UPDATE: The Miami Dolphins have decided to pull out of the Jim Harbaugh sweepstakes and will retain Tony Sparano as their coach. This news was first reported by Jay Glazer of FOXSports.com and confirmed by Scout.com. That puts the 49ers back in the picture along with Stanford.
Just when it looked like the San Francisco 49ers were thisclose to hiring Jim Harbaugh to be their next head coach, the Miami Dolphins showed up. Now it appears the Niners are ready to move on to Plan B.
There are reports all over the Internet that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross has offered Harbaugh a contract worth $8 million per season, which would make him the highest-paid coach in the NFL. If so, it would dwarf the deal supposedly on the table by the 49ers, about $4.5 million.
In addition to money, a source told Scout.com that Harbaugh has fewer reservations about the Dolphins front office organization than he does about the 49ers' less-experienced hierarchy: team president Jed York, general manager Trent Baalke and executive VP Paraag Maranthe.
The 49ers are willing to hand over considerable power to Haraugh, including control over the roster, but Baalke may be unwilling to yield power over the draft, according to reports.
At the same time, Stanford, Harbaugh's current employer, doesn't want to be left out of the process. CSN Bay Area reported Thursday that Harbaugh met with university officials, including president John Hennessey, to listen to their best offer to keep him. A source told Scout.com that Harbaugh is giving serious consideration to the offer, and the fact that QB Andrew Luck is staying in school doesn't hurt.
And new Denver Broncos boss John Elway is still hoping to speak with Harbaugh about his team's coaching vacancy. He might be too late, however.
While the Dolphins appear to have pulled ahead of the 49ers, they have two big hurdles to clear. First, they have yet to comply with the league's Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview minority candidates. Second, they haven't yet fired coach Tony Sparano, although the team's assistant coaches reportedly were seen clearing out their offices on Thursday.
So where to the 49ers go if Harbaugh jilts them? They were interested in fired Broncos coach Josh McDaniels, but he quickly rebuffed them. McDaniels, who is only 34 years old, apparently believes a better path to a head coaching job is to re-establish himself as an offensive coordinator.
Look for the Niners to talk to former Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick and four offensive coordinators whose teams are currently in the playoffs and aren't available to interview: Marty Morhinweg of the Philadelphia Eagles, Brian Schottenheimer of the New York Jets, Pat Shurmur of the St. Louis Rams and Mike Mularkey of the Atlanta Falcons.
Any of those coordinators would be considered a good hire, although 49ers fans might not feel satisfied if Harbaugh gets away.