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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 leap in the hiring cycle for head coaches.
Four years after luring Jon Gruden out Monday night football able, Davis can send shockwaves through the NFL landscape by convincing Jim Harbaugh to leave Michigan for the bright light 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 genuine.”
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 coach job can be hard 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 is already a solid quarterback in place at Derek Carr,” Feldman wrote. “He’s also friends with Raiders owner Mark Davis.”
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Like the hiring situation with Gruden in 2018, Davis’ story with a well-known head coach could work to his advantage. Harbaugh is currently leading his alma mater with Ann Arbor, but perhaps the attraction of pro competition brings him to Vegas, where he could raise a potential playoff team over the hump.
For most of the last two decades, the Raiders have put up a mediocre or uncompetitive team with only two winning seasons since 2002.
With Carr and a much-improved defense, Harbaugh does not have to correct a lot in terms of player staff. At every stop in his career, Harbaugh has helped a team make instant progress in the standings. His coaching style and the ability to assemble a good staff can make a .500 team a multi-year challenger.
Harbaugh began his head coaching career at the University of San Diego in 2004 and led the FCS program to its first conference title in 2005. Toreros repeated as Pioneer Football League champions the following year.
From there, Harbaugh went to Stanford – a program that went 1-11 before his arrival – and improved his record to 12-1 in his fourth and final season. Sure, he had quarterback Andrew Luck in the latter two campaigns, but Cardinal gradually won several games each year under his guidance.
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Harbaugh remained in California, but took the plunge into the professional ranks and accepted the San Francisco 49ers’ job. During four seasons with the team, he collected an impressive 44-19-1 record and guided the club to three consecutive NFC Championship Games.
During his stay with the 49ers, Harbaugh put together a quality coaching staff that included play callers Greg Roman, who has lined up seven top-12 goals in nine seasons, and Vic Fangio, one of the league’s best defensive-minded coaches with fire top-10 scoring units over the past five terms.
Harbaugh is also not afraid to make difficult decisions. As head coach of the 49ers, he benched quarterback Alex Smith, who the club selected with the No. 1 overall in the 2005 draft, to 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 raised the proud program from mediocrity to double-digit victories 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, beating Ohio State, which dominated the Big Ten for nearly two decades.
With a no-nonsense approach, Harbaugh has shown that he can surround himself with brilliant football minds to optimize talents across the list. The 58-year-old has the ideal personality for a Raiders team that has younger guys in key positions and had some issues off the field 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 several selections in the early rounds, 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 tough season, going from tackling to guard. He has allowed eight sacks and committed 14 penalties, per. Pro Football Focus.
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Despite the Raiders’ draft, Harbaugh can work with a team that is on the verge of a playoff breakthrough. In his first NFL coaching career, he did not have full control of the roster, so Davis can pair him with general manager Mike Mayock to renew weak areas on the depth chart.
While critics may question Harbaugh’s ability to win big games due to a Super Bowl loss and his record of 1-5 against Ohio State during his time at Ann Arbor, he would get into a situation with a team that is ready to win now with a good quarterback.
With that said, Harbaugh would need to strengthen the running game, which is something he has done in Michigan and in San Francisco.
In 2021, the Wolverines lined up 15. located urgent 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 has flourished with a top-10 rushing offense – think 2016 – and performs well in play-action designs.
He has thrown 880 yards (17th) on 89 play-action passing attempts (draw 22.) this season. Carr would definitely welcome more of that concept with a stronger running game. Vegas has the fourth fewest rush attempts and yards going into Week 18.
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For now, the Raiders will end the season with Rich Bisaccia, who has done a good job given the circumstances, taking over in a temporary role for Gruden after Week 5. Since then, Vegas has gone 6-5.
Although Bisaccia can lead Silver and Black to a place in the playoffs, Davis cannot lose sight of the big picture.
When you compare Bisaccia’s CV with Harbaugh’s track record, the choice if Davis is to make one between the two is not close. The former has not held a full-time head coach position in his career, which spans nearly four decades. The latter successfully lifted football clubs at every stop and boasts nearly 70 percent winning percentage at the NFL level.
In Feldman’s report, he pointed out that Davis has not made a firm decision about 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.