For much of this disastrous 3-10 season for the New England Patriots, head coach and general manager Bill Belichick has been the subject of immense scrutiny. The glaring talent deficit on the Patriots roster and the offense's struggles under a defensive-minded Belichick has fostered the narrative that the modern game has passed him by.
Finally, a Patriots insider has dropped a bombshell, confirming the conjecture that Belichick's 24-year tenure as New England's head coach is in its final stretch.
On Tuesday, Tom E. Curran reported that following the Patriots 10-6 loss to the Indianapolis Colts in Germany in Week 10, owner Robert Kraft made the decision that the team and Belichick would part ways at the conclusion of the season. Curran also notes that the Patriots' Week 14 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday Night Football doesn't change anything.
It has been over a month since Kraft reportedly made the decision to move on from Belichick. Given that timeframe, it would be hard to fathom that Kraft hasn't compiled at least a clandestine preliminary shortlist of candidates that he will aggressively pursue this offseason to fill Belichick's shoes.
Here are a few names that could (or should) be on Kraft's shortlist to succeed Belichick's regime in Foxborough.
4. Jim Harbaugh
Admittedly, this one is far-fetched. But Harbaugh's "heart is in the National Football League" and his past success as an NFL head coach should be enough for Kraft to pick up the phone.
In four seasons in charge of the San Francisco 49ers from 2011-14, Harbaugh put together a 49-22-1 record. He reached the NFC Championship game in each of his first three seasons with the Niners, including a Super Bowl XLVII appearance.
Harbaugh's Michigan Wolverines are once again in the College Football Playoffs at 13-0. Amid the team's sign-stealing scandal, the Harbaugh back to the NFL rumors were reinvigorated. However, much of this speculation was fueled by the thought that hemight attempt to utilize the NFL as a "safe harbor" to sidestep any potential punishment handed down in the fall-out from the scandal.
This theory was followed up by reports that the NFL could still impose a suspension on him if he tried to take that route, pouring some water on the thought.
Ultimately, Harbaugh served a three-game suspension handed down by the Big Ten as a result of the scandal, and that very well could be enough to satisfy the NFL from taking matters into their own hands. If the NFL still has intentions of punishing Harbaugh further, then you can cross him off the list.
It's inconceivable that Kraft would want to start off with a new coach already suspended before coaching a game for the team, especially after this year's dumpster fire.
Jim Harbaugh has won everywhere he has coached. Most importantly, he demonstrated an ability to do that at the NFL level when many head coaches have failed dramatically in the college-to-NFL transition. Kraft has to at least check in on his interest.