Options aplenty for Harbaugh, but 49ers are it for now

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

What should this be called, the Jim Harbaugh Sweepstakes?

Michigan is heading into the third week since interim athletic director Jim Hackett fired Brady Hoke as the Wolverines' head coach, and the days for Michigan fans mostly have been filled with speculation about Jim Harbaugh.

Will the San Francisco 49ers coach, the former Michigan quarterback, make his way back to Ann Arbor to coach his alma mater and attempt to return it to the glory days?

Harbaugh hasn't said much, and didn't say much again on Thursday during a regularly scheduled 49ers news conference to advance their upcoming game with San Diego, the first of two final regular-season games. The 49ers were eliminated from playoff contention last Sunday.

The discussion, though, became more tangible Wednesday night after reports surfaced that Michigan has offered Harbaugh a six-year deal worth up to $49 million, which would put him in the rarified salary air of Alabama's Nick Saban.

Harbaugh shed no light on what his coaching future holds when asked Thursday about Michigan's reported offer.

"As you know, I only talk about the job that I have," he said to the reporter. "We've been together a long time, and it's a long-standing policy."

Harbaugh said he and 49ers GM Trent Baalke have discussions every day, and he said he intends to coach the final two games this season.

"Yeah, I've said we're going to finish this to the end," Harbaugh said. "My focus is the same as the players' focus, the same as the coaches' focus, focus, the focus on the practice field, the focus in meetings by our players, our coaches and me. That is our focus, this football game against the San Diego Chargers, and playing well to win it. That's where our energy and focus is."

San Francisco's season ends Dec. 28, and all signs there have pointed toward Harbaugh not returning to the team, regardless.

But while Michigan clearly is in play, NFL teams, namely the Raiders, Jets, Bears, maybe even Miami, are expected to make a pass at Harbaugh. He could not only land a huge contract, but more power and say in some of the teams.

For weeks now, most NFL "insiders" have scoffed at the notion Harbaugh would want to return to the college game. He wants to win a Super Bowl has been among the standard reasons why they believe college is off the board for him.

Adam Schefter, ESPN's NFL "insider" and Michigan alum, said earlier this week he heard from his sources that Harbaugh was open to the idea of returning to his alma mater.

Still, Schefter, who spoke Thursday morning on ESPN's "Mike & Mike" show, still believes his immediate future is in the NFL.

"Let me just say this, this is the time of year where oftentimes agents do a great job at creating leverage," Schefter said.

Mack Brown, the former Texas coach now with ESPN, said this week in an interview with The News that while he doesn't feel comfortable talking about Harbaugh because he doesn't know him well, he does know about programs like Michigan's.

Michigan has struggled since 2007 with coaches Rich Rodriguez and Hoke. The lone bright season was in 2011, Hoke's first, when the Wolverines went 11-2 and won the Sugar Bowl.

"Michigan is a special job with high expectations," Brown said. "The first thing they've got to do is make sure they're doing everything in their university to help the coach. Why did two really good coaches not make it — that's not a popular question.

"They need someone to match (Michigan State's) Mark Dantonio and (Ohio State's) Urban Meyer. Michigan has to beat Ohio State and Michigan State, or it doesn't work. It has to be a dynamic personality, who can get the players' attention, and the fans in the stands, and on signing day get the attention of the recruits. From the outside looking in, I hope Michigan gets it right than hurry. Just as coach, you want the Michigans and Texas and USCs and Ohio States and Alabamas, you want the programs with history and tradition to be good. You want 100,000-plus in the seats every Saturday, because that's what you're used to. When the Michigans are good, it's good for college football."

Harbaugh was asked Thursday if his special feelings toward Michigan would weigh more heavily than anything else as far as job future.

"I really don't want to talk about any other job than the one I have or talk about anyone else's process," Harbaugh said.