The Harbaugh Lesson: Few Kingdoms Remain in the NFL

| February 7th, 2022

When Jim Harbaugh arrived in Minneapolis, he found something he was not looking for: a job interview.

He expected a coronation.

But the truth of the NFL is there are very few kingdoms remaining. Bill Belichick’s got one in New England. Andy Reid does too in Kansas City. And one could argue there are burgeoning kingdoms developing in the lands of McVay and Shanahan, but both have extensive, invaluable personnel departments and, truthfully, you can’t be a king until you’ve worn the crown on the NFL’s final Sunday.

Harbaugh began his recent dalliance with the NFL by floating the rumor he wanted Las Vegas. But as is always the case with Vegas, it’s way better in theory. Vegas had two potential plans for their leadership void: a pairing of Ed Dodds and Harbaugh, and a pairing of Dave Ziegler and Josh McDaniels. Knowing the financial demands of Harbaugh – reported (by DBB) to be north of $100 million – Vegas chose to avoid the quicksand of another “Gruden situation” and went with the latter. (McDaniels’ hiring of Patrick Graham to run his defense has made Vegas one of the early winners of the off-season.)

Then came the Bears.

Both Bill Polian and Ted Phillips were intrigued by the prospect of Harbaugh coaching the Chicago Bears, but the whole of the hiring committee, specifically George McCaskey, were wary of lowering the drawbridge and giving him a kingdom. This organization is about to undergo significant transition in the coming years, with Phillips retiring in 2023 and the team making plans for a new stadium in Arlington Heights. The last thing ownership wants is more transition when it comes to football operations. And with Harbaugh, an historic flibbertigibbet, every off-season would bring questions of his potential departure. (One 4-win season for Michigan would lead to Stephen Ross mailing his checkbook to Lake Forrest.)

There was call between the parties. It was brief.

Then came Minnesota.

Harbaugh explained the situation to Mitch Albom in the Detroit Free Press:

“There was a tugging at me that I was once that close to a Super Bowl and I didn’t get it. Some NFL jobs came open. I was contacted by the (Minnesota) Vikings.

“For better or for worse, it was something I wanted to explore. I went in thinking, ‘I’m gonna have 100 percent conviction on this, and if they (Minnesota) have 100 percent conviction on this, then it’s something I’m gonna do.”

Harbaugh arrived, thinking he was interviewing them. He expected the red carpet and an offer on the table. But the Vikings were not as committed to Harbaugh as he thought. And by the end of the day, Harbaugh was recommitted to Michigan for what sounds like eternity and the organization made public their intention to hire Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell as their next head coach.

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Dannehy: Structure Change Should Give Coach More Power

| December 29th, 2021

The Chicago Bears should change the way their football operations are structured, but not in the way many fans are clamoring for. The President of Football Operations many seek, a position that does not include the duties of General Manager, is historically flawed. Many organizations with non-football people owners have tried it and it has universally failed. The failure is often quite embarrassing.

But what has proven to work around the league and is a direction the Bears have leaned in recent years, is making the next head coach the leading football voice in the organization.

That’s the way several successful teams have operated including Seattle, New Orleans, Kansas City, San Francisco, New England and Buffalo. Green Bay has the head coach on equal footing as the general manager, Mike McCarthy answers directly to ownership in Dallas and you can bet that if the head coaches of the LA Rams or Tampa Bay Bucs said, “it’s me or him,” those owners would pick the coaches over the GMs.

The Bears have come close to executing this arrangement in the past.

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Why Jim Harbaugh Should Be Next Bears Coach: Twitter Thread

| November 29th, 2021

[Note: This thread was written prior to Harbaugh and Michigan’s victory over Ohio State.]

The Bears have done things one way for a long time, allowing their GM to be the head of football operations.

But maybe it’s time to change that thinking.

Maybe it’s time to make the head coach the alpha at Halas Hall.

This is happening across the league. Belichick, of course, but also Sean Payton, Kyle Shanahan, Pete Carroll, Andy Reid, etc. Some of the more successful organizations are no longer led by a personnel man, but by a football coach.

My guy is Jim Harbaugh.
• 44-19-1 as an NFL HC.
• History of hiring great staffs (Roman, Fangio, etc.)
• Coached vs Fields, would understand his game.
• Will embrace power run game as base of offense.
• Thrived with Kaepernick; will utilize Fields’ legs effectively.

I don’t care about Harbaugh’s college career. College is about recruiting and every time I watch Michigan play they’ve got some awful thing at QB.

Did he win a title at Michigan? No. Did he once again win WAY more than he loses? Of course. He’s a great football coach.

And Harbaugh, while very Parcellsian in his ability to ruffle feathers & wear out his welcome, has a million friends in the NFL. Pairing him with great evaluator – Jeff Ireland, perhaps – would be easy.

Both Harbaugh & Ireland have told friends Chicago is their dream job.

Harbaugh would give the Bears a football face. He’d be the front man for the program. The buck would stop with him.

And the Bears would win.



Dannehy: With Nagy’s Tenure on Life Support, His Possible Successors Come into Focus

| November 17th, 2021

Under Matt Nagy, the Chicago Bears have been notoriously horrendous after the bye week. They are 0-3, with two of those losses against backup quarterbacks, and two of the three being complete blowouts. Another woeful showing this week would take place in front of his potential replacement: Baltimore offensive coordinator Greg Roman.

Nagy is done. At least, that’s what NFL Insider Benjamin Allbright has reported, stating the Bears have already begun doing background checks on other coaches, mentioning Vance Joseph and Brian Daboll specifically.

Sunday’s matchup with Baltimore brings an interesting option to Soldier Field in Roman. Baltimore’s offense isn’t lighting up the league, but they sit a respectable 12th in scoring and second in yardage, despite numerous injuries. A major reason for that is Lamar Jackson’s ability to do everything on the field and it is easy to see how Justin Fields could fit in an offense that maximizes a quarterback’s mobility as well as his ability to throw the ball down the field.

What makes Roman more interesting, though, is that he isn’t just reliant on Jackson being an MVP. He brings a unique and exotic running scheme that has had his team leading the league in rushing each of the last five years he has been an offensive coordinator. His teams have never finished lower than eighth in rushing and have been inside the top five in yards per attempt seven times in nine seasons.

Roman has been in the NFL a long time, coming in under Dom Capers in Carolina. If available, Vic Fangio figures to be his top candidate as defensive coordinator, as the two were together in Carolina, Houston, Baltimore and San Francisco.

But do you really want Fields taking so many hits? While Jackson has proven to be excellent at avoiding big shots, Fields has been just the opposite. He takes a big hit every week. It isn’t hard to see why this kind of offense isn’t preferred when the top priority is protecting a young quarterback.

But Roman isn’t the only strong candidate who figures to be available for the Bears in this cycle, here’s a quick look at some of the others, in no particular order:


Brian Daboll, OC, Buffalo

The emergence of Josh Allen has made Daboll a hot name — Allbright said he is the top candidate for the Bears job — but it’s worth wondering who deserves credit for Buffalo’s success.

Before Allen became an MVP candidate, Daboll only once coached an offense that finished outside the bottom-10 in scoring. They have regularly been near the bottom of the league in turnovers and, of course, his teams haven’t won much as he was a part of three coaching staffs that were fired  — largely because they couldn’t score.

Many want to fire Nagy because of his work with Justin Fields, but Daboll’s offense had almost identical production with Josh Allen as a rookie.


Vance Joseph, DC, Arizona

Much of the credit for Arizona’s success this year has gone to Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray, but Joseph has quietly coordinated a top-five defense.

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Across The Middle: Tightening Pace’s Leash

| November 29th, 2017

The Bears could’ve had the best coaches in the history of football and they still would’ve lost to the Eagles by 20 points.

Say what you will about John Fox and company — and it’s probably all fair — but the hard truth is that the Bears don’t have enough good players. A lot of that is due to injury. Losing their top two receivers and all four starting linebackers is a tough blow. But still, they should be able to put up a fight!

Let’s look at who was available Sunday against Philadelphia:

  • Markus Wheaton is paid like a starter.
  • Nick Kwiatkoski should be a starter at this point anyway. Christian Jones has played like one.
  • Deiondre Hall, Deon Bush and Hroniss Grasu should all be starters.
  • Jon Bullard was drafted to be a major piece. He shouldn’t be warming the bench behind a journeyman at this point.
  • Pernell McPhee has turned into a ghost.

I like Ryan Pace. Most fans do. I’d argue his plus decisions far outweigh his minuses but nowhere near as much as the losses outweigh the wins.

The Bears are at a crossroads.

They will, and I still believe should, allow Pace to hire the next coach. But what if they’re 3-8 next year too? Do they just hit the reset button again? How long can they reasonably expect this loyal fan base to be patient? They are currently suffering through one of the worst four-year stretches in team history.

I’ve long said the primary reason I wouldn’t want to hire Jim Harbaugh or Josh McDaniels is because they’d want to be Pace’s boss too, but I’m no longer sure that should stop the Bears. New England, Seattle, Kansas City, New Orleans all have their coaches in charge of the rosters. If Jim Harbaugh calls up George McCaskey and says he wants to the keys to the franchise, has Pace done enough for the Bears to justify saying no? Even if you look at first time head coaches the last two years, two of the big fishes were handed the keys to their franchises in Miami and San Francisco. That doesn’t include Sean McDermott, who was given what he asked for after a month or so on the job.

We have months to debate the coaching pedigrees of Harbaugh, McDaniels and everyone else, including whether or not they deserve such power. That’s not the point. The point is, how can we be so sure that Pace does? To be clear, this isn’t a call to fire Pace. I think he’s shown that he has an eye for talent. I just hope the Bears don’t let a great football mind out the door simply because Pace has a solid draft record.

Hopefully the problem is simple as needing a new coach and another off-season to build depth. I’m just not entirely sure that’s true. This is Year Three, the Bears should be much further along. Blame Fox all you want, but Pace has blood on his hands too. Here’s to hoping he can get it cleaned up.

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Letting Jim Harbaugh Coach Elsewhere Will Be a Decade-Long Regret at Halas Hall

| December 12th, 2014


Here what’s I know about Jim Harbaugh’s coaching career.

His first head coaching job was at San Diego and he led the Toreros to program bests in every conceivable way.

His second head coaching job was at Stanford where the Cardinal had been a Pac-10 doormat since Ty Willingham left town. He won 4 games. Then he won 5 games. Then he won 8 games. Then he won 12 games. 12 games. At Stanford. A university that had never won 11 in the entirety of their footballing existence. (And before you credit Andrew Luck, go take a look at John Elway’s W-L record at Stanford.)

His third head coaching job is at the San Francisco 49ers. He is 43-17-1 and has appeared in 3 NFC title games and a Super Bowl. In the 8 seasons prior to his arrival, the Niners did not record a single winning season.

Jim Harbaugh isn’t a good head coach. Jim Harbaugh is one of the best coaches in the entire world of football and he is available. That does not happen often. It’s happening now. The Bears will regret it for many years if they don’t become serious players for his services.

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