Is Jim Harbaugh trying to get back to the NFL?

Mike Florio
ProFootball Talk on NBC Sports

At every stop on his coaching tour, Jim Harbaugh has stayed exactly four years. And as he ends his fourth year at Michigan, the question becomes whether the time has come for Harbaugh to move on, and to move out.

Via USA Today, Cris Carter suggested on his FS1 show that Harbaugh could be looking to get back to the NFL, and that the NFL could be looking to get Harbaugh back to it.

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“Watch out for Jim Harbaugh because Jim Harbaugh, potentially, is trying to get his way out of Michigan, all right?” Carter said. “I’ve got good sources that are telling me not only Green Bay but also watch out for the Cleveland Browns. He likes the quarterback situations there, and, I believe, that there is front office people in Green Bay who are enamored with Jim Harbaugh and potentially trying to get him to come to Green Bay.”

For starters, Carter played college football at Ohio State, and it’s clear from his Twitter feed that he still is tied to the program, making him the sworn enemy of the “team up north.” What better way to make it harder for Michigan to recruit and easier for Ohio State to recruit (and it’s all happening now) than to suggest that Michigan’s head coach already may have one foot out the door?

Of course, this doesn’t mean that Harbaugh isn’t thinking about leaving, or that teams like the Packers and/or Browns aren’t thinking about taking a run at Harbaugh. Maybe Harbaugh is looking at both jobs, and maybe both jobs are looking at him.

It would be a bit of a surprise if the Packers or the Browns want Harbaugh. He has a well-earned reputation for being difficult to work with, as evidenced by his persistent clashes with former 49ers G.M. Trent Baalke. Thus, there should be a concern for both Packers G.M. Brian Gutekunst and Browns G.M. John Dorsey that, at the first sign of success, Harbaugh will try to parlay that into more power, influence, and control.

Then there’s the reality, as MDS recently pointed out, that the innovations of modern football seem to have been lost on Harbaugh. That won’t fly in Green Bay, where the absence of innovation fueled Mike McCarthy’s termination.

The Browns are a more viable option, primarily because the Browns nearly traded for Harbaugh in early 2014 — and because it’s believed that the coaching search, while ostensibly run by Dorsey, ultimately will be controlled by owner Jimmy Haslam. If Haslam wants to finish the job that he started five years ago, he’ll be able to try.

Still, multiple league sources have expressed in recent days skepticism about Jim Harbaugh making a return to the NFL, with one exception. Earlier today, one source predicted that, if/when Harbaugh comes back to the NFL, he’ll coach the first NFL team that seriously pursued him — the Dolphins, who are owned by Michigan alum and benefactor Stephen Ross.

That job isn’t open, and may not be for a while. Which could keep Harbaugh at Michigan for more than four years, and maybe more than five.

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