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Why Jim Harbaugh to Raiders may be more fact than fiction

Updated January 20, 2022 - 6:29 pm

Jim Harbaugh to the Raiders? The move would make sense.

Harbaugh was an assistant with the Raiders early in his coaching career, was a personal favorite of Al Davis and was highly successful as the coach of the 49ers before returning to his alma mater to coach at Michigan.

While the Raiders have been publicly silent about the reports that Harbaugh is the leading candidate to replace interim coach Rich Bisaccia as the permanent replacement for Jon Gruden, there seems to be more fact than fiction to them.

But nothing is for certain during a coaching search, especially one in which the team is also looking for a general manager.

Here’s what we do know, however, regarding why Harbaugh to the Raiders may not be a pipe dream:

Perfect timing

The Raiders’ coaching search is unlike so many previous ones when a change in leadership was necessitated by the failure of the previous regime. The Raiders are coming off a 10-win season in which they came within one play of advancing to the second round of the AFC playoffs.

From a candidate’s perspective, their head coach opening is highly attractive, even for a coach with the pedigree of Harbaugh, who could have his pick of a number of jobs.

The Raiders seem be merely some tinkering away from taking another big step in their progression, and that is attractive for any new coach.

From the Raiders’ perspective, Harbaugh is a proven NFL commodity. He’s someone they can safely assume has the chops to push their program to the highest level, just as he did for the 49ers in a spectacular four-year run that included three appearances in the NFC Championship Game and one Super Bowl appearance.

There is little risk in handing the reigns to Harbaugh, unlike an up-and-coming assistant coach who may or may not work out.

Family ties

The Raiders have always coveted family ties when making big decisions, and Harbaugh certainly checks off that box having coached the Raiders’ quarterbacks from 2002-03.

In that time, Harbaugh became close with Mark Davis and his father, then Raiders owner Al Davis. In fact, as the late John Madden told the San Jose Mercury News in 2016, Al Davis was especially fond of Harbaugh.

“Al always respected him because he played. Al liked players,” the Hall of Fame coach told the Mercury News. “He felt the guys that played would relate better to players. He also respected Jim because he was a tough guy, a smart guy, a grinder.”

Madden went on to say Al Davis envisioned Harbaugh leading the Raiders at some point.

“Somewhere in Al’s mind, he had it that some day Jim would be the Raiders’ head coach,” Madden said.

Harbaugh cherished his time with the Raiders and said Al Davis had a lifelong impact on him.

“Certain people, coaches, have a profound, positive outcome on somebody’s life. And Al Davis had a profound, positive outcome on my life,” Harbaugh told the Mercury News. “Not just professionally, but family as well. There aren’t days that don’t go by where there’s something that affects my family or my job that I learned from him. Very thankful and a lot of gratitude for those two years that I worked for him.”

Interestingly, Al Davis planted a Raiders seed with Harbaugh toward the end of his playing career when he worked out for the Raiders during the 1993 offseason. During Harbaugh’s visit, he and Davis talked for two hours.

“It felt like 15 minutes,” Harbaugh told the Mercury News. “And then, they didn’t end up signing me. They ended up signing Jeff Hostetler. But the last thing he said after the conversation was, ‘You’ll be a Raider someday. You’ll be a Raider.’ Then when he hired me, that was the first thing he said: ‘I told you you’d be a Raider.’”

Not power hungry

While Harbaugh has been described as many things — quirky, sometimes difficult to work with, demanding — the sense is he isn’t looking to have complete control if he decides to venture back to the NFL.

As various NFL people have indicated, provided Harbaugh is paired with a general manager he trusts and respects, he’ll be content to have a seat at the decision-making table.

That would fit well with the Raiders’ vision as they go about replacing general manager Mike Mayock. Among the candidates they are expected to interview is Ed Dodds, the highly respected assistant general manager of the Colts. Dodds was working in the Raiders’ player personnel department during Harbaugh’s coaching stint with the franchise.

Dodds, incidentally, just pulled his name out of consideration for the Bears’ general manager job, leading to speculation he has his eyes on the Raiders’ job.

Vegas ties

Harbaugh met his wife, Sarah, in Las Vegas. She was selling real estate and Harbaugh was in town for a coaches convention.

As Harbaugh told the story to HBO’s “Real Sports,” he had a chance meeting with Sarah in the parking lot of a local restaurant. Harbaugh said he asked for and received her phone number. After calling her nine times, she finally returned his calls. The rest, as they say, is history.

Could a new sort of history be made with Harbaugh, Las Vegas and the Raiders?

Contact Vincent Bonsignore at vbonsignore@reviewjournal.com. Follow @VinnyBonsignore on Twitter.

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