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Bidding Is Now Open On Jim Harbaugh

12:49 PM EST on January 10, 2023

GLENDALE, ARIZONA - DECEMBER 31: Head coach Jim Harbaugh of the Michigan Wolverines looks on during the third quarter of the College Football Playoff Semifinal Fiesta Bowl football game against the TCU Horned Frogs at State Farm Stadium on December 31, 2022 in Glendale, Arizona. The TCU Horned Frogs won 51-45. (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)
Alika Jenner/Getty Images

The football industry is up in arms about Sean McVay's apparent waffling about his coaching future. The head coach of the still-defending Super Bowl champions looking to leave his gig now that it's turned difficult is a juicy tale that hits hot buttons like "leaving your team in a lurch," "getting out when the going gets gunky," and "how dare our team lose a coach by being outbid by Amazon just because Amazon could buy the entire NFL six and half times over."

Sitting on a TV set for eight hours, 23 times a year, for more money than working hundred-hour weeks in May seems appealing, yet the idea still strikes people whose world has football at its nuclear core as somewhere between alien and traitorous. It also seems eminently sane, no matter the motivation.

But since McVay hasn't actually left yet, the Rams job is merely conceptually open, while the jobs in Arizona, Denver, and Houston are very actually open, and Carolina and Indianapolis may come open soon depending on David Tepper's view of Steve Wilks (guess: probably not splashy enough) and Jim Irsay's of Jeff Saturday (guess: smitten and committed for reasons of ego).

Which brings us to this year's hippo in the room: Jim Harbaugh. He has been a prime stalking horse for coaching rumor-peddlers since his feud with the 49ers' front office ended with him in Ann Arbor eight years ago, and through the sleepovers with recruits and the off-the-cuff political analyses and the chase of Ohio State and the resuscitation of the Wolverines' program and the chase of Georgia and now the potential NCAA sanctions—well, put it this way: He's never been more desirable to the speculation market, which means he's never been more desirable to people like Rob Walton and David Tepper, and maybe even Stan Kroenke, just to name three guys worth a collective $88.1 billion.

(As opposed, say, to Amazon's Jeff Bezos, who is worth many billions more than that. Now Bezos is supposed to still be keen on the smoking wreckage of the Washington Commanders, but his window for helping Harbaugh's leverage is mostly putting HIM in the Amazon booth, which would absolutely be worth the money for the 45 minutes Jim could endure TV work.)

The assumption among the specuguesser class is that Harbaugh is likeliest to end up in Denver for Walton, who is the second-richest owner in North American sports behind Shriekin' Stevie Ballmer, but it isn't just money but complete control that Harbaugh would want, mindful as he was of the power restrictions he felt in San Francisco.

In addition, there is the ever-present specter of Sean Payton, who did a year with Fox after finally hitting the restraining wall in New Orleans and is believed to be keen on destroying his quality of life with another bad team—maybe Carolina if Tepper, who is the fourth-richest sports owner in North America (behind the Winnipeg Jets' David Thomson), wants to dip into the deep end.

In short, Harbaugh is entering what looks like the golden age of bidding wars. Even if the relatively less well-off inherited-money billionaires like Mikey Bidwill (Arizona), Cal McNair (Houston), and Jimmy Irsay (Indianapolis) want to play, they have more than enough disposable jack to make a run at Harbaugh, plus Harbaugh's history with the Colts makes Irsay a potentially dangerous player if he can back away from the emotionally charged Jeff Saturday experiment that went so … uhh … that went.

Indeed, Harbaugh would be a fool not to at least entertain more money than he's ever known to try and repair his image in the NFL as a tactical mastermind with bad office politics skills. Not to mention the experiment of having more power with an NFL team than he currently has at Michigan, which is essentially all he wants forever and ever plus five bucks. And Harbaugh is competitive enough to insist on that last fin.

And let's be honest here. Even if you care nothing about Jim Harbaugh, you do enjoy the popular sport of flaming money shoveled frantically at the target of the day. That's what the hot stove league, NBA free agency, and the various drafts tell us, and in some ways the off-seasons are way better than the games themselves.

In sum, this is going to be fun, and disastrous, and hilarious, and vicious, and entertaining, and petty, and treacherous: the seven largest American exports according to Bloomberg. Who says no to all this? Probably not Jim Harbaugh, or Sean Payton, or Sean McVay, or the people who want them to have more generational wealth than they already have, because at this level of acquisition, money is the cheapest commodity of them all.

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