Could and should the Jets target Jim Harbaugh again?

With the Jets barrelling toward their worst season since 1996, dumping Adam Gase seems inevitable. There are several high-profile NFL coordinator candidates New York could hire in Gase’s place, but there is one name that seems to emerge every time the Jets are in the market for a new head coach.

The Johnson family has always been enamored with Jim Harbaugh. New York has been linked to the Michigan coach in their past three head coaching searches, but the stars have never been better aligned for a Harbaugh-Jets marriage than they are in 2020.

The Jets secretly interviewed Harbaugh in 2009 when he was the coach at Stanford before hiring Rex Ryan – two years before the 49ers hired him in 2011 – and reportedly toyed with hiring Harbaugh again in 2014 after he and the 49ers parted ways. Harbaugh chose his alma mater. Michigan, over the Jets job, though, and New York hired Todd Bowles that offseason instead. The Jets reportedly tried once more to lure Harbaugh in 2018 before firing Bowles, but the team denied those reports and Harbaugh stayed at Michigan.

This hiring cycle could be the final chance for Harbaugh to return to the NFL after his impressive four-year stint in San Francisco. Harbaugh transformed a team that hadn’t had a winning record between 2003-2010 into a Super Bowl contender by 2012 and went 44-19-1 with three playoff appearances in four seasons. He also resurrected Alex Smith’s career and turned Colin Kaepernick into a dynamic starting quarterback.

Harbaugh clashed so badly with the 49ers front office, though, that he and the team split in a bitter divorce in 2014. He went to Michigan to change the culture in Ann Arbor, but the Wolverines have regressed every year since he took over in 2015. He hasn’t won a bowl game since 2015, he’s never beaten Ohio State and he hasn’t developed a quarterback capable of making the jump to the NFL as he did with Andrew Luck at Stanford.

It’s hard to tell if Harbaugh makes sense for the Jets based on his resume alone, even though he has a lot of the requisite attributes the Jets need in a new head coach. Harbaugh built a successful college program at Stanford and turned the 49ers into perennial contenders, developed three NFL starting quarterbacks and is a proven winner at the NFL level. He was also loved by his players, who praised him after he left the 49ers.

But the stigma of that split with the 49ers would likely weigh on any GM looking to hire him. Joe Douglas might not want to bring in a coach like Harbaugh who’s known to be combative with executives. There’s also no clear connection between Douglas and Harbaugh other than that Douglas worked with his brother, Ravens coach John Harbaugh, in Baltimore.

Harbaugh is a name to follow if the Jets begin looking at new coaches, but not necessarily one they’ll seriously consider hiring. NFL insiders told Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel that a Harbaugh-NFL reunion would be a surprise.

Harbaugh is a polarizing name that has been tied to the Jets for the past 11 years. But his NFL coaching buzz appears to be nearing its end, even if his time in Michigan is as well.

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