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Jim Harbaugh: Why He Makes Sense, and Why He Doesn’t

Playoff Semifinal at the Capital One Orange Bowl - Georgia v Michigan Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Pro Football Talk first broke the news that the Vikings were interested in interviewing Jim Harbaugh for their head coaching job, and it appears that after an initial meeting to gauge mutual interest, have followed up with an interview this evening.

This, like the interview with Patrick Graham, appears to be at the behest of newly minted Vikings GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, who worked with Harbaugh his first two years in San Francisco.

Up until now, there have been various reports that Harbaugh is serious about making a move back to the NFL after leading the Michigan Wolverines to the Orange Bowl, something he did with the Stanford Cardinals before landing his first NFL head coaching gig. But there is also speculation that this is simply a ploy by Harbaugh to get a better contract with Michigan, after he took a pay cut a year ago. Harbaugh had been closely connected with the potential Raiders head coaching vacancy, and had also been linked to the Bears at one point, having played there as a quarterback, and also with the Dolphins head coaching vacancy.

But the Vikings are the only team that has reportedly conducted an interview with Harbaugh. ESPN’s Courtney Cronin reports that the Vikings’ interest in Harbaugh is driven primarily because of Adofo-Mensah’s relationship with Harbaugh.

But Harbaugh’s personality could be a potential impediment to his getting hired by the Vikings, as Mike Florio with PFT speculates:

The biggest potential impediment, as best we can tell, comes from the tendency of most teams to hire a new head coach who is an exact opposite of the last one. Zimmer, like most successful coaches, was critical and aggressive and demanding. Harbaugh has a similar reputation. This has sparked some concern, we’re told, given that the Vikings want someone who won’t rankle players the way Zimmer did.

That’s overblown, frankly. For starters, most successful coaches are hard to handle at times. Smart organizations figure out a way to coexist with them. Like the Ravens have done since 2008. Jim Harbaugh’s brother, John, is every bit as intense as Jim. Perhaps even more. The Ravens see the value in finding a way to give him sufficient berth, because that which makes him intense also makes him successful.

Other successful coaches like Bill Belichick and Mike Tomlin are not short on intensity either, as is Mike Vrabel, Kyle Shanahan, and Sean McVay. But at the end of the day, there are only a handful of potential candidates for the Vikings head coaching vacancy, and Harbaugh is one of them, along with Raheem Morris, Kevin O’Connell, DeMeco Ryans, and Patrick Graham.

But is Jim Harbaugh a good fit for the Vikings?

Why Harbaugh Makes Sense

Clearly of all the remaining candidates for the Vikings head coaching job, Harbaugh has the best track record. He immediately turned around the 49ers franchise when he took over, which hadn’t had a winning record in a dozen years, including going 6-10 the year before he took over. Harbaugh went 13-3 his first year with the 49ers, taking them to the NFC Championship with Alex Smith at quarterback. He would return to the NFCCG the following two season, winning it once, but losing to his brother John with the Ravens in the Super Bowl. Below is a link to the full story of Harbaugh’s tenure with the 49ers.

Overall, Harbaugh has a .700 winning percentage as a head coach in the NFL and in college, which is impressive any way you slice it.

The other thing that makes some sense about employing Harbaugh as the Vikings next head coach is that he has some relationships with available coaches that other candidates may not have.

First off, Harbaugh had Vic Fangio as his defensive coordinator for all four seasons he was head coach in San Francisco. He was also his defensive coordinator at Stanford. Fangio still has a reputation as one of the best defensive coordinators in the league, even if his head coaching gig in Denver didn’t go well. Fangio reuniting with Harbaugh in Minnesota could shore up the Vikings defense in a hurry.

Secondly, as a former NFL quarterback, Harbaugh should have no trouble communicating with Kirk Cousins, albeit there could be some initial animosity as Cousins alma mater is Michigan State, and Harbaugh’s is Michigan. Harbaugh has also worked with Pep Hamilton, who was the Texans pass game coordinator most recently, but was also offensive coordinator with the Colts when Andrew Luck was there. He could be a candidate for offensive coordinator.

Harbaugh off-the-field is both religious and an advocate for equal justice causes, which could help him build relationships with a wide variety of players currently on the Vikings roster.

Why Harbaugh Doesn’t Make Sense

Harbaugh is said to have a Zimmer-like personality, in that he can be intense and critical at times. That may not be the best fit at this juncture for the Vikings, but as Mike Florio said, that might be overblown too. Zimmer’s downfall wasn’t so much his intensity, as it was his becoming more critical and acrimonious as his job was threatened.

Nevertheless, Harbaugh’s personality isn’t for everybody, and could cause some ruffled feathers and drama at times- neither of which are good for building team chemistry. And yet, apart from his run-in with 49ers management, that didn’t appear to be a problem in San Francisco, either with players or coaches. Obviously Adofo-Mensah knows Harbaugh well enough, and thinks highly enough of him, to want to interview him. That should be a positive sign, as those two would have to work closely together in building the Vikings roster and worked together for two years in San Francisco.

But the team in San Francisco several years ago was different than the one in Minnesota now, and it isn’t clear if Harbaugh’s approach and personality would fit as well with this team. Adofo-Mensah reportedly went right to work talking to players and learning the culture right after his first press conference, and hopefully is processing those conversations as he considers who might be the best fit for the Vikings. Not sure if Harbaugh is at the top of that list, but he may have advantages others do not, even if his personality has some negatives.

Other Leading Contenders

It’s not clear at this point if Harbaugh is merely an interviewed candidate, or a leading contender. It has been reported that both Kevin O’Connell and DeMeco Ryans are leading contenders for the head coaching vacancy. Both are hard at work preparing against the other in the NFC Championship game, so not much news with either of them lately.

Both coordinators have connections with Adofo-Mensah as well.

O’Connell was an offensive assistant with the 49ers in 2016, and also quarterbacks coach in 2017 for Washington, Kirk Cousins’ last season there. He’s not the play-caller for the Rams, as head coach Sean McVay maintains those duties, although other McVay coordinators have gone on to head coaching gigs.

Ryans is the 49ers defensive coordinator, and his defense improved over the one a year ago led by Robert Salah, who became the Jets head coach. Ryans is credited with keeping the 49ers competitive this season, when at times the offense was faltering, and a big reason why they’ve made it this far into the post-season, having held the #1 offense in Dallas to just 17 points, and the Packers to just 10.

How prepared either of them are to be a head coach, and what coaches they may be able to bring with them, are important considerations for the Vikings to examine. Whether recent interviews with Patrick Graham and Jim Harbaugh are simply uncovering every rock and continued due diligence while they wait for O’Connell or Ryans to be free, or because they aren’t 100% satisfied with the coaches they’ve interviewed so far, remains to be seen.

In the case of Harbaugh, given his clash with management in the past, he may have been waiting to see who the Vikings hired as GM before going ahead with the interview.

Stay tuned.

Poll

Of the candidates below, who do you think would be the best next head coach for the Minnesota Vikings?

This poll is closed

  • 60%
    Jim Harbaugh
    (3011 votes)
  • 16%
    Kevin O’Connell
    (807 votes)
  • 23%
    DeMeco Ryans
    (1173 votes)
4991 votes total Vote Now