The rumor mill about the Jets’ head-coaching job is cranking up, and they don’t even officially have an opening yet.
Pro Football Talk reported Sunday night that the Jets were going to make a push for Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh to replace Todd Bowles, who is expected to be fired as head coach after Sunday’s finale with the Patriots.
But Jets CEO Christopher Johnson denied that report Monday.
“Todd Bowles is our head coach,” Johnson said in a statement. “There is no truth to the report of our interest in Jim Harbaugh.”
The statement could mean a few things. It could be the complete truth. It could be a statement issued to save face since Bowles is still employed, and it would not look good if the Jets were researching his replacements before he even was fired. It also could be the Jets explored Harbaugh and were told he had no interest in leaving Michigan.
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Harbaugh stated two weeks ago that he has no intentions of leaving the Wolverines in an interview with ESPN.
“But I’m on record right here, right now: I’m not going anywhere,” Harbaugh said. “I’m staying at Michigan. We have big plans here, and there’s a lot we want to accomplish.”
Harbaugh suggested any speculation about him returning to the NFL was coming from his rival coaches, hoping to hurt his recruiting efforts.
“This is a choreographed message that comes up at this time every year before signing day,” Harbaugh said. “It’s people spreading messages to further their own personal agenda.
“I can’t be any more clear about this — it’s not true,” Harbaugh said. “I’m not going anywhere.”
Harbaugh is 38-13 in four years at Michigan, and the Wolverines are facing Florida on Saturday in the Peach Bowl. The 55-year-old led the 49ers to a Super Bowl appearance. He left San Francisco after four seasons to return to his alma mater as coach.
The Jets have flirted with Harbaugh before when they had coaching openings. They interviewed him in 2009, when he was the coach at Stanford, before hiring Rex Ryan. They put feelers out in 2015, when it was clear he was leaving the 49ers, but he was set on going to Michigan.
Harbaugh would be an interesting candidate if he were interested in the job. He is an offensive-minded coach, something the Jets want to develop quarterback Sam Darnold. He has head-coaching experience, something their last five head coaches have lacked when they were hired.
Bowles is expected to be fired after Sunday’s game in Foxborough. He has been a dead man walking since a 41-10 loss to the Bills last month. The Jets have lost eight of their last nine games, and he has a 24-39 record as coach in four seasons with no playoff appearances.
On his conference call with reporters on Monday, Bowles declined to discuss his job or the report about Harbaugh.
“I don’t have one,” Bowles said when asked for his reaction to the Harbaugh report. “That’s probably a question for the person that reported it.”
He also would not say whether he is hopeful to return in 2019.
“I do not talk about my job,” Bowles said.
The report from PFT said the Jets were prepared to offer Harbaugh more than his $7 million salary at Michigan, hoping to make him an offer he could not refuse. The website also reported general manager Mike Maccagnan was on board with the pursuit of Harbaugh.
A candidate like Harbaugh would present a tricky situation for the Jets and Maccagnan, who is expected to be retained as GM. Someone like Harbaugh would likely seek personnel control after battling with 49ers GM Trent Baalke in San Francisco and having the complete control a coach in college has. Would Maccagnan be able to survive with a coach like that?
The Jets say we will not find out. Harbaugh is the first of many names who will be linked to the Jets over the next few weeks. Buckle up, this will be a bumpy ride.