Sorry, Stanford Cardinal. Sorry, Michigan Wolverines. The best career move for Jim Harbaugh is to go to the NFL. I have long been a traditionalist and favored successful coaches staying at one school, however, in this case, I have to admit Harbaugh should bolt Stanford and take the best offer he gets in the professional ranks.
Maybe it is because I have no emotional attachment to Stanford. Maybe it is me maturing now that I am five years into my professional career, and I better understand what moving up the ladder is all about. Maybe it is the prolonged recession and the potential for inflation that makes you realize that there is a real difference between making $2 million and $4 million and $6 million a year. Whatever it is, the bottom line is, it just makes sense.
The jump from the NCAA to the NFL can be very difficult. Others have tried and failed. Why, then, is this the best and most logical career move for Harbaugh?
First, the increased earnings. No one in college, regardless of the size of their endowment, their BCS pay out, or their television revenues, will pay Harbaugh what an NFL franchise will pay. It would be irresponsible. Sure, Michigan could match a $6 million offer from the Miami Dolphins, but the Wolverines won’t. The minute the ink would dry on that contract a precedent would be set. Every time a big time program made a hire, the negotiations would start at $6 million. After winning the national championship next week, either Chip Kelly or Gene Chizik will want to renegotiate his contract to make him the highest paid coach in college football. Weren’t we all outraged just a few years ago about coaches with $4 million salaries?
Second, there is no risk. While the jump from college to pros is difficult, there is no risk. If Harbaugh is successful, then he will earn a bigger paycheck every year for the rest of his career than he would if he was coaching college ball. If Harbaugh fails, he can always come back to college. You can call it the Nick Saban/Bobby Petrino/Steve Spurrier model. They all had incredible success in the college ranks, so much so that they could go to the NFL and flop, but still land a head coaching job at big name schools. Harbaugh’s success at Stanford has given him elite status among college coaches. Nothing that happens in the NFL can take that away from him. Worst case scenario is that Harbaugh pockets millions of extra dollars while he learns a few lessons the hard way. He will find several open arms ready to receive him in college football. He can then build a dynasty somewhere, or after another successful run do like Pete Carroll and take another stab at the NFL.
Congratulations Stanford on your best season in 70 years, but get ready to say good-bye to the man who made it possible. Go ahead, Michigan, and focus your search on some else. Jim Harbaugh is NFL bound.
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