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Jim Harbaugh to the Raiders? The dots are starting to connect

Updated January 2, 2024 - 10:14 pm

Despite deep connections, mutual admiration and multiple opportunities for the Raiders and Jim Harbaugh to forge a working relationship over the years, the timing never appeared right for him to coach the team.

That might soon change.

The former San Francisco 49ers coach has his Michigan Wolverines in the championship game of the College Football Playoffs. But what he’s doing behind the scenes suggests he wants to return to the NFL and that he’s interested in the Raiders.

In a clear sign that Harbaugh is in play for the NFL, he hired Don Yee as his new agent recently.

Yee is a longtime NFL power broker whose most famous client is Tom Brady. The former NFL star is in the process of buying a minority ownership share of the Raiders from owner Mark Davis. Brady is already a minority owner of Davis’ WNBA Las Vegas Aces.

Brady’s growing business partnership and friendship with Davis almost certainly means the former quarterback will have some input in the Raiders’ coaching search. Throw in his connection with Harbaugh — they both played at Michigan and now share the same agent — and it’s easy to play connect the dots.

The Raiders, who finish their season Sunday against the Broncos, will give strong consideration to interim coach Antonio Pierce, who has led them to a 4-4 record since taking over for the fired Josh McDaniels. By NFL rules, the Raiders must conduct an extensive coaching search after the season, part of which requires them to interview at least two minority candidates from outside their organization.

Davis said he’s open to letting the process guide him to a final decision, but while Pierce has been impressive during his time in charge, Harbaugh is the type of candidate who can change the dynamic.

The buzz of him being in play for the Raiders has been ongoing since Davis fired McDaniels on Halloween night, but it wasn’t clear how interested Harbaugh was in leaving Michigan for the NFL. The hiring of Yee changes all that, and as an NFL source with knowledge of the situation indicated Tuesday, Harbaugh to the Raiders is very much “in play.”

Harbaugh, whose wife is from Las Vegas, began his coaching career in 2002 as an assistant with the Raiders and spent two seasons in Oakland as the quarterbacks coach. In his short time with the Raiders, Harbaugh made quite an impression on Al Davis, the team’s longtime owner and Mark’s father.

“Al always respected him because he played. Al liked players,” the late Hall of Fame coach John Madden told the San Jose Mercury News in 2014. “He felt the guys that played would relate better to players. He also respected Jim because he was a tough guy, a smart guy, a grinder.”

The feeling was mutual, with Harbaugh telling the Mercury News in 2014 that he learned at the hip of Al Davis.

“The detail, listen to his knowledge, his wisdom, his history of the game … and the advancement of the modern-day passing game,” Harbaugh said. “I was so excited to hear what he was saying, and to go back to my office to write it down so I could remember it. I would hang on every word.”

Harbaugh has enjoyed tremendous success since leaving the Raiders, specifically by rebuilding Stanford into a national power from 2007 to 2010 and then leading the 49ers to a 44-19-1 record from 2011 to 2014. His time in San Francisco included three playoff appearances and a trip to the Super Bowl.

Michigan is 88-25 under Harbaugh, including a 39-3 record in the past three seasons. His 2022 Wolverines went 13-0 before losing to Texas Christian in the CFP semifinals, and this season’s team is 14-0 and preparing to play Washington on Monday for the national championship.

Mark Davis has remained a fan of Harbaugh and considers him a winner and difference-maker. He considered him for the Raiders’ coaching job in 2015 and 2022 before turning elsewhere.

But there’s growing speculation that things might be different this time around.

Contact Vincent Bonsignore at vbonsignore@reviewjournal.com. Follow @VinnyBonsignore on X.

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