By Keith Peters
Palo Alto Online Sports
Don't be surprised if Jim Harbaugh announces as early as today that he'll be returning to coach the Stanford football team next season. There are plenty of reasons why it appears the logical choice.
After reportedly being in the middle of a bidding war this week between the Miami Dolphins and San Francisco 49ers, the Dolphins since have dropped out. Harbaugh left a reported six-hour meeting with the Niners without a contract in hand. The Denver Broncos, with former Stanford QB John Elway now in a front-office position to hire Harbaugh, haven't been heard from, at least in the media.
That leaves Harbaugh wavering between the 49ers, who reportedly offered $6 million a year (including bonuses), and Stanford, which reportedly has an offer on the table between $3 and $5 million according to various reports.
The Associated Press reported on Friday that Stanford officials were waiting to hear whether Harbaugh is staying (since he never left) or going to the Niners. Multiple news sources also are reporting that Stanford has the edge over the 49ers since raising its initial offer on a new contract extension.
Should Harbaugh decide on staying at Stanford, it should come as no surprise – especially after Heisman Trophy runner-up Andrew Luck's announcement on Thursday that he would return for his junior year. Actually, Luck never planned on leaving, despite all the media reports that he'd be the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft.
"It's not much news to us," Stanford wide receiver Richard Sherman said Thursday. "We knew a long time ago, October-November. He's kind of a humble kid. He's a great guy. He just deflected it (the fact he was coming back). ...He didn't want to be the center of attention. He didn't want it (the news) to interfere with playing football."
Sherman also said that the so-called experts who had Luck leaving had no idea.
"You kind of wonder how they became experts," Sherman said.
Perhaps Harbaugh, too, never intended to leave. Not once did he ever state his intention to depart. Instead, it was stated for him in the media. After all, it seemed the likely thing to do – just like it seemed likely Luck would leave for the millions awaiting him in the NFL.
Certainly, Harbaugh's discussions with the 49ers and Dolphins perhaps forced Stanford's hand in raising its stakes in the game. If Harbaugh stays on The Farm, that ploy obviously worked.
Harbaugh and Luck together for one more season is a no-brainer. Stanford accomplished nearly everything this season with its 12-1 record, its victory in the Orange Bowl and an expected final top-four national ranking. There is room, as slight as it is, for improvement.
Going undefeated, winning the Pac-12 title and capturing a BCS game in the Rose Bowl or even playing for a national championship most likely would cement the 2011 Cardinal as the greatest team in school history.
Should Luck go on to win the Heisman Trophy while sweeping the Davey O'Brien and Maxwell awards as the nation's top quarterback, there would be little else for him to accomplish.
With all that done, the door would be wide open for Harbaugh and Luck to leave and Stanford fans would be gracious with their good byes.
Another possible factor in having Harbaugh back, the Stanford Daily reported, "is the impending labor action in the NFL. With the league's collective bargaining agreement with its players set to expire in March, the owners could lock out the players -- effectively preventing the season from going forward."
So right now, everything is pointing toward Harbaugh and Luck working together again and no one should be surprised if it happens.