Jim Harbaugh: Miami Dolphins vs. San Francisco 49ers, Who Is the Better Fit?
The latest reports surfacing on Thursday say Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh is leaning towards Miami.
The Dolphins are reportedly willing to hand Harbaugh the most lucrative coaching contract in the history of the NFL, and suddenly the game has changed. The San Francisco 49ers were considered the front-runners due to geography.
Harbaugh went to high school in Palo Alto, the same city Stanford University calls its home. A transition to the NFL would not be a major move, considering San Francisco is fairly close to Palo Alto. Many are speculating Harbaugh would favor staying in the Bay Area over going across the country.
So where will Harbaugh end up? It appears to be a two-horse race. Let's discuss the pros and cons of where Stanford's head coach will land in the NFL.
Miami Dolphins: Potential Salary
Dolphins owner Stephen Ross and general manager Jeff Ireland flew out to California to meet with Harbaugh, and the reports from the meeting say Ross is ready to make Jim Harbaugh the highest paid head coach in the league.
The deal would reportedly be worth $7-8 million per season, well above what most NFL head coaches currently make. If the Dolphins plan to lure Harbaugh away from California, money is normally the best way to do it.
There are very few cons to being offered that kind of money when you are a rookie head coach in the NFL. However, the only thinkable one here is the pressure associated with that kind of salary. Harbaugh would be held to very high standards, expecting to bring the Dolphins franchise back to former successes.
Miami Dolphins: Potential Players
The Dolphins have a few current roster players that could help Harbaugh make a difference in Miami next season. Ronnie Brown just missed his $500,000 option by 16 yards, but the Dolphins are already beginning talks to bring him back next season. Chad Henne and Chad Pennington are now middle-of-the-road QBs, but Brandon Marshall could be solid for the team with a few tweaks.
The offense finished in the middle of the league in most stats, so Miami may need a few more weapons to make Harbaugh successful.
On defense, Channing Crowder still leads the linebackers and the secondary is fairly solid.
Ricky Williams is once again becoming a distraction. He recently had statements released in the media, discussing his decreased role in the offense and other issues with current head coach Tony Sparano. At first glance, replacing Sparano seems like it would relieve Williams' issues. However, the running back's issues go far deeper than just playing time. Removing Sparano would be a temporary solution, but Williams could be too hard for anyone to handle.
The Dolphins appear to need a few offensive pieces, so this offseason should be busy for Miami if Harbaugh is brought in.
Miami Dolphins: Coaching Staff Needs
The Dolphins are willing to clear out their current coaching staff under Tony Sparano should Harbaugh be signed and brought in. This allows the current Stanford head coach to pick his running mates, effectively making him more comfortable with what he has.
A major change in offensive styles and play calling may throw off the current roster. However, these are still NFL players, and they should be able to adapt quickly. Harbaugh would have to find an offensive scheme that showcases the talent at QB and receiver while getting Ronnie Brown plenty of touches. Brown seems to have solid speed, so a run-and-gun style might be in order.
Miami Dolphins: Front Office and Revenue
The Dolphins current front office stands to remain the same if Harbaugh is brought in. General Manager Jeff Ireland has been told his job is secure. Stability in the franchise could equal a solid foundation.
The Dolphins haven't won a Super Bowl since 1973, and their stadium has changed names so many times that most fans west of the Mississippi don't know the name of the venue. Harbaugh would certainly be entering tough waters.
Miami Dolphins: Location
Miami would represent a new beginning for Harbaugh. Changing coasts could help him escape the Stanford era more quickly, and the skies are still sunny in South Beach.
Miami is far away from home, and a solidified fan base. Although Stanford faithful would be very disappointed with their loss, Harbaugh could still be close to family and those familiar with him by moving from Palo Alto to San Francisco, or even Oakland as a long shot.
San Francisco 49ers: Potential Salary
No matter where Harbaugh lands in the NFL, he will be making more than he did at Stanford. Make no mistake, this is a promotion for him, and he will be paid as such. Being able to stay close to home while getting increased opportunities and more money are certainly attractive.
With the recent reports of a mega-contract being proposed (but not yet offered) by the Dolphins, Harbaugh would be missing out on a couple million dollars a season. The price for staying close to home would be steep in potential money losses.
San Francisco 49ers: Potential Players
The 49ers still have Frank Gore, and he is still a talented running back. San Fran has potential with Troy Smith and Michael Crabtree, and the team age is still relatively young.
The rushing defense is very strong, ranking sixth in the league in opp. rushing yards.
The 49ers sorely miss offense. They rank near the middle of the league in both offensive categories, and also got torched through the air on defense. Harbaugh would need to bring in several pieces to make the Niners a playoff contender. The team finished 6-10 and third in the NFC West. They missed the playoffs while their division representative in the playoffs finished two games under the .500 mark.
San Francisco 49ers: Coaching Staff Needs
There aren't many positives to the current state of San Francisco's coaching staff. Greg Manusky appears to be having a few things going with an impressive run-stopping attack. The 49ers have a decent defense, so Harbaugh would be wise to keep the nucleus there.
If Harbaugh stays in the Bay with the 49ers, he will likely need to rebuild the entire coaching staff. It is common in the NFL for coaches to come in and hire a staff around him that he is familiar with, while keeping a few pieces along the way. For Harbaugh, a clean sweep may be in order.
San Francisco 49ers: Front Office and Revenue
The San Francisco 49er fan base is loyal, and many were still around the last time the team won a Super Bowl in 1994, and Joe Montana jerseys can still be seen everywhere. The Front Office for the 49ers is aware of this, and still shows highlights of those games. The 49ers still know how to win, and promotion is successful in the Bay Area.
The Niners haven't won a NFC West title since 2002, and the Front Office has been unable to bring in a head coach for the long haul. Players want to know when they sign a deal with a team, the coach they are joining will be a strong mentor and solid leader. Harbaugh will have to prove this early and the players will follow.
San Francisco 49ers: Location
This one is obvious. San Francisco is only a handful of miles away from Palo Alto. Staying in California provides a fan base for Harbaugh, although leaving Stanford would not make the Cardinal faithful very excited. San Francisco is certainly more familiar than Miami on the East Coast.
There are very few cons to this situation. However, the only possible issue with staying close to home is leaving a school with faithful fans, wealthy boosters and trusting players. These just don't seem to outweigh the positives here.
Conclusion: Closing Thoughts
Drink in this image. It is high unlikely, maybe nearly impossible that Harbaugh will return to the Stanford Cardinal program next season.
With that in mind, of the NFL teams, it appears the 49ers are the best fit. They are close to home for Harbaugh, and they present the best opportunity for the head coach to make his mark in the NFL.
While both the Dolphins and the 49ers, Harbaugh would have a project on his hands. However, if Pete Carroll's playoff-qualifying season with the Seahawks in his first year is any indication, Harbaugh may be successful in San Francisco.
The Dolphins are probably going to offer more money, but it may be several more years before the kinks in Miami are worked out. Harbaugh could bring some unity to a stratified roster, but the 49ers are the easier transition, and the more sensible one.