The latest news that the Vikings will be flying Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh to Minneapolis on Wednesday, along with a few other developments, all seem to point toward Harbaugh as the leading candidate to replace Mike Zimmer as head coach of the Vikings.
One leading candidate, 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans, bowed out of the competition by refusing a 2nd interview with the Vikings and deciding to remain with the 49ers, narrowing the field.
The Vikings also conducted interviews in Los Angeles today with the Rams’ two coordinators, Raheem Morris and Kevin O’Connell, and are planning to interview Giants’ defensive coordinator Patrick Graham a second time on Tuesday. While we cannot know the level of interest the Vikings have in any of the remaining candidates, the interviews with Morris and Graham could also be seen as steps to comply with the Rooney Rule, particularly with DeMeco Ryans having taken himself out of contention.
Kevin O’Connell has also been interviewed twice by the Texans and is seen as a leading candidate for the Jaguars head coaching job as well. O’Connell had also interviewed for the Broncos head coaching job, but they ended up choosing Nathanial Hackett instead.
The timing of Jim Harbaugh, 58, entering the mix for the Vikings head coaching vacancy is also of interest. He wasn’t included in the first round of interview requests (neither was Graham) but was added after Kwesi Adofo-Mensah was signed as general manager.
Harbaugh’s addition was at the behest of Adofo-Mensah, who worked with Harbaugh for two years in San Francisco. The two had an initial meeting on Saturday to gauge mutual interest, after the Vikings asked for, and received, permission to interview Harbaugh from the University of Michigan.
There were rumors flying over the past month or so that Harbaugh was ready to return to the NFL, and had been linked at times to the Raiders, Bears, and Dolphins. But there was also a rumor that Harbaugh’s interest was simply a ploy to get a new and better contract from the University of Michigan.
Harbaugh’s decision to fly to Minneapolis on Wednesday, which is the national signing day in college football, after which the Michigan coaching staff has a week off, would seem to indicate that Harbaugh is serious about the Vikings’ head coaching job. Making such a move is bound to create negative uncertainty for the Michigan recruiting process, which wouldn’t help Harbaugh if he were planning to stay in Ann Arbor.
One source, as reported in this article by Aaron Wilson, says:
“The best players play in the NFL, and the best coaches coach in the NFL,” one source said. “Jim loves college football, but he feels like he has unfinished business in the NFL, so he’s exploring this opportunity. Jim has always had interest in coaching in the NFL again.”
At age 58, Harbaugh may not have a lot of time to get back into the NFL and have a significant tenure, so he could well be ready to pull the trigger now, having taken the Michigan program about as far as it’s likely to go this past season.
For Harbaugh, having a GM that he’s known in the past like Adofo-Mensah may be one reason he’s interested in the Vikings job. He had a well-publicized falling-out with 49ers GM Trent Baalke and CEO Jed York which led to his firing in San Francisco, so having a GM he knows and trusts is doubtless an important consideration for him, as is ownership.
Secondly, Harbaugh- a former NFL quarterback- had former Broncos head coach Vic Fangio as his defensive coordinator for his entire stint with the 49ers, and Fangio’s availability may also be a reason for Harbaugh to make the jump now. It’s not clear that Fangio would sign on with the Vikings should they hire Harbaugh, but that is the speculation. Fangio is one of the best defensive coordinators in the league.
The Harbaugh-Fangio combination, should that be realized, may be too good of an opportunity for the Wilfs to pass up, particularly if it meets with Adofo-Mensah’s approval, having worked with both of them in the past. Harbaugh’s quirky personality and clash with management in San Francisco are reportedly a concern, but they may be willing to move ahead with Harbaugh if their concerns are alleviated.
From the Aaron Wilson article:
Another source noted that Harbaugh is extremely positive, consistent, and honest in his demeanor and dealings with players and coaches, countering the frequently cited narrative that Harbaugh can be difficult to deal with as completely false. One source emphasized that Harbaugh — a family man with a quirky personality — has an incredible work ethic and mind for the game.
Harbaugh is friends with actor Jason Sudeikis and was a loose inspiration for the Ted Lasso character from the Emmy Award-winning AppleTV+ television program, consulting with the Big Ten Conference Coach about gameday wardrobe choices after getting to know each other when Harbaugh appeared on the television show “Detroiters.”
From his time in San Francisco, it seems that his problems were mainly with Baalke and York, and not with players and other coaches. Here are some stories on that:
It is unusual, even in the not-for-long NFL, for a team to fire a coach that took his team to the NFC Championship game three times in his first 3 years, including a Super Bowl game that he nearly won if not for a bad non-call, and who also averaged 11 wins a season. It’s also unusual for the fired coach to get a Gatorade shower after his last game. But Harbaugh got one.
The reason Harbaugh got fired was simply that the 49ers CEO and owner, Jed York, 34 at the time, didn’t like Harbaugh, and Harbaugh reportedly didn’t like him. And GM Trent Baalke, whom York fired a few years later, had clashes with him about the roster and other issues.
But, if Adofo-Mensah, who knows Harbaugh, worked with him, and recommended interviewing him, thinks he can work with Harbaugh again as GM and head coach, that should be good for the Wilfs, who are normally a pretty hands-off ownership group when it comes to the day-to-day football operations.
As it stands, the mutual interest meeting on Saturday appears to have gone well enough for the Wilfs and Adofo-Mensah to fly Harbaugh in for an interview on Wednesday, which is the last head coaching interview they have scheduled. The three other remaining contenders have had, or will have, two interviews. But no decisions have been made.
But Wednesday may be the day.