Mark Davis and the Las Vegas Raiders have begun their search for a new general manager and a permanent head coach. By now, we know to expect the unexpected when it comes to the Silver and Black. However, the prevailing feeling is that until other names are courted and introduced as hires, the Raiders appear to be on a collision course with current Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh.
Harbaugh is still under contract with Michigan and is reportedly in talks to improve his deal with the program after his best season yet in Ann Arbor. All the talk of an NFL return for the former 49ers coach could be more smoke than fire, a well-placed negotiation tactic to ensure a bigger payday from the Wolverines. But as reports roll out, only causing more conflicting narratives, we are forced to ponder the full picture of a Harbaugh/Raiders marriage.
Harbaugh brings a winning pedigree, something Mark Davis craves…
Harbaugh has done this before. Many moons ago, he was the hot college coach without a proven pro pedigree. He was known for turning Stanford into a major program. All Harbaugh did once employed by the 49ers was reset the franchise’s trajectory, leading the team to multiple winning seasons, conference championship games, and a Super Bowl berth. Harbaugh would leave the NFL with a 44-19 regular season record before leaving for the same position at his alma mater and restoring their credibility. While he’s yet to grab the final prize at any stop, no one can question his ability to stabilize floundering situations at both the collegiate and professional level.
Harbaugh’s philosophy could be the perfect foil in the AFC West
Despite being a former QB coach for the Raiders from 2002–03, Harbaugh-led teams are best known for their punishing ground attack. From the aforementioned Stanford, San Francisco and Michigan, Harbaugh’s success has always been led by a great run game. The Niners would finish no lower than eighth in rushing yards, thanks to a combination of quality play from names like Frank Gore, competent quarterback play from Alex Smith (it can be argued that Harbaugh kept Smith from being viewed as a total draft bust), and the mobile skills of Colin Kaepernick.
The AFC West has arguably the best quarterback in football in Patrick Mahomes and one of the most heralded young signal callers in Justin Herbert. Both the Chiefs and Chargers employ high-powered offenses that rely on big plays through the air, and while the Raiders have shown no apprehension when it comes to allowing their own franchise quarterback, Derek Carr, to let it rip downfield, history tells us they are at their best when they utilize a strong ground game to open up the play action that Carr has thrived in.
The Raiders will not only have former first round pick Josh Jacobs to punish opposing defenses, but a returning Kenyan Drake as well to mix things up. Former coach Jon Gruden always wanted to establish the run first, but Jim Harbaugh actually does it everywhere he goes (step one is not allowing Tom Cable to decide who you draft for your offensive line, allegedly).
Harbaugh’s staff would be the best one the Raiders have had in forever…
Speaking of position coaches, Harbaugh has the track record and cachet to bring along an all-star list of assistants to Las Vegas. Please do not mistake this for when Jon Gruden returned to the league after an extended absence from the game. He plucked coaches with slightly outdated concepts to fit in with his arguably dinosauric thoughts on how to be successful in the NFL. The Raiders could go from Greg Olson’s play calling, which wasn’t maximizing anyone’s talent, to Pep Hamilton. With a properly coached offensive line, Hamilton could manufacture big gains on the ground. Who’s the offensive line coach, you ask? Hell, it could be the ghost of Rick Moranis in Little Giants for all I care. The fact that David Mills looked as good as he did in Houston this season is a big credit to Hamilton.
While many are pretty happy with the job done by current defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, recently fired Broncos head coach Vic Fangio is just a better fit in that position. Fangio-led units are far from perfect, but they are more likely to finish in the top ten than below it in every major category. Also, the now popular two-high safety scheme that is becoming the trend in the league can be partially credited to Fangio, as opposed to the slowly dying Cover 3 scheme, religiously employed by Bradley.
The Raiders need their own Steve Kerr…
We all love the players’ first mindset of interim coach Rich Bisaccia. His passion may have been understated, but the men on the field felt and appreciated it every step of the way. But the chance to bring in a name like Harbaugh is what owner Mark Davis covets. He chased Harbaugh in 2014 and would roll out the red carpet for Gruden a few short years later.
To make a comparison to the NBA, look at Bisaccia as if he were Mark Jackson. The former Warriors coach was loved by the locker room and helped the team establish their identity, but Steve Kerr took them to the next level they needed to reach.
Harbaugh may want too much power which Davis might give to him…
Everything may not be roses in the pursuit of Harbaugh. The current Michigan coach left the 49ers after a nasty falling out with former Niners executive and current Jaguars power player Trent Baalke. There was a well-publicized struggle for control and credit in San Francisco that led to Harbaugh’s unceremonious exit after the 2014 season. And while it’s been reported that Harbaugh has become less rigid since transitioning back to the college game, he had a bit of a reputation for wearing on his players that some believe caused the Niners to go from a 12-4 Super Bowl contender in 2013 to an 8-8 team the following year.
Davis is still looking for a big name to replace the disgraced Gruden as the face of Silver and Black. This pursuit could lead him to make the same mistake twice in less than ten years.
Harbaugh is in the ultimate power play position. If the Raiders do actually want to court the Michigan Czar, they’ll have to meet his every demand. Given how things went in San Francisco, it is far from crazy to assume that the massive price tag Harbaugh will command will have autonomy attached to it. Harbaugh will likely want to be his own general manager, much like Gruden essentially was. Maybe hire a general manager in title, which is what many assume Mike Mayock was for Gruden, while Harbaugh builds the empire he envisions without restrictions.
Should Davis concede?
He could even use the fact that the Raiders went 10-7 this past season with a team many feel was completely engineered by Gruden as a reason why Davis should continue the theme and grant the same blessing to him. Never mind the fact that the Raiders traded the best player they’ve had in two decades (Khalil Mack) and their best receiver (Amari Cooper) before squandering a multitude of draft picks on failed trades (Martavis Bryant and Antonio Brown) and absolute reaches/busts/flameouts (Ferrell, Abram, Arnette, Ruggs, Leatherwood). Never mind the fact that only one coach/GM has ever truly been successful, and he just so happens to be the best coach in league history (Bill Belichick).
The Raiders are already beginning to interview potential general managers as well as head coaches, so perhaps this won’t even matter. Perhaps Harbaugh will want to be paired with a quality mind that he can coexist with and build upon a solid foundation. But if Harbaugh does want full control, Davis shouldn’t blame him. He also shouldn’t concede to those demands.
Not retaining Bisaccia in some capacity could lead to dissention…
Both Derek Carr and defensive end Maxx Crosby have been incredibly vocal in their support of the interim coach retaining his place as head coach of the Raiders. Moving in the complete opposite direction of Bisaccia and giving Harbaugh the royalty treatment could backfire if the locker room doesn’t immediately take to the methodology of Davis’s latest infatuation. We all know that Carr will never go against a hire, no matter who the team chooses to employ. This type of franchise-first mindset could rub the rest of the group the wrong way. Especially if they find Harbaugh too abrasive and detached from what they feel is a special, tight-knit team.
Davis would be wise to consult with his players during this process in order to avoid sowing seeds of disdain for the franchise. The team already handled Mayock’s departure poorly. They must not drop the ball again.
*Top Photo: Courtesy of Detroit Free Press