49ers, Broncos want Jim Harbaugh?

Updated: January 5, 2011, 10:47 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

MIAMI -- Virginia Tech had no answer for Stanford during the Orange Bowl.

Jim Harbaugh had no answer for Stanford afterward.

If this was the end, as many expect, for Harbaugh's tenure as coach at Stanford, then it certainly was a happy farewell. His Cardinal (No. 4 BCS, No. 5 AP) rolled past Virginia Tech 40-12 on Monday night -- almost certainly ensuring Stanford's first top-5 finish in The Associated Press rankings since 1940.

But when it was over and he was asked many times, many different ways, Harbaugh wanted no part of discussing his future.

"Respect the game," Harbaugh said repeatedly. "Respect the process."

The game is over.

The process is only just beginning.

Harbaugh returned to a welcome-home rally on Stanford's campus Tuesday night and offered no insight to what's next.

Harbaugh shook his head and said "no" when asked if he had considered his options during the cross-country flight home, then briefly addressed a crowd of several hundred cheering fans before being whisked away.

"Look at all these cameras. Wow," Harbaugh said, holding toddler daughter Addison. "I feel so popular."

What's clear is this: Harbaugh has no shortage of options. He could be a candidate at Michigan, his alma mater, if the Wolverines dismiss Rich Rodriguez and the NFL remains an option.

However, a source with direct knowledge of Harbaugh's thinking said Harbaugh is "highly unlikely" to accept the Michigan job if offered, the Detroit Free Press reported on Tuesday. The reasoning, according to the report, is that Harbaugh is reluctant to leave the Cardinal for another college position because he's happy with what he's built at Stanford.

Luck It will definitely be an impact, but I don't know how much, to be honest.

-- Andrew Luck on whether Jim Harbaugh's decision will impact his

John Harbaugh, Jim's brother and the coach of the Baltimore Ravens, echoed those sentiments on the radio Tuesday.

"I don't know what he's going to do," John Harbaugh said during his weekly radio program on Baltimore-based WBAL. "I think the Michigan thing is done now. I think that's over. I don't think he's going to have anything to do with that. I think that says a lot about Stanford."

A league source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter that the San Francisco 49ers are still targeting Harbaugh, and the Denver Broncos also intend to talk to the 14-year NFL veteran.

Of course, Harbaugh could stay with the Cardinal. Given the way he's got Stanford rolling right now -- 1-11 the season before he arrived, 12-1 and winners of a Bowl Championship Series game four years later -- it's easy to see why that could be an appealing possibility.

"I don't want to be rude, but with all due respect, I'd just rather enjoy the moment and these guys and this team and what we've accomplished because it's never been done this way exactly in the history of Stanford football," said Harbaugh. "We're really excited about it."

A decision is expected from Harbaugh this week, the source told Schefter.

It was a relatively surreal scene afterward, Harbaugh and sophomore quarterback Andrew Luck lobbing oranges at teammates and each other amid the on-field celebration, then both ducking the questions they knew were coming.

Luck could be the No. 1 overall pick if he opts to enter the NFL draft. With the game well in hand, the Stanford faithful in the stands started the requisite "One more year" chant late in the fourth quarter.

They may have been directing those words at Luck. More than likely, they were hoping Harbaugh heard their cries.

Turns out, if Harbaugh leaves, that might make Luck's decision easier than he expects.

"It will definitely be an impact," Luck said, "but I don't know how much, to be honest."

John Elway shook hands in the final minutes with former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, who watched the Cardinal women's basketball team end Connecticut's 90-game winning streak last week.

On Monday, she might have seen the end of the Harbaugh era. Maybe the Luck era, too.

"I think there are a lot of worse decisions you might have to make in life," Luck said. "I don't mean to be rude, but I'd rather not address that subject anymore."

Sitting to his quarterback's right, Harbaugh smiled. Luck looked at him and grinned back.

Luck has until Jan. 15 to decide whether to forgo his final two years of eligibility and declare for the NFL draft.

"I know the deadline's coming up to figure something out. Honestly I haven't given it too much thought," said Luck, who insists he hasn't been affected by the speculation surrounding Harbaugh. "Ever since I've been a freshman his name has been mentioned for every job that has come open it seems like, so we're used to it. He's got to do what's best for his family. We understand it's part of life. ... For the team, it didn't get in the way of winning an Orange Bowl. It worked out well so it was not a distraction."

Harbaugh has handled the speculation deftly. On Sunday, he quickly deflected any talk about other jobs -- though none were specifically mentioned -- by saying he only talks about the job he has, adding that his plan is simply to "focus and concentrate on the task at hand."

The task at hand now is his future.

"He's done an amazing job," said tight end Coby Fleener, who had three touchdowns catches in the Cardinal rout. "He's the best."

Harbaugh is 58-27 as a college coach, 29-21 at Stanford. The Cardinal went 4-8 in his first season, 5-7 the next, then showed plenty of promise at 8-5 in 2009.

This year, it all came together. Stanford finished 12-1, a school record for wins, and the lure of a new challenge may be too difficult for Harbaugh to ignore.

When the final whistle sounded Monday night, he was hoisted onto two players' shoulders as he thrust an arm high in the air.

Time will tell if it was a goodbye wave.

"I just want to say thanks to all the players and coaches ... everybody involved with Stanford football," Harbaugh said. "We could not have done it without you. All the credit goes to these players."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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