The news of the Jets' intention to make a big run at Jim Harbaugh was like a Christmas present for Jets fans starved for a proven, big-name coach to turn around their franchise. Then CEO Christopher Johnson dumped a statement of denial in their stocking like it was a big, old lump of coal.
For the moment, though, no one knows if Johnson was telling the truth in his Christmas Eve statement or if Harbaugh was when he insisted he was staying at Michigan, or whether this is just the usual dance NFL teams do with college coaches right before they hire them. Until then, there's a bigger question that looms over this possible marriage:
How exactly is it supposed to work?
Because if the Jets really are after the 55-year-old Harbaugh, they are either planning a major organizational overhaul that no one is expecting, or they're planning a shotgun marriage that has absolutely no chance to work. For months, multiple sources have told SNY that Jets GM Mike Maccagnan will likely keep his job when coach Todd Bowles is presumably fired on Monday morning. He might even get more power and a chance to either pick or have a huge say in the identity of the next head coach.
If that happens, if the Jets abandon their ill-advised system where both the coach and GM are on equal footing and report directly to Johnson, does anyone think Harbaugh would accept such an arrangement? The Jets might have to pay him $10 million-plus per year to lure him from Michigan, which would give him a salary that likely dwarfs what they pay Maccagnan. Harbaugh would be the biggest personality in their building and the face of the franchise.
He's not going to be happy coming into a situation where someone else picks the players for him.
After all, he wasn't happy when that happened in San Francisco, where before the end, according to many reports, he clashed with GM Trent Baalke and owner Jed York over everything from player selection to player punishment to things he and his players had to do off the field. He wanted to be in control - total control. And especially after all the winning - three straight trips to the NFC championship and one trip to the Super Bowl - he demanded it.
He tried a power play and he lost.
It would be a crazy leap of faith to think Harbaugh wouldn't try the same thing again in New York. The only way this would work - the only thing he'd accept - is a similar situation to the one the Jets had with Maccagnan and Bowles over the last four years. But even then, Maccagnan had control over personnel issues. He wasn't just there to do Bowles' bidding.
And according to multiple sources in and outside the organization, the reason that worked at all was due to the professionalism of both men. They clashed at times, but they each won their share of battles. Sometimes Maccagnan pursued the players Bowles wanted. Other times Bowles accepted that Maccagnan drafted or signed who he preferred.
Again, does that sound like something Harbaugh would do? He's a strong-willed, sometimes prickly personality who has had remarkable success everywhere he's gone. To make it really work in the NFL he'd need a situation like the one the Patriots have in New England, where Bill Belichick is in control of everything and a director of player personnel makes his wishes come true. Or like the one in Seattle where Pete Carroll is the king of the castle, but he has a good working relationship with the GM and control over all moves.
The Jets certainly could consider doing that for Harbaugh, but they'd almost certainly have to fire Maccagnan if they did. Assuming they keep Maccagnan - which again appears to be the way they're going - they'll need a much more traditional GM-coach relationship.
It's almost impossible to imagine Harbaugh agreeing to something like that.