Harbaugh readies return to Michigan Blue
Jim Harbaugh‘s tenure with the 49ers has apparently reached its end after multiple reports confirmed he will accept the University of Michigan’s offer to return to his alma mater.
The news marks the end of an era in San Francisco in which Harbaugh led the 49ers to three straight NFC championship games and one Super Bowl appearance in his four-year career with the organization.
Early reports indicated that Michigan’s offer to Harbaugh was worth as much as $49 million, making him the highest paid coach in college football. He is scheduled to be introduced in Ann Arbor on Tuesday, according to CSN Bay Area’s Dave Feldman.
Though Harbaugh’s final year has been marred by controversy and disappointment, he played a large role in revitalizing a struggling 49ers franchise that had an eight-year playoff drought prior to his 2011 arrival.
Harbaugh’s exit seemed more likely with every passing week of the troublesome 2014 season. The 2014 49ers failed to make the playoffs for the first time under Harbaugh, as issues both on and off the field added controversy and drama.
Reports of dissent between Harbaugh and CEO Jed York and general manager Trent Baalke surfaced prior to the start of the season following a reportedly botched trade between the 49ers and the Cleveland Browns for Harbaugh’s services.
As the 49ers losses continued to mount, so did reports from national pundits that cited anonymous sources from within the organization as wanting Harbaugh out. NFL analyst Deion Sanders was among the first to report that Harbaugh had lost his locker room.
The 49ers were expected to cut ties with Harbaugh within 48 hours of the season finale. However, it appears that a premature conclusion has been reached even before the first snap against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.
SFBay reached out to members of the 49ers organization for confirmation, but did not receive a reply as of late Saturday night.
Earlier in the week, tackle Anthony Davis hinted to the media that he knew Harbaugh would not be returning. On Saturday, Davis offered a public good-bye to his coach on Twitter:
I just looked Harbaugh in his eyes and thanked him for leading us to some of the best times of our lives. Give Respect when it's Due.
— Anthony Davis (@BamDavis_) December 28, 2014
Harbaugh’s new job will mark his third as a head coach in college football, having occupied the position at the University of San Diego and Stanford before signing with the 49ers in 2011.
Harbaugh also played quarterback for the Wolverines for four years from 1983 to 1986 before being drafted by the Chicago Bears with the 26th overall pick of the 1987 draft.
Defensive line coach Jim Tomsula and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio remain the top internal options for replacing Harbaugh as coach of the 49ers in the 2015 season, although the organization will almost assuredly explore external options.
On Monday, Harbaugh was asked about the rumors regarding Michigan, although he declined to comment on them.
“As you know, I have not participated in any of the speculation, the unnamed sources, the rumors. I would ask you to have Jay Glazer go back and ask his source for more clarification. But, I haven’t participated and I don’t intend to now. This has been a good 12 months of this kind of thing, so no reason to start now.”
It is not known at this time if Harbaugh will don his familiar 49ers attire for a final time on Sunday, although Matt Maicco of CSN expects the coach to be present for his final send off.
Harbaugh’s departure from the 49ers may be the beginning of an offseason that sees the exit of a number of big name’s from the organization. Key members of the 49ers slated for free agency include RB Frank Gore, DT Justin Smith, G Mike Iupati, WR Michael Crabtree and both starting CBs Perrish Cox and Chris Culliver.