By Sam McPherson
The Los Angeles Rams need a new head coach for the 2017 season and beyond after firing Jeff Fisher on Monday. Fisher’s mediocrity over almost five seasons with the franchise finally did him in, and the rumors are already circulating that the Los Angeles organization is interested in hiring former San Francisco 49ers and current Michigan Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh.
However, not only would Harbaugh be one of the most expensive coaches in the history of the NFL, but he would also be a bad fit for the Los Angeles Rams. While Harbaugh may seem like he’s got “L.A.” written all over him, the Rams would be making a big mistake if they paid him to come to Southern California.
Harbaugh Is Not Really A QB Guru
Since the Rams spent a lot of draft credit to move up and pick quarterback Jared Goff last spring, the team needs a head coach that has a proven track record with developing young QBs. Harbaugh hardly fits that description. Yes, he once recruited Andrew Luck to Stanford, but Harbaugh has not done much in the quarterback realm since then.
The rapid decline of Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco under Harbaugh’s tutelage is all anyone needs to see that Harbaugh is not the alleged “QB whisperer” many experts make him out to be. Kaepernick’s production and reputation declined every season he played under Harbaugh, to the point he was benched in 2015 after Harbaugh left the 49ers for the University of Michigan.
Furthermore, the San Francisco QB that Harbaugh didn’t choose, Alex Smith, has gone on to enjoy his best seasons in Kansas City under head coach Andy Reid, making the Pro Bowl for the first time in 2013 after leaving Harbaugh and the 49ers. In fact, Smith has won 20 of his last 25 starts as the Chiefs quarterback, while Kaepernick is just 10-22 since the start of 2014. Harbaugh clearly bet on the wrong horse in San Francisco, and it has cost the 49ers plenty.
Lack Of True Success At Michigan
While coaching at the University of Michigan for the last two years, Harbaugh has received more headlines for his over-the-top persona than he has for actual on-the-field achievement. The Wolverines have finished in third place among the Big Ten East Division schools both seasons under Harbaugh, and the team’s fatal offensive struggles can be traced directly to having little talent at the QB position, which is supposed to be a strength for the Michigan head coach.
Harbaugh inherited a strong defense when he took over the Wolverines program, but he hasn’t been able to find a starting quarterback at Michigan in two years of recruiting and player development. Between 2015 starter Jake Rudock and 2016 starter Wilton Speight, the Wolverines have been hurt by their QBs more than they’ve been buoyed by them. For a coach with Harbaugh’s reputation, it’s somewhat odd how other prestigious football schools across the country (Alabama, Louisville, USC, etc.) have recruited, developed and played better young quarterbacks than Harbaugh has been able to find in Ann Arbor.
More Flash Than Substance
While Harbaugh’s larger-than-life personality may seem like a good fit for Los Angeles, there are some realities to consider here. First, his coaching style is suited better for the college game, in terms of recruiting and motivating young men to play the game of football. That approach wears thin in the professional ranks, as Harbaugh learned in San Francisco during his final two seasons there when he lost the respect of the guys in the locker room. How soon would he burn out his roster in L.A.?
In addition, he has not shown he can handle and manage the subtle game shifts that are essential to NFL success. In the pros and in the college game, Harbaugh has been out-coached during games by master strategists like Pete Carroll, his own brother John, Mark Dantonio and Urban Meyer, just to name a few adversaries that have had Harbaugh’s number recently.
When it comes to pure Xs and Os, Harbaugh doesn’t have that capability to adapt and adjust very quickly during games, and it has cost his team huge wins. Harbaugh’s 49ers lost five of their last six games against the Seattle Seahawks. Remember the finish to the Super Bowl when the 49ers lost to the Baltimore Ravens? And just look at how Michigan lost a last-second game to Michigan State in 2015 and this year’s Ohio State game for evidence. All three of those games are match-ups Harbaugh’s teams never should have lost, but each team did lose because Harbaugh was out-coached by his opponent.
Better Coaching Fits Out There (And Cheaper, Too)
Former Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden has been mentioned as a possible target for the Rams, but Gruden is too comfortable in the broadcast booth now to ever come back to the NFL coaching grind. He also doesn’t have the kind of ego that demands a return to the sidelines. Gruden is not the answer. However, here are a few coaching options that would be a good fit in Los Angeles with the team’s roster and fan base: Tom Coughlin, Todd Haley and Kyle Shanahan.
Coughlin has proven NFL success with a hard-line approach on young, talented teams, and although he is 70 years old, he could help revive this Rams franchise in a hurry. Haley has a proven offensive mind for the pro game, and even though he had an inconsistent run as the Chiefs head coach from 2009 to 2011, he’s earned another shot after five successful seasons as Pittsburgh’s offensive coordinator.
Finally, Shanahan has eight straight years of offensive coordinator work in the NFL under his belt and has been around the NFL his whole life. He’s the kind of young coach the Rams could keep for several years of success if the decision pans out, and if the L.A. organization can woo him properly, he is probably the best fit for this team and its talented, albeit under performing, roster.