- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 4, 2011

MIAMI (AP) - Virginia Tech had no answer for Stanford during the Orange Bowl.

Jim Harbaugh had no answer for Stanford afterward.

If this was the end, as many expect, for Harbaugh’s tenure as coach at Stanford, then it certainly was a happy farewell. His fifth-ranked Cardinal rolled past Virginia Tech 40-12 on Monday night _ almost certainly ensuring Stanford’s first top-5 finish in The Associated Press rankings since 1940.

But when it was over and he was asked many times, many different ways, Harbaugh wanted no part of discussing his future.

“Respect the game,” Harbaugh said repeatedly. “Respect the process.”

The game is over.

The process is only just beginning.

What’s clear is this: Harbaugh has no shortage of options. He could be a candidate at Michigan, his alma mater, if the Wolverines dismiss Rich Rodriguez. The San Francisco 49ers may come calling as well, as could the Denver Broncos _ whose incoming football czar, former Stanford standout John Elway, was on the Cardinal sideline as an honorary captain Monday night.

And of course, Harbaugh could stay with the Cardinal. Given the way he’s got Stanford rolling right now _ 1-11 the season before he arrived, 12-1 and winners of a Bowl Championship Series game four years later _ it’s easy to see why that could be an appealing possibility.

“I don’t want to be rude, but with all due respect, I’d just rather enjoy the moment and these guys and this team and what we’ve accomplished because it’s never been done this way exactly in the history of Stanford football,” said Harbaugh, whose brother, John, is already an NFL head coach with the Baltimore Ravens. “We’re really excited about it.”

It was a relatively surreal scene afterward, Harbaugh and sophomore quarterback Andrew Luck lobbing oranges at teammates and each other amid the on-field celebration, then both ducking the questions they knew were coming.

Luck could be the No. 1 overall pick if he opts to enter the NFL draft. With the game well in hand, the Stanford faithful in the stands started the requisite “One more year” chant late in the fourth quarter.

They may have been directing those words at Luck. More than likely, they were hoping Harbaugh heard their cries.

Turns out, if Harbaugh leaves, that might make Luck’s decision easier than he expects.

“It will definitely be an impact,” Luck said, “but I don’t know how much, to be honest.”

Elway shook hands in the final minutes with former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, who watched the Cardinal women’s basketball team end Connecticut’s 90-game winning streak last week.

On Monday, she might have seen the end of the Harbaugh era. Maybe the Luck era, too.

“I think there are a lot of worse decisions you might have to make in life,” Luck said. “I don’t mean to be rude, but I’d rather not address that subject anymore.”

Sitting to his quarterback’s right, Harbaugh smiled. Luck looked at him and grinned back.

Harbaugh has handled the speculation deftly. On Sunday, he quickly deflected any talk about other jobs _ though none were specifically mentioned _ by saying he only talks about the job he has, adding that his plan is simply to “focus and concentrate on the task at hand.”

The task at hand now is his future.

“He’s done an amazing job,” said tight end Coby Fleener, who had three touchdowns catches in the Cardinal rout. “He’s the best.”

Harbaugh is 58-27 as a college coach, 29-21 at Stanford. The Cardinal went 4-8 in his first season, 5-7 the next, then showed plenty of promise at 8-5 in 2009.

This year, it all came together. Stanford finished 12-1, a school record for wins, and the lure of a new challenge may be too difficult for Harbaugh to ignore.

When the final whistle sounded Monday night, he was hoisted onto two players’ shoulders as he thrust an arm high in the air.

Time will tell if it was a goodbye wave.

“I just want to say thanks to all the players and coaches … everybody involved with Stanford football,” Harbaugh said. “We could not have done it without you. All the credit goes to these players.”

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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