In some ways, the Jets pursuing Jim Harbaugh as their next head coach is the perfect idea. He's a terrific coach who had success in the NFL, a strong personality who'll command respect, and big enough name that he'll be a bolt of energy and credibility through a deflated organization and fan base.
But if the Jets really are considering making a run at Harbaugh if, as expected, they fire Todd Bowles after the season -- as ProFootballTalk reported on Sunday night -- they ought to be very careful. The man who is arguably the biggest name on the head coaching market also comes with the biggest risk.
For proof of that, all anyone needs to look at is his four tumultuous years in San Francisco, where he inherited a franchise in a state similar to what the Jets are experiencing right now. The 49ers were coming off a 6-10 season and had just missed the playoffs for the eighth straight year. They were definitely rebuilding.
The next three seasons were magical. They won 13, 11 and 12 games under Harbaugh. Twice they lost in the NFC championship. Once they lost in the Super Bowl. He had instantly turned the 49ers into the kind of power they were in the 1980s when they had Bill Walsh, Joe Montana and Jerry Rice.
For a normal coach in a normal situation that would've been a guarantee of a long-term contract, the adulation of his bosses, and his coronation as the King of northern California. It seemed even better when the next season started 7-4. But then came three straight losses, and just like that Harbaugh was told he was fired.
In San Francisco, the Harbaugh Experience, as successful as it was, turned out to be way too much.
It turns out, from many reports that emerged during his tenure and after his firing, players, executives and team staff considered him toxic and unbearable. Despite all the winning - a 44-19-1 record over four seasons and three runs at a championship - he destroyed his relationship with GM Trent Baalke and owner Jed York. He clashed over personnel decisions, how to deal with troubled players, off-field obligations. The stories don't reflect well on Baalke or York either, but it was a power struggle and Harbaugh always apparently wanted more.
That's what the Jets have to consider -- if the report is true. In a rare statement on Monday morning, Jets CEO Christopher Johnson shot it down saying "Todd Bowles is our Head Coach. There is no truth to the report of our interest in Jim Harbaugh." It certainly hadn't reflected well on the Jets that they might have spent the last month searching for a new coach while Bowles was still employed.
But if there was some truth to the report, or if the Jets' truth changes, they still need to be wary. For whatever genius the 55-year-old Harbaugh may bring as a coach, is there any way he could get along with GM Mike Maccagnan? Or will the Jets let Maccagnan go too? They certainly couldn't bring in Harbaugh and set up the same, dysfunctional power structure with both the GM and coach directly reporting to CEO Christopher Johnson. That would be asking for the explosion that would surely come soon.
Also, Harbaugh would instantly be the biggest football personality in New York, which would make the Jets the biggest football story in the city - something that matters far more than it should to many in the organization. That can be good, as it was in the early days of the bombastic Rex Ryan. The danger in that, of course, is Harbaugh is a much pricklier personality who has never been a media darling. So the fall could be a lot harder and uglier if things don't go well.
In other words, the risk of a catastrophe is huge. Harbaugh's arrival could turn out to be humbling or even humiliating for Maccagnan or even the flashpoint for his eventual firing. It could turn the organization upside down, put everyone on edge, and set it on a nasty spiral of behind-the-scenes politics and anger. Of course, if Harbaugh's NFL history is any indication, it could also mean an instant turnaround, with the Jets riding their young, franchise quarterback right in to Super Bowl contention, perhaps as soon as next year.
Fans would clearly trade the possibility of internal chaos for a shot at the Jets' first Super Bowl appearance in 50 years. But would Maccagnan and Johnson do that, especially considering they might have to pay Harbaugh $8-10 million per season and guarantee a lot of years?
According to PFT, the Jets have been investigating Harbaugh for about a month, so they're obviously seriously considering the possibility. It would certainly be a bold move. It would be an invigorating move. It could even turn out be the best and smartest move this star-crossed franchise has ever made.
But there is high risk in the chase for that instant gratification. There are far safer choices out there who offer the chance for success without the same likelihood of turmoil - former Packers coach Mike McCarthy for example. But there may not be a better choice if they really can lure Harbaugh away from Michigan.
The Jets just have to be comfortable with the strong possibility that this would be like a deal with the devil. Their franchise might thrive in the short term, but the odds are good that sooner than later it will all go horribly, uncontrollably wrong.