Once again, the looming question for Michigan is whether Jim Harbaugh is going to be back next season. Last offseason, it was about whether Michigan wanted Harbaugh. This time around, it’s whether Harbaugh wants Michigan.

It’s obviously in best interest of Michigan for Harbaugh to return as head coach. He showed why in helping Michigan to its best season in nearly 25 years. Even if he does come back, though, the damage has been done.

From Harbaugh’s inclusion in this round of the NFL coaching carousel, we can deduce that he definitely wants to go back to the NFL at some point. After leading Michigan to its first Big Ten title in 17 years and first appearance in the College Football Playoff, Harbaugh felt like the time was right to take another shot. He’s been linked to the head coaching jobs with the Raiders and most recently the Vikings, as he is reportedly set to interview.

Let’s say Harbaugh ends up not being a fit with the Raiders and Vikings. Then what? He’s back at Michigan, presumably with a new contract, and all is right in Ann Arbor? I don’t think so. At least not right away.

I don’t see how this is any different than the dreaded “lame duck coach” when a head coach has just a year or 2 left on his deal, and the athletic director basically has to fire or extend him because otherwise he won’t be able to recruit. This is going to be the same thing. What recruit actually believes that Harbaugh is going to be in Michigan for the next 4 years? Every recruiting battle Michigan is in, the other coaches are going to flood that recruit’s mind with the notion that Harbaugh has one foot out the door. Just because that foot is pointed at the NFL rather than another college job doesn’t make a difference.

In the short term, it’s fair to wonder how Michigan is going to get commits, aside from the ones who grow up dreaming of playing for the maize and blue. Semaj Morgan, a 3-star 2023 wideout currently committed to Michigan, had some interesting comments on Harbaugh:

“I feel like he’s going to go to the NFL eventually but I don’t know if it’s going to be soon,” Morgan said. “I really committed to the school. The coaches are an add-on to it. I’m really committed to Michigan as a program and a school.”

Surely, other recruits realize this, too. Harbaugh wants another crack at the NFL. Maybe they’ll be like Morgan, who is a Michigan native, and commit to playing for the program rather than the head coach. But surely there are those who will want some assurance that the head coach will actually be there in a few years and not have an eye on the next job. Maybe the one-time transfer rule will be a saving grace to any future recruit; even if Harbaugh leaves, the recruit can leave, too, free of penalty.

But still, it’s an unfortunate situation for recruits. Michigan has signed 22 guys in the 2022 class, and just 1 of them (5-star cornerback Will Johnson) is from Michigan. The Wolverines are a national brand, sure, but it’s not like all these guys necessarily spent their childhood dreaming of playing for Michigan. A new head coach brings in some new assistants, and then the recruits are in a tough spot. That’s not uncommon in college football, but it’s still worth mentioning, especially as the second National Signing Day approaches this week.

It’s going to be fascinating to see if Michigan can still land 5-star offensive tackle Josh Conerly Jr., who is considering the Wolverines along with his home-state Washington Huskies, USC and Oklahoma. It’s kind of like in politics where an election in one tiny county in some purple state is supposed to be indicative of a larger trend; this could help predict what the landscape will look like over the next few years for Michigan.

You never know what Harbaugh is going to do. He marches to the beat of his own drum, clearly, and he isn’t motivated by money and power in the way that the majority of coaches (and people) are. He just sort of does what he wants. That’s why he’s unpredictable.

If Harbaugh doesn’t wind up in the NFL, he’s going to have to do some major PR work to re-establish himself as Michigan’s head coach for the foreseeable future. The last month’s worth of news cycles has given Michigan’s rivals plenty of material with which to work.