SAN FRANCISCO – There were plenty of offers from plenty of teams, but maybe it just came down to one critical factor for Jim Harbaugh: He was ready.
He wanted to coach in the NFL, he said Friday, and the allure of doing it in his adopted hometown, where he had put down roots and where his two daughters were born, was perhaps too good to pass up.
Put aside all the catchphrases Harbaugh used after being introduced as the new head coach of the San Francisco 49ers -- being competitive, going to work, evaluating players, loving the game – and there was no getting around the fact that he wanted to be an NFL coach and this was the right time and place to make the leap.
“I started thinking about the four years I was here (coaching at Stanford),” he said. “I’ve been married here, had two beautiful baby girls and had so many great things happen – remarkable things professionally and in my personal life. So being in this area is a big bonus.”
The details: Harbaugh, 47, agreed to a five year deal that will pay him $5 million annually, a source told Scout.com. He won’t have control over the 53-man roster or the signing of free agents – new general manager Trent Baalke will have those responsibilities – but he plans to employ the West Coast offense. That’s sweet music to the ears of 49ers fans who remember watching former coach Bill Walsh use it to win three Super Bowl titles.
Harbaugh’s star had never been brighter than it was this week. He took Stanford to a 12-1 record and a victory in the Orange Bowl on Monday night and found himself inundated with offers. Baalke and 49ers team president Jed York jumped in quickly and met for more than five hours with him on Wednesday, but Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross flew to California that night and offered to make him the richest coach in the NFL. The Denver Broncos also expressed an interest, as did the University of Michigan, where Harbaugh played, and Stanford, which sweetened an offer it initially made in December.
The 49ers’ offer wasn’t the best – the Dolphins were reportedly offering $7 million or more per year – but they were apparently the best fit.
“I don’t ever talk about money,” Harbaugh said. “It wasn’t the (primary) factor. I like a buck just like the next guy. But I love coaching, I love winning and I love football. The factor that dictated my being here was that Trent and Jed and the organization wanted me, and I wanted to be here as much as they wanted me.”
Baalke, who was hired to be the team’s GM this week, said he believed the team would snag Harbaugh all along. Asked if he felt the team was in danger of losing their main target during negotiations, he said, “Never. It was obviously a tough decision for him. He had a lot of options and he had to do some soul-searching. I encouraged him to take his time so that it was the right decision for him.”
By late Thursday, it appeared that Stanford might swoop in at the 11th hour and convince Harbaugh to stay. There were reports the university was willing to pay him $5 million a year before bonuses. At one point, Stanford appeared to be the frontrunner.
“Those meetings with the president and the provost, they made it quite clear they were 100 percent behind me and our staff and our football program going forward,” he said. “That was never in doubt to me.
“It really comes down to this is the level I want to be on. This is the shot and the organization I wanted to do it with, and this is the perfect competitive opportunity. I willingly accept it.”
Harbaugh said he intends to reach out to 49ers players and coaches first, but there’s also the matter of a regular-season game against the Baltimore Ravens, who are coached by his brother John. Jim Harbaugh said John and other family members and friends counseled him during the negotiating process.
“John told me to follow your heart, do your homework,” Harbaugh said about his brother’s advice.
Then he added, “I don’t know how much more advice he’s going to give me after this.”