Jim Harbaugh may not have any representatives. But he has a boss. And if any NFL team will be pursuing Harbaugh, the NFL team must first approach Harbaugh’s boss on bended knee.
Per a league source, the NFL reminded teams at the December ownership meetings that, before a college coach may be contacted, the team must seek and obtain permission from the Athletic Director at the college in question. The teams were told that, if permission is denied, the pursuit must end.
“I suspect many college coaches have outs in their contracts that they negotiate,” the source said, “and buyouts. But that’s what we were specifically told. I’m guessing that part of leagues concern is NFL/NCAA relationship. They are always afraid that colleges will make our lives more difficult and that the draft would be affected.”
This is nothing new; the NFL’s anti-tampering policy codifies this requirement. Here’s the relevant language: “The National Football League also respects employment agreements entered into between colleges and their coaches and other employees. Before an NFL club has discussions regarding the possible hiring of a college coach or other employee, that club should first determine whether the employee is under contract. If the employee is under contract, the club must seek permission from the Athletic Director or other appropriate college official to have discussions with the employee. If permission is granted, the NFL club may proceed to discuss employment opportunities and to hire the college employee, subject to any limitation expressed in the grant of consent. If permission is denied, the NFL club should respect that decision just as it would respect a similar decision from another NFL club. NFL clubs that fail to follow these protocols may be subject to disciplinary action for conduct detrimental to the League.”
Despite this provision, few if any college coaches ever are blocked from taking NFL jobs. But it’s theoretically possible to have the door slammed shut, and contracts can be written in a way that prohibits the college coach from leaving for the NFL. Given, however, that college coaches who want to move on seem to always find a way out of their current jobs, it’s unlikely that any college program would stand in the way of a coach who has a chance to head to the NFL.