Jim Harbaugh Dazzles The NFL: What If Jerry Jones Had Hired Him?


There is nothing like a good old fashioned American success story. Jim Harbaugh, the current Head Coach of the San Francisco 49ers, has become the latest ‘boy wonder in the world of pro football coaching. The brilliance he has shown from a scheme standpoint, combined with the way he has motivated his team makes him one the best coaches in the NFL. Jim Harbaugh was at the top of my list of coaching candidates for the Dallas Cowboys in 2010. I don’t think the Owner and General Manager of the Dallas Cowboys Jerry Jones even made an effort to interview Harbaugh for the position despite the franchise’s desperate need for a talented Head Coach.

Sep 23, 2012; Minneapolis, MN, USA; San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh encourages his team before the game with the Minnesota Vikings at the Metrodome. Vikings win 24-13. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-US PRESSWIRE

Jim Harbaugh was born in Toledo Ohio on December 23rd 1963. He attended various schools due to the different coaching assignments his father had. He ended up graduating from Palo Alto High School in California in 1982 because his father was the defensive coordinator at Stanford University.

Harbaugh was a four-year letterman at the University of Michigan, and he finished his college career in the top five in school history in the following categories: passing attempts, completions, completion percentage, passing yards, and touchdown passes. Playing for head coach Schembechler, Jim Harbaugh was a three-year starter, but he broke his arm five games into the 1984 season and had to sit out the rest of the year. As a junior in 1985, Harbaugh led the nation in passing efficiency. The 1985 team finished with a 10–1–1 record, and then went on to beat Nebraska in the 1986 Fiesta Bowl. They finished that year as the #2 team in the nation.

As a senior in 1986, Harbaugh led Michigan to an 11–2 record  and a berth in the 1987 Rose Bowl.  He earned  Big Ten Conference Player of the Year honors, and he finished third in the voting for the Heisman Trophy. He was also named to the Big Ten’s All-Academic team, as well as the 1986 AP and UPI All-American teams. His career  NCAA Division I-A (now FBS) passing efficiency  record (325/399) remained unbroken for 12 long years.

Jim Harbaugh was selected in the 1st round of the 1987 NFL Draft, with the 26th pick by the Chicago Bears. Ironically, he spent his first season on the bench with fellow NFL head coach Sean Payton of the New Orleans saints. (I wonder if at that time either of them thought they would end up an NFL head coach?) Harbaugh played for the Bears from 1987 – 1993. His next stop was with the Indianapolis Colts. Even though he only played there from 1994-1997, he was still inducted in to their Ring Of Honor. Harbaugh had a successful 15 year NFL career. He spent his final season with the Carolina Panthers and retired in 2001.

In 2002 Harbaugh began establishing  himself as a coach by going to work for Al Davis as the Oakland Raiders Quarterbacks coach from 2002-2003. It only took that 1 year in Oakland for someone to pick up on his coaching ability, so then he landed a head coaching job at the University Of San Diego in 2004. After only 3 short years there, he moved on to greener pastures and became the Head Coach at Stanford where he remained from 2007-2010. What he accomplished there is amazing to say the least. He took a team that had a 1 win in the season the year before his arrival, and then he took that team to the Orange Bowl. He is also responsible for the early development of this years first overall pick in the NFL draft, Andrew Luck.

Sep 23, 2012; Minneapolis, MN, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith (11) talks with head coach Jim Harbaugh during a break in the game with the Minnesota Vikings in the second quarter at the Metrodome. Vikings win 24-13. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-US PRESSWIRE

A mere four days after winning the Orange Bowl, Jim Harbaugh entered in to a 5-year $25 million contract to be the Head Coach of the San Francisco 49ers; he replaced Mike Singletary who had been fired. Before they made the brilliant decision to hire Jim Harbaugh as their HC, the 49ers hadn’t made the playoffs since 2002.

In spite of the fact that the 49ers were expected to struggle –  it was considered  to be a rebuilding season and Harbaugh had to install a new scheme in an offseason shortened by the lockout – Harbaugh led the team to a 13-3 record and won the NFC West division, finishing second overall in the NFC. The San Francisco 49ers advanced all the way to the NFC Championship Game in Harbaugh’s first year of leadership.

Harbaugh’s ability to take his team all the way to the NFC Championship under such unlikely and seemingly impossible conditions created a justifiable sense of awe in the NFL community.  Harbaugh’s genius, leadership and hard work in San Francisco resulted in an unbelievably successful season. He was also able to further develop quarterback Alex Smith.  Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio created one of the best defensive units in the NFL. The tandem proved to be cohesive enough to lead the 49ers to the NFL championship. Only to suffer a gut wrenching loss to the NY Giants as a result of a couple of special teams blunders. The final score was NYG 20, SF 49ers 17 in overtime.

In spite of all the adversity Harbaugh faced, he ended up winning the AP Coach Of The Year award. This is indeed an old fashioned American success story. Harbaugh has continued to improve the 49ers. Last year there was speculation that starting quarterback Alex Smith would be replaced. However, Harbaugh being a former quarterback himself, has been able to successfully develop him even more. It already shows in his game management this year. The 49ers are looking to me like a favorite to make a run for the Super Bowl again this year. All I can say is:

"“Hats off to Jim Harbaugh. Look out NFL, there is a new sheriff in in town and he is taking names and numbers. He is indeed the new boy wonder.”"

I remember a time when people referred to Jason Garrett, the current HC of the Dallas Cowboys,  as a “boy wonder”. No one ever gave much evidence for this title, it seemed like they just assumed that he must be a ‘boy wonder’ because he went to Ivy League universities. I know they say hindsight is  20/20, but at this point I still have this thought in the back of my mind.

What if Jerry Jones had hired Jim Harbaugh instead of Jason Garrett?

After all, the 49ers were 6-10 the same year the Cowboys were. The entire culture has changed in San Francisco. Obviously for the better. The entire culture has changed in Dallas as well. Unfortunately, all I see is a lack of discipline and inconsistency, and a refusal by the Dallas Cowboys’ brass to spend the money and/or draft picks to get a decent offensive line. When I see the improvements in an average quarterback like Alex Smith, I can’t help but wonder what he would have done with a talented QB like Dallas Cowboy Tony Romo. Hindsight is indeed 20/20, but oh what could have been? I honestly believe the results would have been much better.

When you look at the Dallas Cowboys performance on the field, the acquisitions they have made, the draft(s) that Garrett was involved in, I have to ask:

1. Is there any real evidence of a positive culture change at Valley Ranch?

2. Has Garrett’s “Cowboy Way” shown any tangible improvements on the field?

3. Has his ‘commitment’ to the “Right Kind of Guys” shown any sign of making the Dallas Cowboys a better football team?

4. Have Jason Garrett or Jerry Jones really done anything to make this team ‘Romo Friendly’ enough that Romo would want to sign a contract extention? I don’t think so – you can read why here.

Obviously Jason Garrett deserves more time to prove that he can lead the Dallas Cowboys back to greatness, but so far the results are not matching the hype of ‘boy wonder’. It is impossible not to think about what someone like Jim Harbaugh could have done with the Dallas Cowboys if Jerry Jones wasn’t so fascinated with trying to make himself a legend by owning the first NFL team to boast a player that won a Super Bowl as a player and then coached that same team to a Super Bowl victory.