Team owner Stephen Ross left all but zero wiggle room last week when he said in no uncertain terms that Jim Harbaugh would not be the Dolphins’ next coach.
He told us that.
He told the Sun Sentinel it too.
By the end of the day last Monday, anyone who covers the Dolphins was told basically the same message:
Ross will not try to lure Harbaugh from Michigan, where Harbaugh, 55, has coached since 2015.
And yet, former Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik — who in the past has been quite plugged into the organization and usually does not spread speculation without information to back it up — is not convinced.
“I think the #NFL team that will try the hardest to hire Jim Harbaugh is the Miami Dolphins,” Dominik wrote on Twitter. “I know how much Mr. Ross loves his alma mater Michigan. Hard to fire [Adam] Gase without a plan already in place. #Dolphins”
So what, if anything, has changed?
Well, two things:
1. When Ross made those remarks, the Dolphins had a coach, Gase, and Ross was unsure whether he would even make a change this year. Ross told reporters on Monday that he made the decision to let Gase go after Miami’s season-ending loss to Buffalo.
2. Michigan got embarrassed for the second time in as many games, blown out by Florida in the Peach Bowl over the weekend. The Wolverines have lost their last two games by a combined 49 points. Does that performance justify the $7 million or so the school owes Harbaugh annually over the next three seasons?
Four years is Harbaugh’s usual shelf life at a job. He spent three years at the University of San Diego, four at Stanford, four with the 49ers and has been with Michigan since 2015.
As Dominik mentioned, everyone knows Ross has great respect and admiration for Harbaugh. That love affair was enough to convince Ross to fly cross-country to woo Harbaugh in 2011, even though he had a head coach under contract in Tony Sparano.
It’s also not hard to see how Ross might change his mind on pursuing Harbaugh if he emerges from interviews without conviction in any of the candidates with whom he meets. Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy will get his chance to interview with the Dolphins on Thursday, NFL Network reports. Brian Flores, New England’s defensive coordinator, will follow.
Dolphins special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi will get his chance, too. And requests have been put in on Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fango, former Titans head coach Mike Munchak and Cowboys defensive backs coach Kris Richard too.
There could be more names in the mix that have not yet been made public.
But none of them is in the same league as Jim Harbaugh, who six years ago was a defensive stop or two from winning the Super Bowl.
So why did Ross say last week that Harbaugh would not be a candidate?
Probably because he knows it would be incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to lure him out of Ann Arbor.
Money isn’t the issue. Ross has gobs of it, plus there’s no buyout needed since Harbaugh has finished his fourth season at Michigan, assuming this Newsday story from 2017 is correct.
Rather, it’s a lifestyle issue. Harbaugh went to Michigan and has an incredible setup there. His parents live next door, and his father, Jack, comes into the office with him most every day.
Michigan gives him free reign over most everything on campus, people on the ground say. How would he handle playing for not one, but two bosses in Miami?
Ross has given Chris Grier power over all of football operations, including the head coach.
The sense there is that Harbaugh will stay at Michigan.
But he is known to change his mind often.
And Ross, with his billions, can be quite persuasive.