Michigan fans anxious to lure away Harbaugh

There’s trouble at the Big House and growing speculation that Jim Harbaugh, who was invited to the University of Michigan for Thursday night’s team banquet honoring his 1985 Wolverines, could be leaving the Farm soon.

At football-crazed Ann Arbor, Harbaugh is the prodigal son, while embattled coach Rich Rodriguez plays Judas at what is likely his last supper. Not only was Michigan routed at Ohio State 37-7 to finish the regular season 7-5 after a 5-0 start, throughout the second half, thousands of fans chanted, “Jim Harbaugh, Jim Harbaugh” as the Wolverines lost to the arch rival Buckeyes for a seventh straight time Saturday.

After going 8-16 his first two seasons, Rodriguez and his top-10 recruiting class was expected to contend for the Big Ten title. Instead, Michigan finished seventh in the conference.

Worse yet, last February the NCAA charged the winningest program in college football history with major violations for the first time ever, prompting a number of prominent players to transfer, claiming they were mistreated by Rodriguez. That embarrassment came just weeks after the hiring of athletic director Dave Barron, who, like Harbaugh, is a former Michigan quarterback. Barron insists he won’t announce any decisions about the future of the football program until after the season, which will probably come Dec. 28 when Michigan plays in the Insight Bowl.

Actually, don’t look for Rodriguez to be fired until after the new year when his contract buyout drops from $4 million to $2.5 million. Meanwhile, although Harbaugh’s Stanford contract runs through 2014, college football’s unbridled coaching carousel allows him to pay to walk away, which is likely to happen.

Clearly irked at seeing thousands of empty seats at most Cardinal home games, the hard-charging Michigan man knows he would get a hero’s welcome at his alma matter where they haven’t seen a sub-100,000 crowd for a Wolverines game since 1975. Or he could wait for the 49ers to come a calling. However, the NFL may not be as attractive an option for a man who likes to run the whole show. Harbaugh is good and he knows it. He’s also as coy as he is cocky. But pretty soon, we’ll get the answer to the question Pete Carroll asked last year after the Cardinal tried a two-point conversion when leading USC 48-21 with 6:47 to go in the fourth quarter, “What’s your deal?”

Step right up

Now that Frank Gore’s season-ending injury has pushed Brian Westbrook out of San Francisco’s witness protection program, the 49ers can only hope the former NFL rushing champ can still endure the rigors of being an every-down back.

Westbrook, 30, with a history of concussions, relies more on guile and elusiveness than Gore, who seemed to relish taking on bigger tacklers. No way Westbrook will be asked to carry 40 percent of the offensive load as Gore did, so that puts more pressure on Troy Smith.

Troy may have been able to toy with the lowly defenses of the Broncos and Cardinals, it’s a whole ’nother challenge in the coming weeks at Green Bay, San Diego and St. Louis, plus a home game against the Seahawks. Don’t expect it to be a December to remember for the Red and Gold.

Heading south

Fresh off dismal losses to the Steelers and Dolphins, those wacky Raiders take their sinking ship to San Diego on Sunday to face the NFL’s hottest team. The Chargers, winners of four straight, boast the league’s top-ranked offense and stingiest defense. Jason Campbell is back at starting quarterback, but how can the Raiders’ play-action pass attack function when Darren McFadden has been able to amass only 22 yards rushing on 12 carries the past two games?

KGO (810 AM) Sports Director Rich Walcoff can be heard weekdays from 5 to 9 a.m. on the KGO morning news. He can be reached at RichWalcoff@gmail.com.

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