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 McDaniels, John DeFilippo, Steve 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.