Jim Harbaugh Is (Probably) Not Coming to Save the Bears

It seems an hour doesn’t go by where someone, be it a fan on social media, a blogger, a sportswriter, or a national analyst, is connecting Jim Harbaugh to the Bears. I don’t want to rain on anybody’s parade, but the chances of the Bears firing Matt Eberflus and replacing him with Harbaugh are slim and none. History provides all the answers we need, and though saying “never” is always a dangerous line of thinking, a pairing of the historic franchise and its former quarterback seems highly unlikely.

Harbaugh played quarterback for seven seasons in Chicago from 1987-93 for Mike Ditka and Dave Wannstedt. The Bears made the playoffs once. He would be the largest persona Chicago has had at head coach since Ditka and a popular pick with a fan base that is suffering through its fourth losing coach since Love Smith was fired. When the Jim Harbaugh-to-the-NFL-rumors start popping up, Chicago is a frequent hypothetical destination. That will be the case once again if Eberflus is fired.

Harbaugh was also the fans’ choice when Matt Nagy was fired after the 2021 season. His interview at the time was nothing more than a brief conversation with team chairman George McCaskey. The NFL’s first family balked at Harbaugh’s asking price, reportedly in the neighborhood of $100 million for 10 years. Harbaugh reportedly also preferred to make personnel decisions.

There are other factors at play, too.

  • Big Ten commissioner Tony Petitti announced earlier this month that the conference was suspending Harbaugh for the final three games of Michigan’s regular season. He accused the football program of violating the league’s sportsmanship policy.
  • It was Harbaugh’s second three-game suspension during his tenure with the university.
  • The Big Ten found that Michigan violated its policy by “conducting an impermissible, in-person scouting operation” over multiple years. Petitti called it “an unfair advantage that compromised the integrity of competition,” according to the league’s original statement. Harbaugh’s staff was accused of stealing its opponents’ play signals.
  • A separate NCAA investigation into the sign-stealing operation led by former Wolverines analyst Connor Stalions, who resigned after the university initially suspended him with pay, remains open. It is unlikely to be completed until well into 2024.
  • Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer detailed a potential snag with Harbaugh coming to the Bears during an October radio appearance.
  • “The one hang-up with [Harbaugh] going to Chicago is [that Kevin Warren] would be hiring him,” Breer said. “I don’t think those two are all warm and cuddly.”
  • Warren served as Big Ten commissioner from 2020-23. He canceled the Big Ten football season on August 11, 2020, because of the global pandemic, though other conferences opted to play. Harbaugh publicly criticized Warren for the decision.
  • Harbaugh is not easy. He has had previous run-ins with a lot of people, including 49ers owner Jed York and general manager Trent Baalke when he coached there. That type of instability will never sit well with the McCaskeys.
  • The team’s ownership group interviewed 23 head coach and GM candidates when Nagy and Ryan Pace were fired. Harbaugh received a cursory phone call and nothing more. That’s pretty telling if you’re wondering how the family feels about Harbaugh.
  • The Bears rarely hire experienced head coaches, preferring hot coordinators instead. They’re usually cheaper, and accept the limitations — perceived or real — that come with the job. Eberflus is the team’s 17th head coach since the franchise was founded in 1920. Jack Pardee and John Fox are the only men with previous professional head coaching experience to join the Bears. Pardee was a USFL coach before being hired by Chicago.
  • The NFL’s oldest franchise has endured negative publicity for the better part of three decades. Hiring a hot-button coach on the back end of a scandal like Harbaugh’s would come with too many ethical questions.

The Bears don’t specifically reveal what their head coaches are paid, but most believe Eberflus signed a four-year deal for $18 million. He’ll have two years left on his deal after this season ends. The McCaskeys probably aren’t going to give Eberflus $9 million to walk away. It’s just not the way the family conducts its business.

Besides, Eberflus’ job may be much safer than you or I want to believe. GM Ryan Poles still believes in him, and he’s calling the shots, though Warren can certainly step in. The defensive improvement since Eberflus took over for Alan Williams can’t be ignored, either. And though Eberflus is 6-22 since taking over, the team obviously tanked last year. You can make a strong argument that’s the case this year, too. If so, it’s pretty tough to lay all the blame on Eberflus and his coaches.

A more likely scenario might involve a restructuring of the team’s coordinators and assistant coaches. Eberflus will bring in someone to run the defense, and Luke Getsy will probably be replaced, whether he accepts a head coaching gig of his own or is fired. You can blame that on the McCaskeys’ unwillingness to pay someone to walk away, or the staff’s failure to further develop Justin Fields. The jury is out on that too, depending if you’re pro- or anti-Fields. He was statistically one of the NFL’s better quarterbacks before getting injured earlier this year.

Taking all of that into consideration, it seems unlikely Harbaugh will be the savior so many Bears fans want him to be.

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