Jim Harbaugh To San Francisco 49ers: Following in Bill Walsh's Footsteps

Adam WaldmanContributor IJanuary 9, 2011

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JANUARY 07:  Jim Harbaugh speaks at a press conference where he was introduced as the new San Francisco 49ers head coach at the Palace Hotel on January 7, 2011 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Jim Harbaugh keeps a picture of his mentor, Bill Walsh, taped to his computer screen.  

He played high school football in Palo Alto, CA.  

His coaching performance at Stanford made him the hottest coaching candidate of the year.

When the Michigan Wolverines were pummeled in the Gator Bowl by Mississippi State, the cries from Ann Arbor for Harbaugh were loud enough to hear from the Bay Area.  

When Stephen Ross, the owner of the Dolphins, couldn't lure Bill Cowher to Miami to be his next coach, he tried to reel in the second-biggest fish out there in Jim Harbaugh.

When Andrew Luck decided to return to school for one more year, the decision to leave Stanford became that much more difficult for Jim Harbaugh.

But when your dream job becomes available, you have no choice but to take it.

Clearly, Tony Bennett is not the only one whose heart is in San Francisco.

Everyone thought that Harbaugh would jump at the chance to return to Michigan and restore the glory to his alma mater.  In retrospect, it doesn’t look like it was ever a real possibility.

Earlier in the week it was reported that Harbaugh was going to be the next coach of the Dolphins.  Of course, it was a premature announcement since Miami still had yet to fire Tony Sparano or interview a minority head coaching candidate to comply with the Rooney Rule. 

There were reports that Harbaugh sat down with Stanford again and was also scheduled to meet with the Broncos, but the Niners locked him up before the meeting could take place.

It seems that Harbaugh has always known where he wanted to be, and was only entertaining other offers as leverage to garner the best possible deal from the Niners. 

Here are three reasons why he chose to follow the path of his mentor Bill Walsh.


Keeping His Family in Place

Harbaugh is a father of five and has three young daughters.  He has been coaching on the West Coast since 2004, and living in the Bay Area since taking over as the Stanford coach in 2007.  While he has ties to Ann Arbor, moving to Michigan would have meant uprooting his children from their home, their school and their friends. 

Harbaugh has no ties to Miami.  Had he chosen the Dolphins, it would have been purely for financial reasons. 


Returning the Niners to the Team That Walsh Built

Bill Walsh was an inspiration to Harbaugh.  The two got the chance to know each other when Walsh returned to Stanford as an advisor to Bob Bowlsby (athletic director).  He was the one who advised Bowlsby to hire Harbaugh.

Harbaugh would sit and talk to Walsh for hours at a time in his office.  The two would have breakfast and watch film together.  As Walsh spoke, Harbaugh would take notes and eventually started recording the audio of their sessions.  When Walsh was interviewed by reporters, Harbaugh would sit up against the wall and absorb everything that Walsh said.

The impact that Bill Walsh made on Harbaugh was immense.  The impact that Walsh made on the NFL is still felt around the league today.  His coaching tree is sprawled across the NFL, and numerous teams run a variation of the West Coast offense that he created.

It will be a challenge, but if Harbaugh even comes close to achieving what his mentor did, he will be deified in the Bay Area.


Quickest Path to Success

The allure of returning to Michigan was most likely tempered by the fact that the current offensive players were recruited to play in Rich Rodriquez’s spread offense, and the defense was abysmal against Big Ten teams.

It will take time for any coach to turn Michigan back into a national powerhouse.  Unlike the NFL, college football teams cannot be fixed in one offseason.  It would have taken Harbaugh at least a few recruiting classes to build a team that fit his pro-style offense.

The Dolphins are a middle-of-the-road team playing in the same division as the most dominant team in football with the most successful coach in the NFL.  Aside from the challenge of surpassing Bill Belichick and the Patriots, the Dolphins also must climb over the Jets to get to the top of the AFC East.

It is no secret that the path to the playoffs in the AFC is far more difficult than it is in the NFC, which is something that Harbaugh’s brother, John, can attest to.  His 12-4 Ravens are an AFC Wild Card by virtue of losing the tiebreaker to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

By choosing the Niners, Harbaugh will get the opportunity to compete for a division title in his first season in the sub-par NFC West.  Even though the 7-9 division-winning Seahawks upset the defending Super Bowl champion Saints today, the division is still the worst in the NFL.

Jim Harbaugh is going to be paid $5 million per season.  He will not have to uproot his family.  He will get to follow in his mentor’s footsteps, and the possibility exists that he could face his older brother in a Super Bowl some day.  Looking at all of these factors, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Harbaugh chose the Niners over all other suitors.


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