As expected, Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh decided to leave Palo Alto and accepted the vacant head coaching position for the San Francisco 49ers. Harbaugh left Stanford after four years for a five year deal worth a reported $25 million.
Harbaugh’s future had been the source of rampant speculation all week with the 49ers, Denver Broncos, and Miami Dolphins have reportedly interested in Harbaugh for their head coaching vacancies.
Earlier in the week it looked like Miami would land Harbaugh’s services. Reports surfaced earlier today that he might actually stay at Stanford, but in the end Harbaugh went were most expected he would land at the beginning of the week when he accepted the 49ers job.
In his time at Stanford, Harbaugh transformed the Cardinal from a 1-11 laughing stock into a 12-1 Orange Bowl champion. His overall record (29-21) ended up not looking all that impressive on paper, but the reclamation project Harbaugh completed Monday night with Stanford’s 40-12 win over Virginia Tech was pretty remarkable.
In the process Harbaugh acquired a 2-2 record against Notre Dame with wins in back to back seasons including this season’s 37-14 victory in South Bend.
Stanford got some good news on Thursday when Heisman runner up Andrew Luck announced he would be returning for his senior season, but with Harbaugh’s departure Stanford’s prospects for the 2011 season have taken a serious hit.
Based on the work Harbaugh did over the last four years, Stanford should be able to attract a better head coach than say Buddy Teevens or Walt Harris, but it will be extremely difficult, if not near impossible for Stanford to caught lightning in a bottle twice like they did with Harbaugh four years ago.
Notre Dame closes out the 2011 season in Palo Alto next season, and even with Luck coming back, the Cardinal team the Irish face then could look drastically different than the team they faced in South Bend this past December depending on who Stanford hires to replace Harbaugh.
From a recruiting standpoint, Notre Dame may be able to gain from Harbaugh’s decision to opt for the NFL. Notre Dame, Stanford, and USC are the three finalists for running back/slot wide receiver Amir Carlisle who is set to announce his decision on January 15th. Carlisle, a Stanford commitment reopened his commitment a while back and is set to make his final decision next weekend.
Whether or not Notre Dame decides to target any other Stanford commitment in the wake of Harbaugh’s departure remains to be seen, but it’s safe to assume that their commitments will be getting calls from other schools.
It’s been apparent for a while that Harbaugh could be leaving so Stanford AD Bob Bowlsby should be prepared for this and it won’t be surprising if he moves fast in finding a replacement. The longer it takes him to find Harbaugh’s successor, however, the harder it will be for Stanford to hold together their strong recruiting class.
With Harbaugh now gone from Stanford, Notre Dame will face four schools with new head coaches next year with Maryland (Randy Edsall), Pitt (TBD), and Michigan (TBD) being the other three.