Every year some college football programs fire their coaches and hire different ones. Sometimes they aren’t a surprise, like Charlie Strong to Texas or Steve Sarkisian to USC. Other times they are, like Mike Reilly to Nebraska. But during the process there is a constant smokescreen up. Jim Harbaugh’s comments regarding the Michigan job the last few days mean absolutely zero. The simple reason is that he will not show his hand until he is definitely sure what his future holds. This is true of any coach. Until a coach accepts the opening, they are in play unless one of the following things happens.
Position Is Filled
Obviously if a team hires a different coach (let’s just use Les Miles at Michigan here) the job is off the table. At that point the other “candidate” will likely deny any interest (whether true or not) to keep their current team/fanbase from having hurt feelings. It also keeps them from looking like they were passed over for a job, even if they were.
Coach Signs a Contract Extension
This is the de facto move at the college level to take a coach’s name out of the conversation. Butch Jones signed an extension with Tennessee this week which eliminated him from the Michigan search. This rule only applies to the current hiring cycle. For example, Jones could be right back in the mix next offseason at other places. Of course, with job security they are less likely to leave, but they are far from eliminated from the conversation. In the case of Jim Harbaugh, him being traded to the Raiders or Jets would be the equivalent of signing an extension (which the 49ers almost certainly wouldn’t do).
Coach Takes Another Job
Another rather obvious scenario. When Jim McElwain accepted the Florida job, he obviously was no longer a candidate elsewhere. In Harbaugh’s case, this again would be a trade to another team (probably Oakland or New York).
Essentially nothing Jim Harbaugh (or any other coaching candidate) says means a thing at this point. Only action does. Harbaugh is not getting an extension with the 49ers unless they win the Super Bowl. So he will remain a candidate until San Francisco trades him or until Michigan fills the job with someone else. Everything else is just a smokescreen.