Jim Harbaugh is done with college football.

At this point, that much seems quite clear. The sooner Michigan fans accept this as reality, the easier the rest of this process will become.

Whether it’s Carolina, Indianapolis, Denver or a heretofore unknown location, Harbaugh appears dead set on returning to the NFL at this point. If he wanted to squelch the latest round of speculation as spurious rumor mongering, he already would have done so.

“But he already has!” those still in denial might say.

Harbaugh, after all, very publicly went on the record last month to get ahead of the story.

Here’s the full statement Harbaugh made on the day Michigan’s Fiesta Bowl pairing with TCU was announced:

“No man knows the future, but I think that people that think we’ve done a good job and are pleased with the job that we’ve done here at Michigan are gonna be very happy to learn that I’ll be back enthusiastically coaching the Wolverines in 2023. And those people that don’t approve of the job we’ve done and would rather see somebody else coaching here, I think they’ll be most likely disappointed to learn that I’ll be back coaching the Wolverines in 2023.”

Yet as multiple outlets have reported, Harbaugh still answered a call from Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper about the Panthers’ vacancy.

If you’re truly enthusiastic about coaching the Wolverines in 2023, wouldn’t you tell Tepper, “This is as far as this discussion needs to go?”

There’s also a chance Harbaugh’s December statement was a trick of semantics rather than an outright lie.

The CFP national championship game is being played on Jan. 9, 2023, and Harbaugh obviously had every intention of enthusiastically coaching in that game until the Horned Frogs developed an alternate set of plans. What was once technically true — Harbaugh coaching the Wolverines in 2023 — only turned into a full-on fib once Michigan lost on Dec. 31.

Timing is also an issue.

When Harbaugh was asked about NFL rumors, signing day was 3 weeks away. He had to make a full, definitive-sounding commitment to Michigan or risk disaster with the incoming recruiting class. Even if he doesn’t intend on being in Ann Arbor next season, there’s little question Harbaugh wants the best for Michigan football moving forward.

And what’s best for Michigan football is a future with Jim Harbaugh in the NFL.

Harbaugh’s point of no return

Harbaugh has backed himself into a corner, and the National Football League is the only exit available.

A year ago, Harbaugh bought himself some grace after his failed job interview with the Minnesota Vikings on February’s National Signing Day. He said he had an itch to scratch, and assured it would never happen again.

A year later, it’s already happening again.

Even though his conversation with Tepper “wasn’t an interview,” there’s far too much smoke here to deny this is a 5-alarm blaze. And based on all of his previous statements, it’s Harbaugh’s pants that are on fire.

Michigan AD Warde Manuel can’t allow this to keep happening without being made to look like a fool. Remember — fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. It’s not a new concept.

More importantly, Michigan can’t allow this to keep happening without it having a deleterious effect on recruiting.

It’s likely we’re already witnessing it chip away at the Wolverines on the recruiting trail. Michigan’s signing class is ranked 17th in the country by 247Sports — the program’s lowest ranking since 2018.

Recruiting is the primary reason agents are able to ransom athletic departments into preposterous contract extensions.

A year ago, James Franklin and Mel Tucker signed extensions tying them to their programs for another decade. Last month, Minnesota gave PJ Fleck a new contract extension for the 3rd time in 4 years. All of these coaches sell recruits on program stability.

Each ensuing offseason of NFL rumors frays Michigan’s stability. And no, these aren’t being leaked by secret agents in the employ of Ohio State and Michigan State. This is quite obviously the real deal.

Surely Harbaugh himself recognizes how far he’s veering from the foundational philosophy of his hero, Bo Schembechler.

“No man is more important than the team,” Schembechler thundered in his most famous locker room speech. “No coach is more important than the team. Team, team, team.”

With his continued NFL flirtation, it’s clear that Harbaugh does view himself as more important than the team. And that’s his prerogative. If competing at the professional level is what he wants, there’s no point in not remaining true to that desire.

But he also must go this offseason. Michigan can’t afford to continue taking a backseat to Harbaugh’s whims.

There’s little doubt Manuel had a contingency plan if Harbaugh left last offseason, and it’s likely still in place, perhaps with some additional names to consider.

He should be prepared to call them. The marriage of Michigan and Jim Harbaugh can scarcely carry on in this fashion.