This is not to say Robert Saleh will be fired, or should be. But this is the NFL. When a team collapses like the Jets have, no one should feel safe. Heads tend to roll in these situations. Especially when a better option may be available. And one the owner has lusted for in the past.
Jim Harbaugh is apparently chomping at the bit to go back to the NFL. The Athletic reports those close to Harbaugh believe he will leave Ann Arbor if someone offers him a job. Even after consecutive Big Ten titles and a vow to close the door on the NFL last year.
The Broncos have already called. Figure the Colts will not be too far behind. Others figure to enter the fold in a few days. But here’s the rub: Harbaugh is only returning to the NFL to win the Super Bowl. He has made that clear in the past. And the teams expected to have vacancies are nowhere near that caliber.
The Jets, on the other hand …
If Harbaugh got his pick of the realistic destination litter (we’re going to assume Andy Reid is not retiring anytime soon), his ideal fit would be the Chargers. Justin Herbert, great weather and a playoff-ready roster. And maybe the Bolts have a cutthroat firing of Brandon Staley in them, even after he coached them to the tournament. But assume that is off the table. We would argue the Jets are the next-best thing. And the path from Ann Arbor to Florham Park may not be all that tough to navigate.
Woody Johnson has many faults as an owner, but patience is not one of them. The Jets gave Rex Ryan one more year than he probably deserved. The same with Todd Bowles. History suggests Johnson will give Saleh at least a third season. But he has seen his team lose five straight and six of seven to extend the NFL’s longest postseason drought. He likely feels a sense of urgency to seize the moment with the talent he has. Oh, and he’s been Harbaugh-curious during how many past coaching searches?
It’s not hard to draw up how this could play out. Johnson tells Saleh he’s safe, but offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur has to go. Saleh balks at throwing his close friend under the bus. Things devolve from there. The job opens. Harbaugh gets the call. And away they go.
No one believes the Jets actually still believe in Zach Wilson. But for the sake of this exercise, say they actually do. If there is anyone who can fix him, it might be Harbaugh. If the Jets move to draft another quarterback or bring in a veteran, that works too.
General manager Joe Douglas worked with John Harbaugh in Baltimore for years. That common tie could form the foundation for a good working relationship where Harbaugh has personnel power, but not all of it. Harbaugh is equipped to handle New York. And, to steal from Mike Francesa, consider the recurring coaching immaturity we have seen from Saleh and staff. Then look at Harbaugh’s sterling professional resume — a 44-19-1 record, three NFC title games, one Super Bowl and no losing seasons. And consider the staff he would likely build. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio?
Saleh will almost assuredly be the Jets’ coach in 2023. It is hard to muster a strong argument for his dismissal at this point. But not much imagination is required to envision how he could be fired. And how Harbaugh could finally arrive here.
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James Kratch can be reached at [email protected]