At the beginning of the 2017 college football season, a few media outlets — Fox Sports in particular — published pieces suggesting that Michigan Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh might leave Ann Arbor and head to Indianapolis to replace the Colts’ Chuck Pagano. Skeptical at first, I’ve become more optimistic as the Colts have struggled. Though Pagano’s battle against cancer several years ago inspired many, he hasn’t performed as a head coach since, and it seems almost certain that he’ll be gone after the 2017 season. Once he’s gone, the Colts will need somebody who has proven that they can step in and turn teams around. Josh McDaniels of the Patriots has been floated as one possibility, and although he’s a capable play-caller and offensive coordinator, his one stint as a head coach in Denver was a disappointment. Beyond McDaniels, there’s unlikely to be a whole lot of available coaching talent at the professional level. Maybe it’s time to dip into the ranks of the NCAA.
If Harbaugh is willing to listen to offers, it’d certainly be worthwhile to pursue him. He has proven that he can turn organizations around: he took over an abysmal Stanford program in December 2006 following a 1-11 season and molded them into a national contender, led the 49ers to a Super Bowl and is now in the midst of restoring Michigan’s program to national prominence. The Colts, just a few years removed from the AFC Championship game, desperately need help. Their offensive line is in shambles, the defense is bad again and they’re without star quarterback Andrew Luck, whom they might decide to shut down for the rest of the season. They clearly need help, and if (and it’s a big if) Harbaugh demonstrates any sign that he’d be open to leaving Ann Arbor, the Colts ought to give him a call.
Ever since they drafted Andrew Luck in 2012, the Colts have surrounded him with people familiar with his game. They took Stanford tight end Coby Fleener in the second round of that same draft, then signed wide receiver Griff Whalen as an undrafted free agent. A year later, following Luck’s rookie season, the Colts signed Pep Hamilton — Stanford’s offensive coordinator — to the same position. With fellow Cardinal around him, Luck thrived. And though Fleener, Whalen and Hamilton are all gone now, the Colts should consider reverting to the strategy that brought them so much success: surrounding their star quarterback with people who have succeeded with him in the past.
And thus, perhaps it’s time we got another Stanford reunion in Indianapolis. It’s a stretch, for sure. It would take a lot to convince Harbaugh to leave his alma mater, especially for a struggling franchise. But he’s done it before, and if they throw enough money his way, the prospect of coaching his former protégé Andrew Luck just might be enough.
Contact Andrew Ziperski at ajzip ‘at’ stanford.edu.