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A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

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Harbaugh Can Punch His Own Ticket

Tonight’s Orange Bowl will give Stanford’s Jim Harbaugh another sizable stage upon which to flaunt his sizable coaching talents, the¬†unbridled enthusiasm previously unknown to mankind that makes him the hottest name in his profession, college or otherwise. How his team fares is altogether unimportant, at least when it comes to Harbaugh’s imposing future: win, lose or draw, countless B.C.S. conference programs — not to mention a few N.F.L. teams, for that matter — will come calling, cementing his status as a fast-riser on the coaching ranks.

Harbaugh has the added bonus of being able to do no wrong: regardless of what direction he chooses to pursue, Harbaugh will be acclaimed — perhaps even treated as a conquering hero, to steal a phrase, though the likelihood of Harbaugh heading back to Ann Arbor is not the sure thing that some have presumed.

If he remains at Stanford, he’ll be lauded for his commitment to the program he has built. The Cardinal have progressed from rock-bottom — Walt Harris, not to mention 4-8 in Harbaugh’s debut season — to 11-1, facing Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl and right on the verge of playing for a national championship.

If Harbaugh heads to Michigan, he’s that aforementioned conquering hero, a Michigan Man come home to return his beloved Wolverines to the forefront of the Big Ten. Let’s hold off on the coronation, at least for today: reports from earlier this morning claim that a breach has opened up between Harbaugh and Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon; not on a personal level, but due to several mitigating factors that might lead to Harbaugh opting to remain on the West Coast.

What about the N.F.L.? This is undoubtedly a third option: the San Francisco 49ers will come calling, weeks after the franchise fired Mike Singletary with a game left in the regular season. San Francisco will offer an enormous contract, one along the same lines as the contract given to former U.S.C. coach Pete Carroll a year ago, as well as some sort of roster control — perhaps not the overall hands-on control afforded Carroll, but an arrangement along those lines.

If only we could all be this lucky: Stanford, Michigan or the N.F.L. — three enticing options. The important factor to consider is that Harbaugh cannot go wrong, has only good options, can truly not make a poor decision. This only makes his upcoming decision all the more difficult, however.

Can he say goodbye to Stanford? Say no to Michigan? Turn down the N.F.L. money? Wonderful options, each enticing in their own way; yes, Harbaugh holds the golden ticket, but he still needs to make a choice.

Here’s betting that his apprehensions regarding the Michigan job — some have said he got cold feet, or that his family wishes to remain out west — eventually resolve themselves. At the same time, here’s betting that the opportunity to continue what he’s built at Stanford remains to great to ignore. While I’m at it, here’s betting that the lure of N.F.L. cash has him leave the college game altogether.

Only Harbaugh knows what the final decision may be. Still, don’t look for him to play his cards until Michigan makes its first move, whether by merely firing Rodriguez or by directly reaching out to Harbaugh to gauge his interest before opting to relive the third-year coach of his duties.

It’s an exciting time to be Jim Harbaugh, if a time fraught with difficult choices. Helping matters is the fact that each choice can be viewed as the right one, that no one could fault his final decision as anything other than the right move for the nation’s hottest coach. It’s a good time to be Jim Harbaugh.

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  1. Dave says:

    Thank goodness his choice – whatever it is – will not be made until AFTER the bowl game, allowing his players the opportunity to play the biggest game of their life under the man that brought them there.

    If only all coaches had that kind of loyalty to their boys – ain’t that right, Brian Kelly?

  2. Uberd says:

    maybe he’ll go to pitt.

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