Jim Harbaugh's latest audible actually turned out great
Audibles don’t always work out when you call them.
Few people are more aware of that than Jim Harbaugh.
It was on a trip to Minnesota in 1992 that Harbaugh called the worst audible of his life. Harbaugh’s Chicago Bears were 2-2, but well on their way to improving to 3-2 and tying the Vikings for first place in the NFC Central as they took a 20-0 lead into the fourth quarter.
That’s when Harbaugh audibled out of Mike Ditka’s play call, throwing a 35-yard Pick-6 that finally put Minnesota on the scoreboard.
Ditka exploded when Harbaugh returned to the sideline. The Bears imploded in that quarter, and for the remainder of the season. Chicago finished 5-11, and Ditka’s celebrated Chicago tenure was over.
“The Audible” was the definitive turning point that opened the gates to a terrible decade of Bears football.
Precisely 30 years later, Harbaugh appears to have called the best audible of his life on another trip to Minnesota.
He won’t be returning the NFL after all. Whether it was cold feet — always a possibility in Minnesota — or simply a recognition that he’s got it made at Michigan, Harbaugh left his interview with the Vikings without a desire for the job.
His “enthusiasm unknown to mankind!” as he put it to Detroit News reporter Angelique S. Chengelis, was to remain a Wolverine.
Received a text just now from Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh (had requested interview): "With an enthusiasm unknown to mankind!" https://t.co/Utd5sRlsfg
— angelique (@chengelis) February 3, 2022
In turn, I’m forced to call my own audible.
As news swirled about Harbaugh’s future Wednesday, I wrote that it would be impossible for Michigan to take him back if the Vikings job somehow fell through.
Even though the Wolverines had signed their class in December, the optics of interviewing for another job on the traditional National Signing Day were horrendously bad. And what was going to prevent this from happening again in a year, when perhaps the Dallas Cowboys might be looking for a new coach?
Michigan would get lapped by the competition in the Big Ten East if it found itself in a “will he or won’t he?” cycle reminiscent of Brett Favre’s retirements and unretirements.
As I noted, Harbaugh never even would have made it this far in Bo Schembechler’s day. He’d have already been fired.
But fortunately for all involved parties, Warde Manuel is no Schembechler.
Long-term commitment is key to Harbaugh’s decision
There is one thing that makes Harbaugh’s return to Michigan work: an assurance that none of this will ever happen again.
And according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, that’s exactly what Harbaugh gave Manuel.
Jim Harbaugh told Warde Manuel that this would not be a re-occurring issue and he would stay at Michigan as long as it wants him, per sources. https://t.co/d3NVS4EdLl
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) February 3, 2022
All that remains is the business of making that assurance official. A man’s word is great; a contract is even better.
As has been mentioned ad nauseam, Michigan State and Penn State recently re-upped their coaches to 10-year contract extensions. Mel Tucker and James Franklin are undoubtedly using that as leverage on the recruiting trail.
“Hey kid, I’m going to be here for another decade. Harbaugh? Who knows. He just had his salary cut in half last year. And everybody says he’s just itching to get back to the NFL. If you really want to play for Coach Harbaugh, sign with me and then you can go play for him in the pros!”
Or something like that.
Manuel’s job is to now erase that conversation from rival lexicons.
Given Harbaugh’s past actions, it’s unlikely he’s going to demand more money or years than Tucker or Franklin.
He will, however, likely try to make sure the Wolverines have the best-compensated coaching staff in the Big Ten. Harbaugh won’t want to replace coordinators as talented as Mike Macdonald every offseason, but Michigan will need to make sure he has the financial ability to do so.
This isn’t just a win for Michigan
Michigan clearly benefits the most from Harbaugh’s decision to stay. After botching the 2 coaching hires prior to Harbaugh, there would have been considerable nervousness over Michigan’s ability to replace him.
Though there’s reason to have faith in Manuel’s ability to get that job done, it’s far better to not have to worry about it in the first place.
But the winners here aren’t just in Ann Arbor. The entire Big Ten is a beneficiary.
For the past decade, the B1G has evolved into Ohio State’s fiefdom. It’s comparable to Clemson’s domination of the ACC or Oklahoma’s of the Big 12, and it’s not good for the overall product.
Michigan finally challenged that domination in 2021. And with the Wolverines, Penn State and Ohio State all signing top-10 recruiting classes this year, the B1G East might finally become truly comparable to the SEC West in toughness. That’s a very good thing for the league.
And that’s just from a competitive standpoint. There’s also the X-factor of Harbaugh’s entertainment value, which is a better fit for college football than the buttoned-up NFL. He can still be his quirky (some might say downright weird) self here. People will talk about Michigan football.
A day ago, I wouldn’t have thought a return to the Wolverines would have worked out for either party.
But sometimes, when you change your mind, you make the right decision.
Just like Jim Harbaugh.