The Atlanta Falcons are ensuring they line up quite a few candidates for their head coaching vacancy, which they created when they parted ways with Arthur Smith following the 2023 season. Until a short time ago, those names were mostly rising coordinators and experienced coordinators, with a dash of interim head coaches and associate head coaches thrown in. That changed when they made the Bill Belichick interview official recently, and it changed again Tuesday night when they dropped another bombshell.
There has been speculation that the Falcons would explore Jim Harbaugh as a candidate, and in my list of potential hires I mentioned him as the kind of big name and highly successful coach who would likely end up on Arthur Blank’s shortlist. Sure enough, the Falcons just made it official that they’ve interviewed him.
We have interviewed Michigan Head Coach Jim Harbaugh for our head coach opening— Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) January 17, 2024
Harbaugh is an odd, intense dude and always has been, but more than that, he’s a wildly successful coach. He turned around Stanford’s program, took the 49ers to a Super Bowl and had them contending yearly for four seasons after close to a decade of lean years, and turned Michigan into a juggernaut and this year’s national champion. Harbaugh excels at building teams and programs up, finding a way to maximize what he has and relentlessly adding talent. Harbaugh’s greatest gift might be convincing whatever organization that he belongs to that it’s them against the world. That helps them survive adversity and even some scandals, which Michigan has certainly been through with him at the helm.
If the Falcons were to bring aboard Harbaugh, he’d bring a very different dynamic than Belichick, but would likely wield similarly expansive influence over the franchise. I would expect Harbaugh to ask for and get some level of personnel power, pushing Terry Fontenot and the front office into a smaller role or pushing some of them out entirely, and to look to leverage some of that power to get some of his guys from Michigan to Atlanta with him. Harbaugh’s habit of butting heads in San Francisco might give Blank and company some pause before they hire him, but given that most of those power struggles happened with notorious power seeker Trent Baalke, it’s probably something they’ll overlook.
The positives for Harbaugh include his considerable coaching acumen, his ties to the college ranks and still-existing ties to the league that should help him build a capable staff, and an eye for talent that should serve him well as he and this front office try to fill the remaining holes on this Falcons roster. The reasons to be wary include Harbaugh’s years out of the NFL, which have seen the league change considerably, and the question of how his personality will mesh with the organization. But at least in my estimation, he’s one of the stronger hires the Falcons could make, with success in a variety of situations and an adaptability and personnel acumen that rank as strengths for Harbaugh instead of the biggest question marks for, say, Belichick.
We’ll see if the Falcons can lure him to Atlanta and if they truly want to—remember, Belichick has long been rumored and reported to be Blank’s top choice—but Harbaugh is an intriguing name and the team has managed to assemble an extremely worthwhile list of candidates to this point.