49ers are still in the hunt for Harbaugh

  • In this Nov. 6, 2010, photo, Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh and quarterback Andrew Luck (12) stand on the field after an NCAA college football game against Arizona in Stanford, Calif. Luck has decided to stay in college to get his degree instead of immediately cashing in on the riches of being the likely No. 1 pick in the NFL draft. He announced his decision Thursday, Jan. 6, 2011. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)

On Day 2 of Harbaugh Hysteria, two suitors made their pitch, another got in line and the 49ers, the jilted first-day favorites, may have quietly moved back in the hunt as the pursuit of Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh ramped up in intensity and intrigue.

Niners. Broncos. And — oh my — perceived long shot Stanford, suddenly, had shifted into the driver's seat by Thursday night in the quest to secure the coach who has launched a thousand reports.

Not that Stanford should get too comfortable.

On Wednesday, the 49ers appeared close to signing Harbaugh, 47, before the deep-pocketed Dolphins swooped in with a late-day phone call.

On Thursday, Miami, prepared to make Harbaugh the highest-paid coach in the NFL, seemingly began the day as a good bet to win the prize. At 7:53 p.m., however, the latest stunner in the two-day sweepstakes arrived: FOX Sports' Jay Glazer reported, via Twitter, that Dolphins billionaire owner Stephen Ross had decided to retain coach Tony Sparano after meeting throughout the day with Harbaugh and his agent, David Dunn.

With Miami's unexpected exodus, Stanford continued its resurgence.

Given little chance to retain their fourth-year coach with NFL aspirations, Stanford has reached in its wallet and, perhaps, received a little Luck.

Harbaugh met with Stanford officials Thursday morning and their compensation package, with bonuses, eclipsed the 49ers' offer, according to the NFL Network. The San Jose Mercury News has reported San Francisco's unofficial last offer to Harbaugh was about $5 million annually, without bonuses.

Stanford's chances of keeping their coach might have also been bolstered Thursday by sophomore quarterback Andrew Luck's decision to stay in college instead of becoming the No.1 pick in the NFL draft. With Luck in place, the Cardinal figure to be national-title contenders next season, particularly if Harbaugh returns.

But if one All-American Stanford quarterback could keep him in Palo Alto, a former All-American Cardinal signal-caller hopes to lure him to the Rocky Mountains.

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