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Jim Harbaugh to Michigan '99%' likely, reports say

John Kryk

By John Kryk, Toronto Sun

San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh reacts to fans from the field before the game against the San Diego Chargers at Levi's Stadium on Dec. 20, 2014. (Bob Stanton/USA TODAY Sports)

San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh reacts to fans from the field before the game against the San Diego Chargers at Levi's Stadium on Dec. 20, 2014. (Bob Stanton/USA TODAY Sports)

Two credible reports in Ann Arbor say Jim Harbaugh is a virtual certainty to be announced in the days ahead as the next head coach of the University of Michigan Wolverines.

On Friday night, plugged-in blogger Brian Cook, who has broken big Michigan news for years, was first to report that the surprising move "is happening."

Cook rated the likelihood at "99%."

"It's all over but the pointless rush to be the first to report that water is wet," Cook wrote.

On Saturday, Chris Balas of TheWolverine.com (a Rivals.com subsite) followed up by tweeting "it's gonna happen," rating the chances at "99.999%." He explained why in a story.

"This morning, our best sources on both sides confirmed it would take a force of nature to prevent Jim Harbaugh from being the next head coach at Michigan, and (sources) now expect he'll be introduced Tuesday," Balas wrote.

"It would be beyond surreal" if Harbaugh backed out, Balas added.

Harbaugh coached the University of San Diego and Stanford University before jumping to the NFL in 2011 to take over the San Francisco 49ers.

In his previous three years in San Fran, Harbaugh took the Niners to the NFC title game each year, and once got to the Super Bowl. But this year the 49ers won't make the playoffs. At 7-8, they conclude the 2014 season Sunday at home against the Arizona Cardinals.

While it has been widely reported for weeks that the Niners will fire Harbaugh soon after Sunday's game, because of the front office's inability to get along with the fiery if highly successful coach, it now appears Michigan has bought out (or will buy out) Harbaugh from the last year of his contract with the NFL club.

UM officials are spending this weekend in the Bay Area, according to numerous reports from Ann Arbor, college and NFL circles.

Harbaugh, 51, has refused to answer questions about his future beyond Sunday's game. When asked at his Friday news conference to at least confirm he would not resign, Harbaugh declined to do so.

"What will happen, will happen," he said. "What will not happen, won't happen."

Reports in Ann Arbor since Brady Hoke was fired Dec. 2 as head coach following a 5-7 season have insisted Harbaugh-to-Michigan had credulity. For weeks Balas had rated the chances as 50/50 at worst, which wasn't even the most optimistic among reports presumably coming from the Michigan end of things.

Last Saturday I reported, from my own plugged-in sources in Ann Arbor, that Harbaugh was seriously interested in the UM job, and I expressed my hunch that he'd take the job.

Developments late this past week turned maybes into probablies, then into near-certainties by Saturday afternoon.

Reports from national NFL writers, as well as some based in the Bay Area, before this past week had largely dismissed such news. There was little if any chance Harbaugh would leave the pro ranks for any college job, the reports maintained.

But Harbaugh spent the prime of his childhood and early-teen years in Ann Arbor while his dad, Jack, coached defensive backs at Michigan under famous head coach Bo Schembechler.

Then Harbaugh himself starred at Michigan in the mid 1980s, becoming an All-American quarterback before launching a 15-year NFL career.

Apparently, the prospect of restoring a sinking Wolverine program in its greatest hour of need in nearly half a century holds allure for Harbaugh -- as surely did a massive contract offer from interim Michigan athletic director Jim Hackett, which reportedly could be worth as much as $7-8 million per year.

The deal, if that lucrative, could make Harbaugh college football's highest-paid coach. He has earned $5 million per year with the Niners.

POLIAN TO BILLS?

Is Bill Polian returning to Buffalo to run the Bills football operation?

ProFootballTalk.com reported Saturday that "there's growing speculation and rumour in league circles" -- and some sources "firmly believe, as soon as Monday" -- that Polian could be hired in some capacity by his former team.

Polian was the architect of the Bills' Super Bowl dynasty as the team's GM from 1986-93. He went on to build last decade's Indianapolis Colts dynasty around Peyton Manning.

Now 72 years old, Polian is an NFL commentator for ESPN.

Polian denied the report in an interview with the Buffalo News.

“I have steadfastly refused, throughout my career, to deal with rumors and I continue to do so to this day,” Polian told the newspaper. “This much is certain: I will be working tomorrow for ESPN and next week and the weeks thereafter for ESPN.”

Despite the denial, perhaps Polian would be hired merely as an adviser by new Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula.

In any event, if the Polian talk is more than just speculation, then it might mean the end for president Russ Brandon and GM Doug Whaley, whose bold, risk-taking approach to player moves since early last year has been controversial at best, foolhardy at worst.

The trade-up in last May's draft for receiver Sammy Watkins cost the Bills their 2015 first- and fourth-round draft picks, when draft experts had insisted all winter and spring that the receiver class would prove one of the richest and deepest in NFL history.

They were right. The Bills could have selected Odell Beckham Jr., for instance, without trading up from No. 9 to No. 4.


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