SAN FRANCISCO — Declaring it a "perfect competitive opportunity," Jim Harbaugh accepted the job as coach of the 49ers and said his goal is to win a Lombardi Trophy for "one of the legendary franchises in all of football."
The successful Stanford coach gets to remain in the Bay Area, moving to the NFL after four years with the Cardinal. A longtime NFL quarterback, he replaces fired coach Mike Singletary. ESPN reported Harbaugh’s deal is for $25 million over five years.
Harbaugh decided to make the jump to the pros even though San Francisco has missed the playoffs for eight straight seasons and Orange Bowl MVP quarterback Andrew Luck decided to remain at Stanford for another season.
"I can feel the enthusiasm coursing through my veins right now," Harbaugh said. "I accept this competitive challenge willingly."
The Cardinal (12-1) finished with a school-record 12 wins following a 40-12 victory over Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl.
Harbaugh, though, has long admired the late Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh, one of his mentors, and how Walsh made the successful leap from Stanford to the 49ers.
Now, he must turn around a once-proud franchise that is desperate to become a contender again right away. The 49ers were expected to win the NFC West this season, then began 0-5 for their worst start since losing seven straight to begin a 2-14 season in 1979 — Walsh’s first year as coach.
The 49ers finished 6-10 this year — in the chase for a playoff berth in the NFL’s worst division until the second-to-last week — and haven’t had a winning season since their last trip to the playoffs in 2002.
Harbaugh likely will be grooming a new quarterback in the coming months. Alex Smith, the 2005 No. 1 overall draft pick out of Utah, becomes a free agent. So, finding a QB is high on the team’s to-do list heading into what should be a busy offseason.
Once the season begins, Harbaugh will face a familiar foe — big brother John Harbaugh, coach of the Baltimore Ravens.
Niners team president and CEO Jed York said when Singletary was fired that money would be no object in finding the team’s next coach. He promoted vice president of player personnel Trent Baalke to general manager earlier this week, then they worked together to make their push for Harbaugh, who also was in talks with the Miami Dolphins and Stanford.
The 47-year-old Harbaugh went 58-27 overall as a college coach and 29-21 in four seasons at Stanford. He took over a 1-11 team when he was hired in December 2006 and quickly turned the program back into a winner and bowl contender.
The Cardinal went 4-8 in his first season, 5-7 the next, then improved to 8-5 and earned a Sun Bowl berth in 2009 — the school’s first bowl appearance since 2001.
When Stanford arrived back on campus Tuesday, one man hollered "Stay in the Bay Area!" when Harbaugh hopped off the bus carrying his 2-year-old daughter, Addison. He also has a newborn baby girl.
Harbaugh was the Oakland Raiders’ quarterbacks coach from 2002-03 before spending three seasons as head coach at the University of San Diego.
Harbaugh, a college star at Michigan where there also is a coaching vacancy after the firing of Rich Rodriguez, played 15 seasons in the NFL for the Bears, Colts, Ravens, Chargers and Panthers. A first-round draft pick taken 26th overall by Chicago in 1987, Harbaugh completed 2,305 of 3,918 passes for 26,288 career yards and 129 touchdowns in the NFL. He also ran for 18 TDs.