We can all agree that Jim Harbaugh is an outstanding head coach. He's won at the college level. He's won at the NFL level. He took a broken, dysfunctional Stanford program and turned it into a powerhouse. He took a sad, inept San Francisco 49ers franchise and turned it into a force in the NFC. Harbaugh maximizes his talent, hires gifted coordinators, and his players would crash through an adamantium door for him.
Yes, Harbaugh is also a bit nuts. He whines like a child on the sidelines, rubs media the wrong way, has an obsession with khaki pants, and apparently has a knack for pissing off people who, per their job titles, operate as his boss.
However, at the end of the day, all of that is forgiven because the man can coach circles around pretty much everyone else in this league, including dudes named Belichick, Fisher, and Carroll.
Recently, it was revealed that the San Francisco 49ers seriously entertained a trade offer from the Cleveland Browns in exchange for Harbaugh coming to Cleveland as their new head coach. The deal never happened, but when Mike Florio of PFT broke the news that a deal had been discussed, the 49ers attempted to deny the entire thing. Even the team's owner, Jed York, got on Twitter and, in a direct response to Florio, said the entire report was false.
Then, multiple reports from individuals like ESPN's Chris Mortensen, Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman, and the actual owner of the Browns, Jimmy Haslam, all confirmed that a trade had been discussed and had not been initially dismissed by San Francisco.
This left Jed York looking like a liar, a fool, or possibly both.
It's worth noting that my friend and colleague David Fucillo and the folks at Niners Nation have a different opinion on this, and, when the Harbaugh trade was first reported, they completely dismissed it. However, 'Fooch' has promised me that, after I get him drunk one of these days, he'll explain the real truth behind what happened. I look forward to that. My alcohol of choice is gin, by the way.
All this back story is intended to provide you, the reader, the proper context for what I am about to suggest:
Why shouldn't Colts owner Jim Irsay explore trading for Jim Harbaugh, and, thus, installing him as the franchise's next head football coach?
Now, obviously, me being the resident Pagano "hater" around here makes it seem like I'm suggesting this trade because I want any excuse for the Colts to rid themselves of their third-year head coach. I'm not.
However, I don't think it's a stretch to say that Harbaugh is a significant upgrade at head coach over Pagano. If you personally disagree with that, you either are a member of Pagano's family, an employee of the Indianapolis Star, or batsh!t crazy. Jim Harbaugh is a better coach than Chuck Pagano. That's not opinion. That's fact.
Knowing this, and knowing the the 49ers very much entertained the Browns' offer to trade for Harbaugh, why shouldn't Jim Irsay swing a deal to return Captain Comeback to the Colts? It's not as far-fetched as you'd think.
News-Sentinel columnist Reggie Hayes has already written about trading for Harbaugh. No, he doesn't mention the Colts, but it's implied. Strongly implied.
Unlike Cleveland, Indianapolis is one of the places where a trade for Harbaugh makes the most sense. In fact, it makes so much sense that, when you begin to connect the dots, it might even make too much sense for your brain to wrap itself around.
- Harbaugh has a good relationship with Jim Irsay, the owner Harbaugh once played for from 1994-1997.
- Harbaugh has always said the best place he ever played was Indianapolis. In 1995, he nearly guided the franchise to a Super Bowl.
- Andrew Luck, Coby Fleener, and Griff Whalen are all players Harbaugh recruited when he was the head coach at Stanford. Harbaugh's close relationship with Luck is especially important. Luck is the present and the future of the Colts franchise. Any coach who wants to stick around for a while must first have a good relationship with No. 12.
- Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton was hired as wide receivers coach at Stanford back in 2010 by Harbaugh. The offensive system Hamilton runs now closely resembles the one Harbaugh installed in both Stanford and in San Francisco.
- Harbaugh prefers to run a 3-4 base front on defense. That's what the Colts run now.
- Harbaugh is still adored by Colts fans, in particular fans of the pre-Manning eras.
The pieces fit too perfectly for there not to be speculation.
But, what about Chuck Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson?
Well, we've already established that 2014 is a big year for both men. Both did not distinguish themselves much in 2013. For too often, Pagano failed to get the Colts ready to play each week, and despite his pedigree as a defensive coach, the Colts' defense hasn't been good during his tenure. Grigson won the 2012 NFL Executive of the Year award, but in 2013 he flopped in free agency while his draft picks that year did little, if anything, to help the Colts win ball games. The only reasons the Colts won 11 regular season games in 2013 were A) Andrew Luck, and B) The AFC South was a cakewalk of a division.
If the Colts regress in 2014, and should Pagano's defense continue to underwhelm, that would open the door a bit more for Irsay to make a move for Harbaugh.
Harbaugh has two more years on his current contract. It's reported that he wants an extension that will pay like a top tier coach, which is apparently rubbing the 49ers' management and ownership the wrong way. It's also been reported that Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke are barely on speaking terms. While it seems stupefying that the 49ers aren't giving Harbaugh what he wants, especially since he is THE reason the franchise is relevant again after ten years of 'meh,' it is possible that management could be looking to rid themselves of their egomaniac coach because they're just simply tired of his antics.
If so: Welcome to Indianapolis, coach!
It's important to note that obtaining Harbaugh could prove costly, especially if it involves a trade. Back in 2002, the Oakland Raiders traded their head coach at that time, Jon Gruden, to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in exchange for a 1st and 2nd round pick in 2002, a 1st round pick in 2003, and a 2nd round pick in 2004. A similar bounty could be San Fran's asking price for Harbaugh. However, the only difference is the Harbaugh's situation in SF seems near total collapse. The 49ers may just want to be rid of him. If so, the asking price likely goes down.
It's all fun speculation. Whether it becomes a reality depends on several fluid factors, chief among them is how successful Chuck Pagano and Ryan Grigson are in 2014.