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Jim Harbaugh Sees Perfect Storm Unfold Before His Eyes

What is a coach worth?

Well, the answer is whatever it takes to get him.

Jim Harbaugh
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Jim Harbaugh

And if that person is Jim Harbaugh, that’s a lot of money.

Harbaugh will coach what is likely his last game with Stanford tonight in the Orange Bowl against Virginia Tech. And while top coaches have had three or four teams pull them in various directions, Harbaugh really has a perfect storm going.

He is wanted at Stanford, where he reportedly makes $1.25 million a year. Athletic director Bob Bowlsby last month offered to get extension talks started and told the press that Harbaugh was expected to sign on the dotted line. He didn’t.

It would be stupid to count Stanford out of the big money game. They do, after all, have the second largest endowment in the country at $21.4 billion (Harvard’s now stands at $27.6 billion). It takes one rich person to give Harbaugh the money he wants and Stanford certainly has plenty of alumni that can fork over the dollars not to lose him.

But the question for Stanford won’t be about money, it will be about whether Harbaugh thinks he can continually win without quarterback Andrew Luck.

Next comes the fact that there are two NFL teams that are seriously interested in Harbaugh, whose brother John is the head coach of the Baltimore Ravens. Both the San Francisco 49ers and the Denver Broncos appear to be going after Harbaugh. Jed York, the 49ers president, has already said that “money is no object” to change around the fortunes of the team, which fired coach Mike Singletary who is owed about $5 million. Then you have the Broncos, who are reportedly going to hire former great John Elway, who also happened to be a star quarterback at Stanford. Money doesn’t appear to be an object for Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen either. He’ll be paying three coaches in 2011 anyway thanks to firing both Mike Shanahan and Josh McDaniels in recent years.

Having legitimate NFL coaching offers is the key to making serious money.

USA Today recently reported that the average college football coach made $1.36 million in 2010. The average NFL coach makes closer to $3 million a year.

Then throw in the fact that Michigan will likely fire Rich Rodriguez and Harbaugh now has a chance to coach at his alma mater, which has only won 15 of its last 37 games. If they fire Rodriguez, they’d owe $2.5 million, but remember that thanks to Michigan Stadium’s capacity, they gross more than $5.4 million for every home game.

Jim Harbaugh may not be the best coach ever, but he has some of the best leverage I’ve ever seen. He has brought success to a school that has tremendous challenges thanks to the academic barrier that it imposes on itself. His alma mater is suffering and will likely have an opening. And two once powerful NFL teams, whose owners are looking to get back on top, desperately seem to want him. What’s that worth? I think it’s worth at least $3.3 million a year, which will equal a 164 percent annual pay raise. That number is more than Harbaugh made in 13 out of the 14 years he played in the NFL. Over the course of his NFL career, he made $25.6 million with his biggest year being 1993, when he signed what was then the largest contract in Bears history. That year Harbaugh, including his $3 million signing bonus, made $5 million.

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