Bears head coach search: Jim Harbaugh, Raiders waiting game

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Hoge: Making sense of the Jim Harbaugh situation originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Jim Harbaugh has the power to remove his name from NFL coaching rumors whenever he wants.

All he has to do is send one tweet reiterating his commitment to Michigan. He can talk about how much he loves his alma mater — how Michigan has always been his dream job.

He hasn’t done that. And until he does, he’s a player in the Chicago Bears’ head coach opening. And he should be. He’s the most qualified candidate for the job.

But how realistic of a player is a different conversation.

There’s a lot to sort out when it comes to Harbaugh, but when you read between the lines, the situation becomes more clear. Based on a couple very strong reports and a few well-placed phone calls this week, my current read on the situation is this: Harbaugh might want the Raiders job more than the Raiders actually want him. If the Raiders go in a different direction, would he consider the Bears job? The Bears’ level of interest in him would probably determine the level of interest reciprocated from Harbaugh’s side. My understanding is that the Bears haven’t crossed Harbaugh’s name off the list, but as they juggle a general manager search and other strong head coaching candidates — such as Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll (who could be available as soon as Sunday night) — there’s a limit to how long they can wait.

So let’s start with whether or not Harbaugh will actually leave Michigan.

The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman is as connected as they come in college football and he reported Wednesday that “multiple sources inside Michigan football told The Athletic this week that they think if Harbaugh is offered the Raiders head coaching job, he’d take it.”

By now, you’ve probably heard about how Harbaugh took a pay cut in 2021 despite a 49-22 record in six seasons in Ann Arbor. Granted, the Wolverines were coming off a 2-4 COVID-shortened season and missed out on a bowl game, but a significant pay cut and a reworked contract seemed a bit extreme. If you’re wondering why Harbaugh might want to leave despite bouncing back with a 12-2 record in 2021, his first win over Ohio State, and a College Football Playoff berth, that’s why. When you factor in recruiting, the craziness of today’s transfer portal and the new complexities of NIL deals, it’s not hard to understand why even the highest-paid college coaches would be interested in the simpler NFL world. And one who just had to take a pay cut despite winning 69 percent of his games? Harbaugh has all the leverage now, so he should keep his NFL options open, even if Michigan has a new contract with a raise waiting for him, as has been reported.

Meanwhile, in Las Vegas, it’s unclear how badly Raiders owner Mark Davis wants Harbaugh, despite their friendship. The Athletic’s Vic Tafur, who does a great job covering the Raiders, downplayed the interest this week. He cited an NFL source that called the Harbaugh-Raiders connection “total noise.”

If you think the Bears’ interview process has been moving slowly, at least they are interviewing people. The only known coach the Raiders have interviewed this week is their own interim coach, Rich Bisaccia. The early indication is that Davis wants to hire his general manager first and allow that person to hire the head coach, which is understandable after his big splash to hire Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock backfired. It appears he's going to do his due diligence before making another splashy hire. Like George McCaskey in Chicago, Davis is under a lot of pressure to get his hires right this time.

And that’s why you’d think one of them would be smart enough to hire Harbaugh, who has won everywhere he’s gone, including his 49-22-1 record with the San Francisco 49ers.

For now, the ball appears to be in the Raiders’ court. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to be in too much of a hurry. And for the Bears to change that, they’d have to show a lot more interest in Harbaugh than they’ve shown so far.

In the meantime, the rest of the general manager and head coaching interviews continue. And eventually, the Bears are going to have to make a move.