Stanford Hires Harbaugh

After a long vacuum of information, the wait and questions have now ended. Bob Bowlsby said 14 days ago that he expected to hire a Stanford Football head coach in two weeks, and on the nose he today hired University of San Diego head coach Jim Harbaugh. Best known for his 15 years in the NFL, Harbaugh has quietly built a breadth of coaching experience and enjoyed recent meteoric success.

The information was not yet as rock solid as we like to put here on the front page, but we can now say with certainty what we shared midday with our subscribers on our premium message board.  Stanford has today hired Jim Harbaugh as its new football head coach.  A press conference is expected tomorrow at Stanford to formally introduce Harbaugh, who turns 43 on Saturday.  The new Cardinal skipper is a bright and rising talent in college coaching, well regarded for his positive energy, high intensity, motivation and offensive acumen.

Harbaugh just finished his third year as the head man at the University of San Diego, a rare Division I-AA program that operates without scholarships.  Previously a middling program (59-51 in 11 years of Division I-AA), the Toreros turned around immediately under Harbaugh and have enjoyed a 29-6 record the past three seasons that included 11-1 campaigns in 2005 and 2006.  USD both of the last two years won the Mid-Major National Championship.  A former college and pro quarterback, Harbaugh is best known for offense, and that was reflected this fall with the Toreros ranked #1 among 116 Division I-AA teams scoring (42.8 points per game) and total yardage (494.2 yards per game).  His defense was also formidable, ranking #3 in I-AA at just 12.9 points allowed per game.

With back-to-back national titles in his back pocket, it was not surprising to see Harbaugh ready to move to the next level after maximizing his accomplishments quickly in San Diego.  He was involved in at least four head coaching search processes this month, including an offer at Tulane, to which he reportedly asked for time so that he could wait on Stanford.  Tulane moved ahead with Bob Toledo after the non-acceptance, and Harbaugh appears to have played his cards correctly, now the head coach at Stanford.

For those keeping score at home, the final two candidates for this job were ironically both in San Diego.  Former Stanford standout and current San Diego Chargers wide receivers coach James Lofton, also a former NFL player, was the other finalist according to sources close to the search process.  Other candidates who received consideration in the past week included Bobby Hauck, Jim Fassel and Tom Williams.  Harbaugh was interviewed by a Stanford search committee late last week that included athletic department officials, University officials and two Stanford Football players, while also conducting a prior preliminary interview with athletic director Bob Bowlsby.

Harbaugh played in the NFL for 15 seasons, with the first seven at the Chicago Bears (1987-93) after they took him as a first round draft pick.  The next four seasons he was with the Indianapolis Colts (1994-97).  In 1995, Harbaugh was under center when the Colts took the lead with three minutes to go in the fourth quarter of the AFC Championship game, but the Pittsburgh Steelers came back and stole the slot in Super Bowl XXX.  He spent 1998 with the Baltimore Ravens, 1999 and 2000 with the San Diego Chargers and had his final season in 2001 at the Carolina Panthers.

Sandwiched between his NFL playing career and his college coaching career, Harbaugh did make a two-year stop back in the Bay Area.  He was a quality control and quarterbacks coach for the Oakland Raiders in 2002 and 2003 before he was hired at USD.  Another seldom seen part of Harbaugh's coaching experience that does not show up on his résumé was his position as an NCAA-certified and unpaid assistant on his father's staff at Western Kentucky the last eight years (1994-2001) of his NFL playing career.  That gave the younger Harbaugh a role as a recruiter, primarily in Florida and Indiana, as well as work on the offensive gameplans for Jack Harbaugh's Hilltoppers.

The elder Harbaugh also played a hand in linking his son with Stanford a quarter-century ago.  Jack Harbaugh was the Stanford defensive coordinator in 1980 and 1981.  Jim Harbaugh attended Palo Alto High School right across the street from Stanford Stadium and reputedly had a desire to attend Stanford.  He matriculated at Michigan, where he was a three-year starter, a captain and an All-American quarterback.  All three of those seasons finished in bowl games for the Wolverines.  As a redshirt junior in 1985, he led the nation in passing efficiency and guided Michigan to 10-1-1 ranking and Fiesta Bowl win over Nebraska that earned his school a #2 AP final ranking.  As a fifth-year senior in 1986, Harbaugh was second in the NCAA in passing efficiency and shattered the school single-season passing record with 2,729 yards, finishing the season 11-2 and playing in the Rose Bowl.  He was Big 10 Player of the Year and finished third in the Heisman Trophy balloting.

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