Salk: Why best choice for next Seahawks coach is Jim Harbaugh

Jan 11, 2024, 7:39 PM | Updated: 7:40 pm

Seattle Seahawks Jim Harbaugh Pete Carroll...

Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll shakes hands with 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh in 2014. (Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

(Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

Has everyone caught their collective breath?

It was one of the craziest weeks in Seattle sports history. We had an ugly but victorious Seattle Seahawks game, an understandable but problematic cigar smoking incident, an exciting but painful UW Huskies national championship loss, and a sad but necessary decision to move on from the coach who changed the Seattle sports landscape forever, Pete Carroll.

Yeah, this was unique. And that’s before we even hear whether or not Kalen DeBoer is taking his talents to Tuscaloosa.

But as everything starts to calm and the tributes and memories wind down, it’ll be time to think about the future. And the Seahawks brass have one of the most important decisions on their plate that any franchise can make.

Who should coach this team?

Seattle Seahawks Candidates: Jim Harbaugh and other potential coaches

Apparently, the honor of making that choice will go to general manager John Schneider, who emerges from this tumultuous week as the new most powerful football executive in Seattle. He will now have final authority on all football decisions, which means he’ll be choosing the coach in addition to having final call on all draft picks, free agents and trades.

We truly don’t know what Schneider is looking for in a coach. We can make assumptions based on his past in Green Bay and his 14 years here in Seattle, but this will be his first chance to set the future course of a franchise.

There is no more important person in the building than the head football coach – he is responsible for setting the culture, determining the philosophy and the scheme, hiring the coaching staff, and acting as the primary mouthpiece for the organization to communicate with the media and fans. It is an enormous role, and the choice is one you have to get right.

The best person for that is Jim Harbaugh.

Now, that doesn’t mean he is the most likely. I think there are a couple of major hangups that could keep that from happening. But when you think about replacing Pete Carroll, Harbaugh would be the best choice.

Of all the things Pete brought to Seattle, among the most important was his “juice.” Pete loves that word, and while it’s somewhat hard to define, you know when you see it – and he has it. He put the Seahawks on the map in a way that other coaches (including the one who brought them to their only other Super Bowl appearance) failed to do. He made Seattle relevant by winning, but also by being interesting. He isn’t like everyone else. He doesn’t talk like every other coach. And the moment he walks into the room, he changes the temperature just by being there.

Jim Harbaugh fits all of those same descriptions, and like the previous Seattle Seahawks coach, he too brings the juice.

Harbaugh has won wherever he has been. He made the University of San Diego a winner, then made Stanford (yes, Stanford!) a winner with a tough guy persona. He restored the 49ers to credibility and brought them to a Super Bowl (it probably would have been multiple championship games were it not for a freaky defense assembled right here in the Northwest), and now has gotten Michigan over the hump for the first time since 1997.

He wins. He’s got juice. He’s entertaining. And he brings enough toughness, brainpower, and potential assistant options to compete with the two brilliant offensive minds currently running the NFC West: San Francisco’s Kyle Shanahan and Los Angeles’ Sean McVay.

I’m sure some are throwing something at their computer while reading right now because they hate Harbaugh either for his rivalry with the Seahawks or for beating the Huskies on Monday. I get it. But winning has a way of making us forget past indiscretions, especially when they involve no worse crime than coaching the enemy.

This might be a pipe dream. Harbaugh is going to be widely sought after, might be just using this story to get more money out of Michigan, or might have a handshake deal already done with one of the other NFL organizations currently looking to add the word “no” above their vacancy signs.

Even worse, I would assume Harbaugh would want full control of football decisions, especially after his ugly divorce from Trent Baalke and the Niners. That could be a sticking point on which neither he nor Schneider would be willing to budge. But it’s worth trying to find a solution because he is the only candidate that combines the juice of Pete Carroll, the résumé of success, and the style of play that would fit perfectly following the Carroll regime.

Assuming this doesn’t happen, the two other names that make the most sense to me are Cowboys defensive coordinator and former Falcons head coach Dan Quinn, and USC head coach Lincoln Riley.

Quinn is an obvious choice based on his tight relationship with the team (he was Pete’s DC a decade ago in Seattle), his understanding of the culture that Pete established, his defensive success and his previous experience sitting in the head coach’s office. If they go in that direction, it would be impossible to criticize. Does he have that juice? Can a defensive coach get past the Rams and Niners attacks that have given the Seahawks fits? Has he learned from his time in Atlanta? He would need to answer those questions and more.

Riley is obviously a dark horse, but I can’t shake the name ever since I first heard Brock Huard mention it.

Huard: The unconventional pick for next Seahawks coach is Riley

If Schneider is looking to “out-offense” Shanahan and McVay with their high-powered schemes, Riley is one of the few capable of doing so. He is a similarly anointed offensive genius who could try to outscore the divisional rivals. But he comes with his own set of issues. Could he translate to the NFL without the pro experience that Carroll had when he arrived or Harbaugh has himself? Can he lead an organization? Were the problems at USC this past season even with Caleb Williams under center indicative of flaws in his system?

Every option will have risks, but Seahawks fans have gotten used to relevance. They have gotten used to being in the playoffs. They have an expectation that what they see on the field will be entertaining and successful.

If those are the parameters, Jim Harbaugh is the Seattle Seahawks’ best choice.

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