Ratto: Harbaugh's impending departure simply physics

January 2, 2011, 8:08 pm
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FORT LAUDERDALE, FL. -- In about a week, this will be one of Stanford footballs darkest days, for one and only one reason.Starting over stinks. Especially when the finish is this good.In about a week, Jim Harbaugh will have a new job that pays twice asmuch as Stanford has ever offered any coach, and where he goes dependsentirely upon whom you ask at any given time. Michigan? Carolina? BestSupporting Actor? Secretary of the Interior? He's been kissed by God,and other than the agony of choice, his world is as good as it willever be.Shortly thereafter, Andrew Luck will declare for the NFL Draft, becausefrankly, he has to. While his future and Harbaughs are not necessarilylinked in and of themselves, Luck cannot be helped by starting overwith a new coach who will not have Harbaughs sense of simpatico, andstarting over means less fun and lots less money.But finally, this is the Stanford Football Experience in a nutshell --brief flares of pyrotechnic glory behind a charismatic and technicallyfluent coach who doesnt hit himself in the face with a wrench everytime he gets a call from Admissions, interspersed with long stretchesof ennui, frustrations and fleeting dreams of the Sun Bowl.Now you shouldnt start getting antsy yet. You have two more days tolove the Stanford football ideal as interpreted by J.J. Harbaugh of allpeople. He did everything the school could want except fill thebuilding, and that is entirely the fault of Stanfords traditionalnotion of come-see-but-dont-stay marketing.But this was the best Harbaugh could do, and the best Stanford willever do. A big-money bowl game and a single-digit ranking against anational power, a quarterback who in two years made people think interms of Plunkett and Elway and Plunkett and Brodie and Albert inthree, or sometimes four.In all, more than anyone in their right mind could ever have thought possible, and absolutely worth a round for the house.But like we said, in a week the glass slipper becomes an iron bootagain and the carriage a push cart. It has to. There is no continuum inthe Harbaugh line, no second Harbaugh just waiting to be found. He wasan exceptional moment in this football programs history, and he stayedone year longer than anyone had a right to think he would, be itthrough success or failure.After Toby Gerhart, his name was job-hot, but he hit on 17 and caught afour. He knew Luck was sensational, and he gambled that there would bea better job than the ones being floated a year ago. He was right, andnow he is a 5-6 million man with a ticket to a program that hasnt hadan empty seat in a million skillion years. Or a pro job with theconcomitant glories that result with victory.Either way, he paid Stanford back in full and will leave not with theschools disapproval but with thanks for staying as long as he did, andpulling the keys to a new Maserati out of am envelope that looked likea Visa gift card.But its a leased Maserati, and Stanford cant afford to renew thecontract. Harbaugh outgrew Stanfords philosophical ability to pay byabout three million bucks, and thats just the way it goes. Nocomplaining, no whining. Its a law of physics.Athletic director Bob Bowlsby now must apply his unique brand ofpersonal magnetism to finding someone who is closer to Harbaugh than toWalt Harris or Buddy Teevens. We would say his career depends on it,but to be honest, were just not that invested in his future one way oranother.But we are interested to see how he reinvents the wheel. Harbaugh is,and about to be was, a charming, effervescent, self-confident, andlets be honest here, borderline smug man who could peer inside youngmens souls and make them want to do things they never dreamedthemselves capable. Thats coaching with a capital Well, Ill Be Damned.And now its about to end. Harbaugh will go to Michigan, or the NFL,and it will be far more lucrative and adrenal for him while probablynot reaching the improbable heights he and the Cardinal reached here.This is a singular moment that Stanford traditionally achieves everydecade to decade and a half, and by mid-week we suspect the Cardinalwill be entering another one of those long interregnums. Not becauseStanford cant sustain this, but because it never has before, not inthe modern era anyway.And were just playing the percentages. In the meantime, enjoy this forall its worth. You are part of the greater college football worldwithout any of that messyfathers-selling-playersplayers-cheatingcoaches-committing-feloniesstuff that often makes this sport a high-powered guilty pleasure.
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