him on the hot seat in Ann Arbor, he’s not there yet. Yes, there always is the allure of going back to the NFL, but Harbaugh seems to genuinely enjoy recruiting, which isn’t always the case for college coaches with pro experience. Recruiting means he gets to control the roster; he wouldn’t be afforded the same control with the Bears. Oh, and he recently landed via transfer Shea Patterson, the former No. 1 quarterback recruit (and No. 3 national recruit) from the class of 2016. Harbaugh hasn’t had a top-level quarterback at Michigan yet; he might have that in Patterson, and that could help him swat away any thoughts of leaving. 

2. Why would the Bears shell out so much money for him? Even if Harbaugh were interested in a return to the NFL, it’d take an exorbitant amount of money to lure him to Chicago. First, the Bears would have to cover his buyout from his Michigan contract, which is probably about $1 million. Second, they’d then have to offer him upward of $8 million a year to be their coach. And third, they’d still be paying John Fox’s 2018 salary, bringing the final total well above $10 million. Perhaps that’d be a palatable number for ownership to pay -- George McCaskey said on Monday “We’ll be competitive, and we’ll get the right guy for the Bears,” when asked if money would be a concern. But would they also pay up for Harbaugh to hire the assistant coaches he wants? This would be a hire that would quickly get pricey, perhaps prohibitively so.

3. Even if you clear the hurdles of Nos. 1 and 2, consider this: Why would Harbaugh come to the Bears? Yes, the Bears were the team that drafted him 31 years ago, but just because he played here from 1987-1993 doesn’t mean he *had* to come away with a positive view of the franchise. He also played for the Indianapolis Colts from 1994-1997, and that franchise has a coaching vacancy, too. 

Scripts flipped for Ohio State and Michigan heading into 2017, but don't be surprised if Big Ten, college football seasons again come down to Buckeyes and Wolverines

Scripts flipped for Ohio State and Michigan heading into 2017, but don't be surprised if Big Ten, college football seasons again come down to Buckeyes and Wolverines

Jim Harbaugh has himself a catchphrase.

You’re probably familiar with it: “Who’s got it better than us?”

The answer, as this is a call-and-response kind of thing, is “nobody.”

And while a great many metrics could back that claim up, it hasn’t exactly been 100-percent true through the first two years of the Jim Harbaugh Experience up in Ann Arbor.

Because in each of those seasons, Ohio State has had it better than Michigan.

Urban Meyer’s program got the jump on Harbaugh’s, obviously, Meyer entering his sixth season in Columbus. His tenure has been defined exclusively by winning, no matter what that famed photo of Meyer eating Papa John’s on a golf cart in the bowels of Lucas Oil Stadium might lead you to believe.

Since Meyer’s arrival at Ohio State, the Buckeyes have posted a jaw-dropping 61-6 record, won at least a share of five division titles, played in a pair of Big Ten title games, appeared in four bowl games of the highest caliber and won two of them, made two trips to the College Football Playoff and won the national championship to wrap a remarkable 2014 season.

Oh, and they’ve twice beaten the Wolverines.

While neither victory punched Ohio State’s ticket to Indianapolis — Michigan State and Penn State each winning the East Division crown in the last two seasons, respectively — last year’s win in the double-overtime classic cemented the Buckeyes' spot in the Playoff. The loss kept the Wolverines out of it.

This time around, the roles are a bit reversed. Last year, Ohio State lost an unbelievable amount of talent to the NFL and started the season as one of college football’s youngest teams, questions of inexperience the preseason topic du jour. This year, Meyer’s annually stacked roster has his team the Big Ten favorite once more, blessed with experience. Meanwhile, a veteran-laden Michigan team was expected to do big things. This year, the Wolverines have lost more starters than most teams throughout the country — a large number of which went to the NFL — and have question marks to deal with that has stuck them behind Ohio State and Penn State in a number of preseason prognostications.

But even with the scripts flipped, the story might end up the same. Once more, it seems that The Game — not to mention the 11 for each team that precede college football’s most anticipated rivalry bout — will determine who wins the Big Ten.

And once more, it could be Ohio State best positioned to answer “who’s got it better than us?” with “nobody.”


College football coaches dislike few things more than preseason predictions.

Meyer certainly won’t lose any sleep over which pick-makers have made Ohio State their preseason picks to win the Big Ten and win the whole darned thing.

But here’s what he does think:

“Ohio State is always going to be there,” Meyer said Monday at Big Ten Media Days. “I mean, it should be one of the top schools in our conference.”

An ambitious goal for most, Meyer has earned the right to set it. His recruiting classes are annually among the best in the country. His previously described resume speaks for itself. And even without him, Ohio State is one of college football’s most legendary powers. It’s 100-percent true that a preseason where the Buckeyes weren’t considered one of the nation’s top contenders would be a strange one.

And so 2017 is no different.

Last preseason maybe felt a little different. Meyer watched a dozen members of his 2015 roster selected in the NFL Draft, arguably one of the most talented college teams ever having to settle for that — and a Fiesta Bowl beatdown of Notre Dame — as consolation after that walk-off field goal by Michigan State sunk Ohio State’s national-championship repeat hopes. Last year, the Buckeyes were one of the youngest teams in America. Who would replace Joey Bosa? Who would replace Ezekiel Elliott? Who would replace Darron Lee and Joshua Perry and Vonn Bell and Eli Apple?

And still Ohio State was the favorite to win the conference.

This preseason, similar questions surely do exist, with eight more Buckeyes getting their names called in this year’s draft. But those holes are being plugged with older guys, more experienced guys. Ohio State will have a brand-new starting secondary, a mostly brand-new receiving corps and other new starters everywhere a previous All-America type player left.

But there’s also an experienced offensive line, a couple of freaks at defensive end and a fourth-year starter at quarterback who’s still — despite an upsetting season in the passing game in 2016 — one of the best offensive players in the conference.

If the reload worked out last season — and a trip to the College Football Playoff indicated that it emphatically did — this season’s could be even more impressive thanks to the experience that goes along with it.

“Billy Price is going to be snapping the ball to J.T. Barrett. It’s not two freshmen or two rookies,” Meyer said. “The offensive line’s intact except for the right guard, so you’re going to have some established people.

“It’s been done without it, but we don't win the national championship in 2014 without (senior players). It’s one thing when you have seniors, but when seniors play their best football and it’s their last year … if we can say that same thing about this group, we’ll have an excellent season.”


Harbaugh doesn’t think Michigan is flying under anyone’s radar.

And it’s likely that the Wolverines will still be well-ranked in many of the preseason polls.

But it was Ohio State representing the Big Ten in last year’s College Football Playoff. It was Penn State that hoisted the trophy and showered in confetti after the Big Ten title game. Both of those teams have national-championship aspirations in 2017.

Michigan, which went through a lightning-fast transformation from a five-win team in Brady Hoke’s final season to a 10-win team in Harbaugh’s first, could potentially be playing third fiddle in a packed division which now has an annual claim to the title of college football’s toughest.

But the truth is that the Wolverines were better than almost anyone in the sport through the vast majority of last season. Powered by perhaps the nation's finest defense, they gave new meaning to the word dominant, doing impressive work against the Big Ten’s best — silencing the two teams that played for a league title, Penn State and Wisconsin — and obliterating those who weren’t in contention for much of anything, evidenced by the combined 178-11 poundings handed out to Rutgers, Illinois and Maryland.

But a lot changed after Harbaugh & Co. started the season 9-0.

Michigan lost three of its final four games, turning a potential trip to the Playoff into a 10-3 season that left the always-demanding Wolverine fan base wanting. A shocking upset at Iowa cost Michigan everything. And then hopes of a second-chance entrance into the Playoff field went out the window with the loss to Ohio State. Playing without their two best players, Jabrill Peppers and Jake Butt, the Wolverines lost to Florida State in the Orange Bowl.

Add the deficits up from those three losses and what do you get? Five. Five points. That’s all that kept Michigan from going undefeated.

“We lost three out of our last four games last year, two by one point and one by three points in overtime. Didn’t like that feeling,” Harbaugh said Tuesday, “and that’s motivated us to pour more time into the football team and our jobs and give more effort and pour more of our heart and soul into it.”

So while the odds might not exactly be in Michigan's favor entering this season — only six starters return from last year’s team, the quarterback situation is once again up in the air, and the Big Ten East has a couple hulking behemoths to contend with — Harbaugh is banking on hunger.

“I hope they (the players) have the same feeling,” Harbaugh said. “I hope they didn’t like losing those ballgames. They won a lot of ballgames, too, they won nine straight games. Nothing better than the high five after a ballgame. That feeling compared to the one where you’re losing a game in overtime or by point, much better to get the high five.

“I think a lot of guys on our team have learned that. I think that’s going to make things a little hotter, more competitive.”

He’s banking on hunger — and a really, really talented roster, of course. Headlined by sophomore defensive tackle Rashan Gary, Michigan’s ready to reload, not unlike their rivals to the south. The Wolverines have hauled in top-five recruiting classes in each of the past two seasons.

So don’t act surprised if Michigan is a championship contender again. Even if the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions are taking the majority of the preseason buzz, the Wolverines aren’t flying under anyone’s radar.


It’s impossible to know what will happen between now and Nov. 25.

But what is a pretty safe bet is that some sort of postseason hopes will be on the line Thanksgiving weekend in Ann Arbor.

Ohio State has the more favorable road to a Big Ten title, as Michigan has to travel to play both Penn State and Wisconsin. The Buckeyes are at home against the Lions and don’t play the Badgers. Both teams have tough non-conference matchups, Ohio State playing host to Oklahoma and Michigan traveling to Jerry World to play Florida.

For what it’s worth, fellow contender Penn State has the back-to-back bouts at the end of October against these two teams, a 1-2 punch that comes after what could be a tough challenge at Northwestern. The Lions haven’t beaten their feline brethren since James Franklin took over.

If the season does play out as expected, the Buckeyes will be favored in that final regular-season game — and they could bring an undefeated record with them. But the prevailing wisdom is that it will look more like last year’s three-point win in double overtime than the previous year’s 42-13 blowout.

Here's what we know for sure, though. Both teams are extremely talented. Both programs are extremely healthy. Both coaches are among the best in the country and have their eyes on winning championships.

There’s a reason the Big Ten, and college football with it, always hinges on The Game: It’s the culmination of the best division race in the sport. With all due respect to the SEC, it's a mighty rare situation when anything can be settled before Ohio State and Michigan play.

“I don’t think there's a gap at all,” Meyer said when asked about the difference between the Big Ten and the SEC. “And that’s no disrespect to other conferences. … I’ve coached in the SEC East when that was one of the strongest (divisions) in the country. And I think the Big Ten East right now is every bit as strong as I can remember the SEC East.

“I feel a great amount of respect nationally about the Big Ten. You sit and look at the national recruiting rankings and you see the Big Ten everywhere, all over the place, and that’s the way it should be.

“There’s a lot of credit to be given, obviously to the administrations that invest in their programs and to the coaching staffs that are out there doing the work. And this is as tough a conference as there is.”

In other words, if you want to know how the college football season will wind up going, you best free up four hours on the final Saturday in November. That might just tell you all you need to know.

White Sox draft Jim Harbaugh's nephew, son of former Indiana head coach

White Sox draft Jim Harbaugh's nephew, son of former Indiana head coach

The White Sox have taken the first step to paving a way for Jim Harbaugh to leave Michigan for a coaching job with the Bears.

Well, sort of.

As the White Sox were wrapping up Day 3 on the 2017 MLB Draft on Wednesday afternoon, they selected a player with a family connection to the Wolverines head coach.

Riley Crean, the nephew of Harbaugh and the son of former Indiana basketball head coach Tom Crean, was drafted by the White Sox in the 35th round (No. 1,047).

The South Siders connection with Riley Crean comes from White Sox Scouting Director Nick Hostetler being close friends with Tom Crean, according to the Chicago Tribune. Also, Riley Crean played for the White Sox Are Code Team.

Topping out at 87 MPH on the mound for Bloomington North High School as a senior in 2017, Riley Crean is currently committed to play baseball for the Hoosiers. However, the Herald-Times reports that Riley Crean will not attend Indiana and is headed to Florida to play for IMG Academy in 2018. Attending IMG will allow Riley Crean to be eligible for next year's draft, rather than having to wait until after his junior year to be selected again due to NCAA rules.

While Riley Crean won't be putting on a White Sox uniform anytime soon, it does give him a chance to eventually follow in his uncle's footsteps and play for the team that drafted him in Chicago.

Harbaugh played for the Bears from 1987-1993 after he was selected by the organization in the first round of the 1987 NFL Draft.

Maybe by the time Riley Crean is ready for the big leagues, Harbaugh will be pacing up and down the sidelines in his khakis at Soldier Field.