Jim Harbaugh mulling coaching options

Updated: January 7, 2011, 3:23 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

Jim Harbaugh remains the football coach at Stanford. Where he steps on the field next September, however, remains up in the air.

Harbaugh appears to be choosing between the Cardinal, a team he led to a 12-1 record this past season, and the San Francisco 49ers, the nearby NFL team that met with him for five hours earlier this week and reportedly offered him a five-year contract.

A source told ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen that Stanford is the favorite and an announcement on Harbaugh's fate could come as soon as Friday.

On Thursday, Harbaugh met with top Stanford officials -- including university president John Hennessey -- so that the school could make its best offer to try to retain him. The university reportedly increased an offer it had made to Harbaugh in December.

"The ball is in Jim's court," a person with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press on Friday.

The 49ers met with Harbaugh Wednesday, and a source said that on Thursday night, after news broke that Harbaugh would not go to the Miami Dolphins, San Francisco was willing to increase its offer.

The Denver Broncos, who reportedly were trying to interview Harbaugh earlier this week, have moved on. John Elway, the Broncos' new football czar, said on his weekly radio show on 87.7 The Ticket in Denver on Friday that he believes Harbaugh wants to stay at Stanford rather than turn pro.

Elway also said he believes Harbaugh's alma mater, Michigan -- which dismissed Rich Rodriguez earlier this week -- might be back in the picture.

Denver still owes $5 million to two former coaches -- Mike Shanahan and the recently fired Josh McDaniels.

Mortensen reported late Thursday that Dolphins coach Tony Sparano, who has a year left on his contract, would be retained.

Harbaugh met Thursday with Dolphins owner Stephen Ross in the San Francisco area about the Dolphins' job, sources told Mortensen. But after the meeting, Harbaugh was still considering staying at Stanford, a source told The Associated Press.

Ross resumed the meeting Thursday night with Harbaugh's agent, David Dunn, in Southern California after the Dolphins owner traveled south to satisfy an unrelated business commitment, the sources said.

The Dolphins were willing to make Harbaugh the highest-paid coach in the NFL, which would place his salary in the range of $7 million to $8 million, sources said.

If Harbaugh returns to Stanford, he will coach quarterback Andrew Luck and what is said to be a strong recruiting class. Luck, the odds-on favorite to be the No. 1 pick in this spring's NFL draft, announced Thursday he will stay in school and play his redshirt junior season.

The 47-year-old Harbaugh is 58-27 overall as a college coach and 29-21 in four seasons at Stanford. He took over a 1-11 team when he was hired in December 2006 and quickly turned the program back into a winner and bowl contender.

The Cardinal went 4-8 in his first season, 5-7 the next, then improved to 8-5 and earned a Sun Bowl berth in 2009 -- the school's first bowl appearance since 2001.

A Facebook page was started this week called "Coach Harbaugh, Please Stay at Stanford."

When Stanford arrived back on campus Tuesday, one man hollered "Stay in the Bay Area!" when Harbaugh hopped off the bus carrying his 2-year-old daughter, Addison. He also has a newborn baby girl.

Harbaugh was the Oakland Raiders' quarterbacks coach from 2002-03 before spending three seasons as head coach at the University of San Diego.

Harbaugh played 15 seasons in the NFL for the Bears, Colts, Ravens, Chargers and Panthers. A first-round draft pick taken 26th overall by Chicago in 1987, Harbaugh completed 2,305 of 3,918 passes for 26,288 career yards and 129 touchdowns in the NFL. He also ran for 18 TDs.

Harbaugh's brother, John, is coach of the Baltimore Ravens, who are in the AFC playoffs.

Information from ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen, and The Associated Press was used in this report.

ALSO SEE