The Bears just won two in a row for the first time since Matt Forte was on the roster, the defense hasn’t looked this good since 2005 and the excitement around their shiny quarterback is palpable. What better time to talk about a new coach?
Unless John Fox miraculously wins seven of the Bears’ nine remaining games and sneaks them into the playoffs, the 16-year NFL head coach will likely be heading home for good to rest his raspy voice after this season. But, hey, stranger things have happened. (See Denver Broncos, 2011.)
Working under the assumption Fox is gone, the Bears will probably be looking for more of an offensive-minded coach, someone who can relate to and nurture Mitch Trubisky, a quarterback whisperer so to speak.
No, not Marc Trestman, silly. That experiment failed.
No, the perfect coach to take the Bears and Trubisky to the next level is currently strolling the sidelines on Saturdays in Ann Arbor — Jim Harbaugh.
Some Michigan fans might not be happy with the notion, but several more might be ready for the khakis to go away.
Harbaugh still has unfinished business at his alma mater — a lot of it. He hasn’t come close to getting Michigan back into the National Title picture. In fact, he’s just 1-2 against in-state rival Michigan State and has yet to beat Ohio State and Urban Meyer in two tries. A third is coming up.
Granted, he’s just in his third year, but if Wolverines fans think things are going to suddenly fall into place, then the 42-13 loss to Penn State — a program just years removed from NCAA sanctions after the sex scandal — this past weekend should bring them back to reality.
Surprisingly, the Wolverines have been no better off under Harbaugh as they were under Brady Hoke.
Despite Harbaugh’s magnanimous personality and social media presence, he still hasn’t been able to land elite national talent to keep pace with the top teams.
Dan Wolken of USA Today spelled out Harbaugh’s recruiting obstacles:
In Harbaugh’s three recruiting classes, he’s signed a mere 13 players from the state of Michigan, only eight of which were considered elite recruits. This year, according to 247 Sports, there are only seven players of the four- and five-star variety in the state to go along with 10 a year ago, nine in 2016 and four in 2015.
By contrast, Georgia — a state with only slightly more population than Michigan (10.3 million to 9.9 million) — has 37 four- and five-star players in this upcoming class alone.
There’s no doubt Harbaugh is pure Michigan and loves it there — for $9 million, who wouldn’t? Harbaugh signed with Michigan through 2021.
And that’s where the rub comes in for the Bears. Fox still has a year left on his contract, which likely pays him around $4 million. At $9 million, Harbaugh makes $1 million more than Pete Carroll, the NFL’s top-paid coach.
Would the Bears be willing to shell out that type of money and/or would Harbaugh be willing to come at a discount?
The answer to both is likely yes.
Happy Birthday to Coach Ditka. One of the all-time great players and coaches! A true hall of famer and friend! pic.twitter.com/Nog5mlJYrW— Coach Harbaugh (@CoachJim4UM) October 18, 2017
The McCaskey family has always had an affinity for Harbaugh, dating back to his playing days under coach Mike Ditka. In fact, in 2010 the Bears came close to making Harbaugh their coach.
From Mike Mulligan of the Chicago Tribune:
“When Harbaugh still was coaching Stanford late in 2009, a member of the McCaskey family made it clear the franchise was aware of Harbaugh, who was on a fast track for an NFL job and would top the family’s wish list if things didn’t work out with [Lovie] Smith.”
Smith saved his job by coaching the Bears to an 11-5 season and taking them to the NFC Championship game. It’s the last time the Bears have been to the playoffs.
Less than a year ago, there were rumors about Harbaugh and the Los Angeles Rams. ESPN’s NFL analyst Jim Trotter didn’t deny it that Harbaugh still has his eyes on an NFL return, just a different team:
“The Rams is not a job he is looking at. If he were to come back to the NFL, from what I’ve been told, is that his dream job would be in Chicago where he started his playing career under Mike Ditka.
“People are going to take that as me saying he’s looking to leave Michigan, but I’m not saying that at all. If you know Jim Harbaugh the competitor, you’d know he has unfinished business with Ohio State having not beaten Urban Meyer yet. But from what I’ve been told, Chicago would be his NFL dream job.”
If he were to return to Chicago, not only would Harbaugh, 53, land his dream job, but much of the infrastructure seems to be in place for instant success. He would be reunited with defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who teamed with Harbaugh four seasons in San Francisco, including the Super Bowl run in 2013.
With Fangio running his defense, Harbaugh won at a .695 clip in San Francisco. Only John Madden (.759), Vince Lombardi (.738) and George Allen (.712) have been better in the Super Bowl era. By comparison, Fox has won just over 30 percent of his games with the Bears, putting him within reach of the franchise’s all-time worst winning percentage.
The real draw for Harbaugh, though, in Chicago might be Trubisky, who could be his next Andrew Luck, Alex Smith and, yes, Colin Kaepernick.
Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh was asked about Trubisky before their game against the Bears. John Harbaugh said he and his brother, Jim, often talk about quarterbacks.
Here’s what John Harbaugh told Patrick Finley of the Sun-Times: “[Jim] liked him coming out. You know I did talk to him about the quarterbacks — I always do. And he thought very highly of him.”
Jim Harbaugh is not the type to stay in one place too long. If Chicago is an option in 2018, expect him to run with it.
Follow me on Twitter @DanCahill_cst