Jim Harbaugh: If He Goes To The Miami Dolphins, How Do Coaching Dominoes Fall?

Ryan FallerAnalyst IJanuary 4, 2011

The Miami Dolphins have suddenly entered the race for Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh.
The Miami Dolphins have suddenly entered the race for Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Jim Harbaugh will get his shot at the NFL, but the winner of his sweepstakes could be a totally unforeseen entrant.

Citing unnamed sources, the NFL Network reported Tuesday morning that the Miami Dolphins have had “multiple conversations” with Harbaugh and have suddenly become a key player among the many NFL teams pursuant of the Stanford head coach.

According to reports, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross and adviser Carl Peterson were at Miami’s Sun Life Stadium Monday night to see Stanford’s 40-12 win over Virginia Tech in the Discover Orange Bowl.

Unlike Denver and San Francisco, the other two NFL franchises who are hot on Harbaugh’s trail, Miami currently has a head coach.

Tony Sparano, hired in 2008, just finished his third season but is considered to be in danger of losing his job after the Dolphins struggled to a 7-9 record. In fact, one source told NFL.com that it will be “for Sparano to survive.”

Another source told the Web site that talks regarding Sparano’s future with the Dolphins are “open-ended right now.”

Sparano has taken Miami to one playoff appearance and is 25-23 overall.

So, it looks like we can add the Dolphins to the fray, joining the long list of professional and college teams gluttonous for Harbaugh’s services.

But what are the chances the Dolphins will be able to cash in after arriving somewhat late on the scene?

One notable tie between Harbaugh and the Dolphins is that Ross, like Harbaugh, is an alumnus of the University of Michigan, where the business school bears his name and to which he has donated millions of dollars.

That certainly can’t hurt. Neither can the fact the Dolphins’ offense houses a strong nucleus and mix of young and experienced talent, including tackle Jake Long, receivers Brandon Marshall and Davone Bess, and running back Ronnie Brown.

The wild card in all this may be Chad Henne, who is considered a franchise quarterback but hasn’t taken off under the tutelage of Sparano and his staff. Could Henne’s Michigan ties and potential play a factor in Harbaugh’s decision to come to South Beach? Or will the front office entrust Harbaugh with the executive power to draft a quarterback in the first round of the upcoming draft, where the Dolphins are assured of not getting Harbaugh’s current pupil, Andrew Luck, but could still receive prime value with the No. 15 pick?

If Harbaugh succumbs to Miami’s advances, the decision would inexorably have an effect that would ripple through both the NFL and college football.

Though he reportedly has said no to Michigan, Harbaugh will be a candidate for the impending head-coaching vacancy in Ann Arbor until he signs on the dotted line elsewhere. But who does athletics director Dave Brandon go after if Harbaugh is no longer an option, especially since Harbaugh’s name has been the only one mentioned as a successor to Rich Rodriguez?

If Brandon proves to have put all his eggs in one basket, he may be forced to swallow his pride and retain Rodriguez, who has been rumored for other jobs around college football since Michigan’s season-ending bowl shellacking, most notably the brand-spanking-new opening at Pittsburgh.

Stanford, despite having a gleaming contract extension on the table, seems to be the loser in all this, at least on the college side. Not only do the Cardinal face the possibility of having to watch the architect of the program’s resurrection walk away, but also school officials would be forced to take on the unenviable task of sparring with higher-profile programs for a big-name head coach.

Following his team’s Orange Bowl win, Harbaugh chose not to field questions about his future at Stanford, opting to tell the media to “respect the game” and instead, focusing on what his players had just achieved.

Harbaugh agreeing to coach in Miami would also have backlash in San Francisco and Denver, where team officials have restructured things in order to become more streamlined in pursuit of the coach.

Niners owner Jed York recently assigned Trent Baalke as his new general manager, primarily because of Baalke’s interest in and perceived ability to land Harbaugh as a replacement for Mike Singletary.

The Broncos, having yet to formally introduce him as their new vice president of football operations, were represented at the Orange Bowl by John Elway, who was serving as an honorary Stanford captain while also attempting to whisper in the ear of Harbaugh.

Where would both of these organizations go for a Plan B? Like every other player in this race, San Francisco and Denver don’t seem to have much of a contingency behind Harbaugh. If they do, they’re not telling us much.

And let’s not forget about Carolina, which is looking for a new head coach to arrive in step with the draft’s No. 1 overall pick. It’s enough to make your head spin.

Let’s just hope that if Harbaugh doesn’t choose Miami, he doesn’t open the door for another unexpected potential suitor to walk through.