NFL has lost its mind over Harbaugh-mania

by | National Columnist

In the minutes before last week's Orange Bowl the most coveted coach on the planet emerged from the team bus. It was Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh. In hot pursuit was sideline reporter Michele Tafoya.

Tafoya, doing her job, tried to speak with Harbaugh about his possible departure from Stanford. Harbaugh kept walking. She kept chasing. He kept walking. He didn't stop and went inside the stadium on his way to the Cardinal locker room. Several media members watched the scene unfold.

Jim Harbaugh has earned applause for his Stanford turnaround. (Getty Images)  
Jim Harbaugh has earned applause for his Stanford turnaround. (Getty Images)  
After Stanford's destruction of Virginia Tech the coach was queried about his future. He responded with such persnickety eye-rolling obnoxiousness the fake outrage could be cut with a fake knife. "Give me a break," he responded. "Have some respect for the game."

How dare you. How dare you!

What did Harbaugh think the media was going to ask about? The weather? John Boehner's gavel?

Harbaugh declares the media should have respect for the game. Meanwhile, according to numerous reports, he negotiated with the Miami Dolphins for a mega coaching deal.

Help me out here. Didn't the Dolphins already have a coach? Not very respectful, Jim.

Tony Sparano sat nervously on the hot seat, waiting to see if Harbaugh took his job. How Sparano didn't punch anyone in the face -- especially Harbaugh -- is a post-Christmas miracle.

Something about Harbaugh isn't sitting right. His pursuit of someone else's job. Then, the backing out of talking to the Dolphins, as suddenly as it started. The thin skin. Why the NFL is chasing Jim Harbaugh like he's Jim Lombardi is even more puzzling.

It seems Harbaugh used the Dolphins to perhaps drive up his price with Stanford or the San Francisco 49ers. I hope I'm wrong. But I don't believe I am.

Harbaugh has talent and what he did at Stanford was excellent. He turned around a program lagging in prestige and made us all care about the Cardinal. He turned a quarterback into a No. 1 draft pick. Not a bad day's work. (And that quarterback, Andrew Luck, is returning to Stanford.)

This has been one of the craziest 24 hours maybe in the history of NFL coaching searches. Anything can change. Fluid isn't the word. This situation is lubricated. Perhaps Harbaugh is having second thoughts about the NFL because his quarterback is returning to Stanford. Perhaps he still goes to San Francisco.

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What is clear is that the NFL's hot pursuit of Harbaugh remains inexplicable. He hasn't done anything to justify it. The challenges at Stanford and the difficulties of the NFL are night and day. College football is easy compared to the pros. Players automatically listen to college coaches (most of the time). Respect for their authority is built in. That's not the case with pro football. You have to beg, bribe, cajole, and pay -- figuratively and literally -- for respect.

Harbaugh would get some of that respect because he's an ex-NFL player but success at Stanford doesn't mean success in the NFL. Yet apparently that's how general managers and owners are acting with Harbaugh.

Again, if numerous reports are to be believed (and I believe them), Harbaugh was offered astronomical amounts of money. One said the Dolphins wanted to make Harbaugh the highest paid coach in football.

If Harbaugh is worth $7 million or $8 million a year what is Bill Belichick worth?

This is typical NFL. The league is making a fool of itself falling in lust with a guy who has limited coaching experience and paying him like he invented Facebook.

Teams fall in love with Harbaugh while dozens of worthy assistants who have toiled in the sport for years and are more qualified get ignored. Yes, typical.

Again, something about the way Harbaugh has handled this situation is a tad unnerving. It makes me wonder if he possesses the maturity to be an NFL head coach.

At Stanford there were minor expectations. Few people outside of Palo Alto or Condoleezza Rice care about Stanford football. In the NFL, everyone will care. Everyone. Harbaugh will get lots of questions, all the time, from a variety of different people. The expectations will be considerable. The pressure points will increase.

If he wins none of this will matter. If he doesn't it will.

I've watched thin skin coaches who didn't think they had to explain themselves -- cough, Josh McDaniels, cough -- completely fall apart. I'm worried that could happen to Harbaugh should he decide not to return to Stanford.

You're not the smartest guy in the room, Jim. Even if the NFL, again love-struck with a coach, is saying you are.


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