Michigan football: Extending Jim Harbaugh's contract is right move for Wolverines
Everyone knows about Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh’s lack of success in defining games — ones that would have sent his program to the College Football Playoff, those losses against Ohio State, the loss to first-year Michigan State coach Mel Tucker in 2020 …
… Getting blown out in bowl games, not beating AP top-15 ranked teams on the road. Finishing 2-4 this past year.
There is a laundry list of knocks against Harbaugh.
But here’s another laundry list for Harbaugh, who just completed his 6th season in Ann Arbor and is expected to sign a 3-year extension, taking him through the 2026 season.
It might not the most popular move (for fans, at least), but it’s the right move at the right time.
SOURCE: There is optimism inside Michigan that Jim Harbaugh's new deal will get wrapped up soon with an extension thru 2026.
— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) January 2, 2021
Jim Harbaugh, Michigan reportedly closing in on lengthy contract extension https://t.co/XsnG7Kxgpr
— Saturday Tradition (@Tradition) January 2, 2021
His 49-22 record in 6 years — but let’s really call it 5.5 years — is superior to predecessors Brady Hoke and Rich Rodriguez, who went a combined 45-42 in 7 full seasons. Hoke, who coached 2011-14, posted a 31-20 record with the Wolverines. Hoke was just OK. Not a horrible coach, not a premier coach.
Players respected him but the stage was just too big.
As for Rodriguez, he was the one who really lowered the bar for the Wolverines. In 2008, his first year, he went 3-9 and was subject to jokes across the Big Ten. RichRod the Punchline was born, and he went 5-7 and 7-6 before being shown the door in 2010.
RichRod introduced the spread and ran with a 3-3-5 defense, a style not really conducive for Big Ten football. It worked at West Virginia, but it just couldn’t stick for Michigan. Hoke came with a pro-style offense and actually made some strides in the right direction. But Michigan needed someone who could deliver more — and it found that coach Dec. 30, 2014 when it hired famed Son of Bo, Jim Harbaugh.
Harbaugh has routinely recruited well, finishing with the No. 11 class 0f 2020. Prior to the early period, that class was actually No. 10 — for those who are obsessed with top-10 figures and stats.
Harbaugh is among the winningest coaches in college football since 2015. He’s had no sanctions, violations or other black eyes thrust upon his program. He’s producing NFL talent and handling — OK competing with — at least one of his rivals, that being Michigan State (3-3).
Following an interview with 5-star 2021 signee JJ McCarthy, it was clear that there was a certain level of confidence and optimism heading into 2021. It wasn’t just energy from a freshman-to-be, it was the type of energy that reinforced the idea of Harbaugh staying at Michigan. McCarthy raved about Harbaugh and stated several times that he “couldn’t wait to play for (Harbaugh)” throughout the 30-minute interview.
That’s important, as McCarthy stands to be in line for stardom at Michigan. The hype surrounding the former IMG star is considerable and justifiable. Finally, Harbaugh will have the chance to show the college football world — or just Michigan fans — that he can develop a star quarterback from scratch.
No transfers. Not a former coach’s player.
A coaching change wouldn’t deter McCarthy, or so he said, but it’d be hard to imagine a borderline top-10 recruiting class not losing some members because of a coaching change.
Xavier Worthy also provided a tip, knowingly or not. He signed on the first day of the early period, making it almost 100 percent clear that Harbaugh wasn’t leaving. If there was going to be a high-profile recruit jump ship due to a coaching change, it was going to be the 4-star wideout.
And who could blame any player for that? Yes, they commit to a program, not a coach. But they’re counting on a person — and so are the parents — being around for the long haul. It’s a sense of comfort and commitment.
Michigan would be in limbo without Harbaugh. Imagine the optics of his firing, despite a respectable 71-49 record — it would have looked like UM had given up on its Chosen Son; it would have been considered sacrilege in Schembechler Hall.
Harbaugh nearly had Michigan in the College Football Playoff during his second season. People love to forget that fact. That tidbit is a staple rebuttal to anyone who suggests he can’t get Michigan to higher ground. However, that 2016 team was loaded with Hoke’s players. Michigan hasn’t looked the same since — so there’s that argument.
But to part ways with Harbaugh right now, with one year remaining on his initial contract, would be akin to Michigan saying, “well, the program is giving up on Harbaugh and going to start from scratch for the third time in the past decade.”
Then a desperate search to replace the most-hyped coach in UM history; a race to get the biggest name and top the previous hire. Oh, that would be a real show.
That wouldn’t look good to the rest of the college football world; it’d be the true indicator that Michigan had thrown in the towel.
The consensus is that Harbaugh is the guy — ask most major analysts, writers — but things just haven’t aligned for some odd reason. Extending Harbaugh’s contract makes sense. He does need more time to truly reform a program.
The talent is there. The coaching has been there in spurts, and that’s an issue that needs to be addressed: Having the same core throughout the years would probably be more beneficial than brining in new offensive staffers every couple of years. Now with Don Brown no longer at Michigan, it seems as if there is a revolving door at the defensive coordinator position — UM has had 3 during Harbaugh’s 6 years.
It’ll have a 4th in 2021.
Michigan simply can’t afford not to renew and extend Harbaugh’s contract. The program is at a crossroads. Simply allowing him to finish the 7th year in 2021 wouldn’t do much good, either. The program, as a whole, needs to know who the leader will be for the foreseeable future, instead of wondering who’s next as Harbaugh lame-ducks his way to the end of 2021.
Extending Harbaugh’s contract makes sense for Michigan and is absolutely the right move at the right time.