All Eyes on Stanford's Jim Harbaugh
He talked into a few microphones on a misty Palo Alto morning, boarded a bus, hopped on a charter flight and headed south and east for what might be his last few days as the Cardinal football coach.
The news that the 49ers fired coach Mike Singletary Sunday night has vaulted Harbaugh's name into the rumor mill. It might be the first domino to fall in a sequence that gets Harbaugh moving.
It has been widely speculated that the 49ers would be interested in Harbaugh, despite no experience as an NFL head coach, as a leading candidate to resurrect a flagging franchise, though owner Jed York has vowed that he will hire a general manager before bringing in a new head coach.
It's also assumed there would be interest in Harbaugh from the Carolina Panthers, who are in line for the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft, a pick that might well be spent on Cardinal quarterback Andrew Luck. Harbaugh to Dallas? Also a possibility.
And the 49ers' opening might just be the starter's pistol.
San Francisco's likely interest in Harbaugh might also get the ball rolling in Ann Arbor, where Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon said he would not make a decision about the future of coach Rich Rodriguez until after the Wolverines' appearance in the Gator Bowl on New Year's Day.
It's been easy for Brandon to wait. If Harbaugh is his big target, it's unlikely anything would have happened until after the Orange Bowl showdown with Virginia Tech anyway.
It has seemed all along that the biggest longshot bet is that Harbaugh will stick around The Farm after the greatest season in the recent history of the Cardinal program.
Stanford athletic director Bob Bowlsby told the Bay Area media two weeks ago there is a contract on Harbaugh's desk for an extension and that Harbaugh has indicated that he intends to sign it.
But Harbaugh contradicted that account last week in the San Jose Mercury News.
Harbaugh told the Mercury News that he "hasn't discussed" a new contract and that perhaps Bowlsby "misspoke" when he characterized the Harbaugh's intentions.
The Mercury News also reported that the offer on the table is $3 million a season, an unheard-of sum for a Stanford coach in the previous universe.
But it's a sum based in reality given Harbaugh's market value.
Harbaugh's brother John, the Baltimore Ravens' coach, was asked about Jim's future earlier this week.
"I'm just assuming he's going to stay at Stanford," he said. "He really likes it there, he loves those players, but you just have to see.
"I don't think there's any other jobs that are open right now anyways."
Now there is. This is where it gets interesting.