San Francisco 49ers met with Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh for five hours on Wednesday, a source told ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen.
The source said Harbaugh met with team president Jed York and newly-named general manager Trent Baalke.
Harbaugh returned Tuesday night to the Bay Area from a 40-12 Orange Bowl victory over Virginia Tech in Miami that gave the Cardinal a program-best 12-1 record. He now must weigh his options, which appear to be many.
The 49ers formally picked Baalke as their new general manager Tuesday night and he is now looking for the coach to replace Mike Singletary, fired following a 25-17 loss at St. Louis on Dec. 26 that eliminated San Francisco from the playoffs for an eighth straight season. Baalke had been the team's vice president of player personnel since March.
York said after Singletary was fired that he would leave the choice of head coach up to the new GM -- so apparently this is Baalke's show to try to land Harbaugh, though it might take a tag-team effort by the front office considering Harbaugh's numerous suitors.
The 47-year-old Harbaugh is 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.
Many believe Harbaugh is ready to make the leap to the next level, eager for a new challenge. He was the Oakland Raiders' quarterbacks coach from 2002 to '03 before spending three seasons as head coach at the University of San Diego.
When Stanford arrived back on campus Tuesday, one man hollered "Stay in the Bay Area!" when Harbaugh hopped off the bus holding his toddler daughter, Addison.
Harbaugh, a college star at Michigan where there also is a coaching vacancy, 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.
Aside from his alma mater, the Miami Dolphins and Denver Broncos are interested in Harbaugh. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, CEO Mike Dee and general manager Jeff Ireland were on the Stanford sideline before Monday's Orange Bowl game and a source told ESPN's Mortensen late Wednesday that Ross, Ireland and former NFL executive Carl Peterson traveled to the West Coast in an urgent effort to convince Harbaugh to become their head coach. The meeting between Dolphins and Harbaugh is scheduled to take place Thursday morning, a source said.
"When you have a bunch of billionaires chasing you around to be a part of an NFL program ... If Jim feels like he's ready for that, who would blame him?" Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon said.
Messages left for Harbaugh's agent, Jack Bechta, weren't immediately returned Wednesday.
The 49ers -- who were picked to win the NFC West this season but haven't had a winning season since their last playoff season in 2002 -- want Harbaugh as their coach but they are prepared to move ahead with other candidates on their list, which includes Falcons offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey, sources said.
A league source told ESPN NFL insider Adam Schefter that San Francisco met with Raiders offensive coordinator Hue Jackson earlier Wednesday.
The 49ers also requested permission to interview Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, a league source told ESPNNewYork.com's Ohm Youngmisuk. Either Fewell or Jackson will fulfill the requirement under the Rooney Rule to talk to a minority candidate.
Jackson also could be a candidate for the head-coaching job in Oakland after owner Al Davis decided not to exercise the team's option to retain Tom Cable. The Raiders informed Cable of their decision Tuesday.
Information from ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen and ESPN NFL insider Adam Schefter and The Associated Press is included in this report.