According to The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman, Nicole Auerbach, Austin Meek, and Nick Kosmider, it’s a ‘done deal’ that Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh will return to the NFL if he gets a bona fide offer.
Specifically, among potential NFL destinations a ‘return to the Colts could be very tempting’:
“Over the past two seasons, Harbaugh has shown that he has continued to evolve as a head coach and his program has made a dramatic turnaround,” Feldman writes. “UM was a big favorite entering its College Football Playoff semifinal game last weekend against TCU, but got upset, and now with NFL teams once again giving the 58-year-old Harbaugh strong consideration, his next move will be fascinating to watch. A return, perhaps to the Denver Broncos or his old team, the Indianapolis Colts, could be very tempting.”
It comes just a day after a recent report from the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, which indicated that Colts team owner Jim Irsay “has an affinity” for Harbaugh as a potential head coaching candidate this offseason:
“Irsay also has an affinity for Harbaugh, who’s a member of the team’s Ring of Honor as a player, though it’s unclear whether that match would make sense for either side,” Rapoport writes. “The Colts have a traditional structure, with the head coach reporting to the GM, and the GM to the owner; that doesn’t figure to change, which won’t appeal to coaching candidates who want more control.”
After returning Michigan into a football powerhouse program again (as a 2x Big Ten Champion)—and having just made the recent four team college football playoff, the 58 year old Harbaugh appears as though he can be easily persuaded into rejoining the NFL ranks.
In fact, he was nearly hired as the Minnesota Vikings head coach last offseason.
Harbaugh last coached in the NFL during the 2014 season. During his four-year stint with the San Francisco 49ers, he never had a losing record and made the playoffs in three of his four seasons—including 8 total playoff wins, with his west coast pro coaching tenure highlighted by a Super Bowl appearance in 2012.
Not only was ‘Captain Comeback’ a former fiery starting quarterback for the Colts (1994-97), but he led Indianapolis to the AFC Title Game in 1995 and was later inducted into the franchise’s illustrious ‘Ring of Honor’ in 2005.
While others may argue that the Denver Broncos are the more enticing opportunity, I would actually argue the Colts are between the two potential vacancies. Unlike the Broncos, the Colts will have their Top 5 pick and be able to select a young top quarterback prospect to mold, whereas Denver is tied to a seemingly (really) past-his-prime Russell Wilson.
Additionally, Harbaugh really likes to run the football, and the Colts have NFL All-Pro running back Jonathan Taylor, whereas the Broncos’ Javonte Williams is still recovering from a significant knee injury—which includes an ACL and PCL tear.
Harbaugh may also want to bring along longtime veteran defensive coordinator Vic Fangio with him at his next pro stop, who served as his 49ers D.C. from 2011-14. Would Fangio want to return to an organization where he was previously head coach and later fired (2019-21)?
But why would Harbaugh leave Ann Arbor entirely, given his growing collegiate success and that it’s his alma mater?
Well, coaching at the pro level doesn’t require recruiting (which is often a pain for many prominent collegiate coaches), and the Colts could also potentially double Harbaugh’s salary (or at least significantly increase it). [Although the Colts are still on the hook for former head coach Frank Reich’s salary, possibly complicating financial matters].
Consider that Harbaugh’s Michigan salary is around $7M annually, whereas the NFL’s highest paid coach, the Los Angeles Rams Sean McVay, makes roughly $15-18M per year.
Given his prior strong ties to the Colts franchise, and that he’s a proven winner at both the NFL and collegiate levels, Harbaugh makes a lot of sense for Indianapolis. He would provide this team an immediate identity, which has been sorely lacking in recent seasons.
From a leadership standpoint, he would stabilize a franchise that desperately needs it right now.