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College

Harbaugh-Mania Overtaking NFL

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Jim Harbaugh

Head coach Jim Harbaugh of the Stanford Cardinal. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

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By Mike Freeman, CBS Sports National Columnist

STANFORD (CBS Sports) — In the minutes before last week’s Orange Bowl, the most coveted coach on the planet emerged from the team bus. It was Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh. In hot pursuit was sideline reporter Michele Tafoya.

Tafoya, doing her job, tried to speak with Harbaugh about his possible departure from Stanford. Harbaugh kept walking. She kept chasing. He kept walking. He didn’t stop and went inside the stadium on his way to the Cardinal locker room. Several media members watched the scene unfold.

After Stanford’s destruction of Virginia Tech the coach was queried about his future. He responded with such persnickety eye-rolling obnoxiousness the fake outrage could be cut with a fake knife. “Give me a break,” he responded. “Have some respect for the game.”

How dare you. How dare you!

What did Harbaugh think the media was going to ask about? The weather? John Boehner’s gavel?

Harbaugh declares the media should have respect for the game. Meanwhile, according to numerous reports, he’s been negotiating with the Miami Dolphins for a mega coaching deal.

Help me out here. Don’t the Dolphins already have a coach? Not very respectful, Jim.

Something about Harbaugh isn’t sitting right. Something about the way the NFL has chased him like he’s Jim Lombardi is even more puzzling.

Harbaugh has talent, and what he did at Stanford was excellent. He turned around a program lagging in prestige and made us all care about the Cardinal. He turned a quarterback into a No. 1 draft pick. Not bad work.

Yet the challenges at Stanford and the difficulties of the NFL are night and day. College football is easy compared to the pros. Players automatically listen to college coaches (most of the time). Respect for their authority is built in. That’s not the case with pro football. You have to beg, bribe, cajole, and pay — figuratively and literally — for respect.

Harbaugh would get some of that respect because he’s an ex-NFL player, but success at Stanford doesn’t mean success in the NFL. Yet, apparently, that’s how general managers and owners have acted with Harbaugh.

Again, if numerous reports are to be believed (and I believe them), Harbaugh is being offered astronomical amounts of money. One said the Dolphins would make Harbaugh the highest paid coach in football.

If Harbaugh is worth $7 or $8 million a year, what is Bill Belichick worth?

This is typical NFL. The league is making a fool of itself falling in lust with a guy who has limited NFL coaching experience and paying him like he invented Facebook.

Teams fall in love with one guy while dozens of worthy assistants who have toiled in the sport for years and are more qualified get ignored.

Yes, typical.

Again, something about the way Harbaugh has handled this situation is a tad unnerving. It makes me wonder if he possesses the maturity to be an NFL head coach.

At Stanford there were minor expectations. Few people outside of Palo Alto or Condoleezza Rice care about Stanford football. In the NFL, everyone will care. Everyone. Harbaugh will get lots of questions, all the time, from a variety of different people. The expectations will be considerable. The pressure points will increase.

If he wins, none of this will matter. If he doesn’t, it will.

I’ve watched thin-skin coaches who didn’t think they had to explain themselves — cough, Josh McDaniels, cough — completely fall apart. I’m worried that could happen to Harbaugh.

You’re not the smartest guy in the room, Jim. Even if the NFL, again love-struck with a coach, is saying you are.

(© 2011 CBS Interactive. All rights reserved.)

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