SAN FRANCISCO – All week, Jim Harbaugh had a good feeling about making the jump to the NFL and joining the San Francisco 49ers – just the way mentor and late Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh did more than 30 years ago.
Declaring it a “perfect competitive opportunity,” the 47-year-old Harbaugh accepted the job as coach of the 49ers on Friday and said his goal is to win a Lombardi Trophy for “one of the legendary franchises in all of football.”
The successful Stanford coach receives a five-year deal and gets to remain right at home in the Bay Area, moving to the NFL after four years with the Cardinal. A longtime NFL quarterback, he replaces fired coach Mike Singletary. ESPN reported Harbaugh’s deal is for $25 million.
The Miami Dolphins and Denver Broncos were also interested in Harbaugh, as was his alma mater, the University of Michigan.
In the end, Harbaugh decided to leave Stanford for the pros even though San Francisco has missed the playoffs eight straight seasons and Orange Bowl MVP quarterback Andrew Luck announced Thursday he would remain at Stanford for another season.
The Cardinal (12-1) finished with a school-record 12 wins following a 40-12 victory over Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl on Monday night. It’s been a whirlwind week for Harbaugh to say the least.
Harbaugh has long admired Walsh and how he made the successful leap from Stanford to the 49ers. Harbaugh knew the man nicknamed “The Genius” for 18 years and once received footwork tips from him while playing for the Bears. “Everything that came out of his mind, his heart, his mouth, I hung on every single word.”
While Harbaugh said he had all but made up his mind to accept the 49ers’ offer following a meeting of more than six hours that went into Wednesday evening, he took a couple of days to hear out his other suitors and do his “homework” – and “do some soul searching” as new 49ers general manager Trent Baalke put it.
“I knew in my heart and my gut the right decision was with the San Francisco 49ers,” he said.
Harbaugh insists this move wasn’t all about money. He reportedly had an offer for more from Miami.
“It wasn’t the factor. I like a buck just like the next guy, but I love coaching and I love winning and I love football,” he said.
“The factor that dictated my being here was that Trent and Jed and the 49ers organization wanted me to be here and I wanted to be here as much or more than they wanted me. Here I am.”
Harbaugh, a college star at Michigan where there also is a coaching vacancy after the firing of Rich Rodriguez, played 15 seasons in the NFL for the Bears, Colts, Ravens, Chargers and Panthers.