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Jim Harbaugh Is the Coach Who Can Fix the Las Vegas Raiders

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistJanuary 6, 2022

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh directs his team during warmups before the Big Ten championship NCAA college football game against Iowa, Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)
AJ Mast/Associated Press

Whether the Las Vegas Raiders win or lose against the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday, owner Mark Davis should do what he did four years ago and make a big splash in the head coaching hiring cycle. 

Four years after luring Jon Gruden out of the Monday Night Football booth, Davis can send shockwaves through the NFL landscape by convincing Jim Harbaugh to leave Michigan for the bright lights in Vegas. 

According to The Athletic's Bruce Feldman, Harbaugh may have some interest in an NFL comeback. One of his sources said, "I think it's real."

Feldman connected the dots to two teams, the Chicago Bears, who selected Harbaugh in the first round of the 1987 draft, and the Raiders because of personal connections to the franchise.

"The Raiders head coaching job might be tough for him to say no to given his ties to the organization—he started his coaching career there in 2003—and the fact that there's already a solid quarterback in place in Derek Carr," Feldman wrote. "He's also friends with Raiders owner Mark Davis."

Raiders owner Mark Davis
Raiders owner Mark DavisJason Miller/Getty Images

Just like the hiring situation with Gruden in 2018, Davis' history with a renowned head coach could work in his favor. Harbaugh currently leads his alma mater at Ann Arbor, but perhaps the allure of pro competition brings him to Vegas, where he could elevate a potential playoff team over the hump.

For most of the past two decades, the Raiders have fielded a mediocre or non-competitive squad with just two winning seasons since 2002.

With Carr and a much-improved defense, Harbaugh doesn't have to fix a lot in terms of player personnel. At every stop in his career, Harbaugh has helped a team make immediate strides in the standings. His coaching style and ability to assemble a good staff can turn a .500 team into a perennial contender.

Harbaugh started his head-coaching career at the University of San Diego in 2004 and led the FCS program to its first conference title in 2005. The Toreros repeated as Pioneer Football League champions in the following year.

From there, Harbaugh went to Stanford—a program that went 1-11 before his arrival—and improved its record to 12-1 by his fourth and final season. Sure, he had quarterback Andrew Luck in the latter two campaigns, but the Cardinal progressively won more games each year under his tutelage.

Jim Harbaugh
Jim HarbaughMarcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press/Associated Press

Harbaugh remained in California but made the jump to the professional ranks, accepting the San Francisco 49ers' job. In four seasons with the team, he amassed an impressive 44-19-1 record and guided the club to three consecutive NFC Championship Games.

During his stint with the 49ers, Harbaugh put together a quality coaching staff that included play-callers Greg Roman, who's fielded seven top-12 scoring offenses in nine seasons, and Vic Fangio, one of the league's best defensive-minded coaches with four top-10 scoring units over the past five terms. 

Harbaugh isn't afraid to make tough roster decisions either. As the head coach of the 49ers, he benched quarterback Alex Smith, whom the club selected with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft, for Colin Kaepernick. In that year (2012), San Francisco advanced to the Super Bowl.

After an 8-8 campaign in San Francisco, Harbaugh went to Michigan and elevated the proud program from mediocrity to double-digit wins in four out of six years minus the COVID-19-shortened campaign in 2020.

In 2021, the Wolverines won their first conference title since 2004 and beat Ohio State, which dominated the Big Ten for nearly two decades.  

With a no-nonsense approach, Harbaugh has shown he can surround himself with brilliant football minds to optimize talent across the roster. The 58-year-old has the ideal personality for a Raiders squad that has younger guys in key positions and had some off-field issues this season. 

Furthermore, the Raiders have made some disastrous draft picks, struggling to develop players within their schemes. 

Over the past three drafts, Vegas has missed the mark on multiple early-round picks, including defensive end Clelin Ferrell, safety Johnathan Abram, cornerback Damon Arnette, wide receiver Lynn Bowden Jr. and linebacker Tanner Muse. Meanwhile, rookie first-rounder Alex Leatherwood has had a rough season, moving from tackle to guard. He's allowed eight sacks and committed 14 penalties, per Pro Football Focus.

Jim Harbaugh
Jim HarbaughLynne Sladky/Associated Press/Associated Press

Despite the Raiders' draft whiffs, Harbaugh can work with a team on the cusp of a playoff breakthrough. In his first NFL coaching stint, he didn't have full control over the roster, so Davis can pair him with general manager Mike Mayock to revamp weak areas on the depth chart.

While critics may question Harbaugh's ability to win big games because of a Super Bowl loss and his 1-5 record against Ohio State during his time at Ann Arbor, he would walk into a situation with a team that's ready to win now with a good quarterback. 

With that said, Harbaugh would have to strengthen the run game, which is something he's done at Michigan and in San Francisco.

In 2021, the Wolverines fielded the 15th-ranked rushing offense (out of 130 in FBS). Every year between 2011 and 2014, the 49ers had a top-eight ground attack. 

Harbaugh can bring the physical element back to the Raiders offense, which would bode well for Carr, who's flourished with a top-10 rushing offense—think 2016—and performs well in play-action designs.

He's thrown for 880 yards (17th) on 89 play-action pass attempts (tied 22nd) this season. Carr would certainly welcome more of that concept with a stronger run game. Vegas has the fourth-fewest rush attempts and yards going into Week 18.

Raiders interim head coach Rich Bisaccia
Raiders interim head coach Rich BisacciaAJ Mast/Associated Press

For now, the Raiders will finish the season with Rich Bisaccia, who's done a great job considering the circumstances, taking over in an interim role for Gruden after Week 5. Since then, Vegas has gone 6-5.

Though Bisaccia may lead the Silver and Black to a playoff berth, Davis cannot lose sight of the big picture.

When you compare Bisaccia's resume to Harbaugh's track record, the choice, if Davis has to make one between the two, isn't close. The former hasn't held a full-time head-coaching position in his career, which spans nearly four decades. The latter successfully uplifted football clubs at every stop and boasts almost a 70 percent winning percentage at the NFL level.

In Feldman's report, he pointed out that Davis hasn't made a firm decision on Bisaccia yet, but if Harbaugh wants to coach the Raiders, you take his call and give him the job.

           

Maurice Moton covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @MoeMoton.

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