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The Latest on Jim Harbaugh's Future at Stanford

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Several hundred fans greeted the Stanford football team upon its return to campus this evening, less than 24 hours after the Cardinal's 40-12 thumping of Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl. ESPN's Michelle Tafoya and Rece Davis didn't attend the rally to my knowledge, but head coach Jim Harbaugh was (gasp!) asked whether he considered his future options on the return flight.

Harbaugh shook his head and said "no," but if some of today's reports are true, don't be surprised if he's announced as the new head coach of the San Francisco 49ers head coach as early as Wednesday.

The 49ers moved quickly to hire a new GM and announced that they will promote Trent Baalke from within. The Mercury News' Tim Kawakami reports that Harbaugh remains the 49ers' top target and signed off on Baalke, with whom he has shared an agent in David Dunn. Kawakami says that Harbaugh could meet with Baalke and 49ers owner Jed York on Wednesday.

Earlier in the day, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh inidcated that his brother would not take the job at Michigan if it were to become available. Multiple media outlets reported that Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez had been fired, but those reports were apparently premature, and athletic director Dave Brandon is scheduled to meet with Rodriguez again Wednesday. Perhaps Michigan got word that the 49ers were moving toward closing the deal with Harbaugh.

In another recent development, the Oakland Raiders announced that they will not pick up the two-year option on Tom Cable's contract. Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson is considered the leading candidate to fill that vacancy.

San Franciso Chronicle sports reporter David White was on KNBR to discuss the Harbaugh speculation tonight and made a good point as to why it would make more sense for Harbaugh to jump to the NFL as opposed to Michigan, if he leaves Stanford at all.

He doesn't have to go to Michigan, because Michigan's always going to want him. He could go to the NFL and fail and Michigan will still want him.

White mentioned Cal head coach Jeff Tedford as an example of a once-coveted NFL coaching candidate whose window of opportunity passed him by. "I don't think Harbaugh's going to make that same mistake," White said.

I doubt Tedford has many regrets about staying at Cal, and while it's harsh to think that staying at Stanford could be considered a mistake, if Harbaugh's career goal is to be an NFL head coach, can you fault him for jumping at the chance? It's unlikely his stock would fall significantly next season, even if Stanford doesn't duplicate this year's success. Still, there's the possibility he will never again be such a hot commodity and have the opportunity to take an NFL position without having to leave the Bay Area.

My sense is that Harbaugh is leaning toward leaving for the 49ers, but hasn't ruled out the possibility of returning to Stanford. I think it's down to those two options and I'd put the chances (which are changing by the hour) of Harbaugh staying on the Farm at 35%. In other words, Harbaugh's return wouldn't quite top the 2007 win at USC as the Biggest Upset Ever.