Michigan football: Jim Harbaugh extension process was way too messy to go through again
Jim Harbaugh emphatically expressed joy and excitement after signing an extension that would take him through the 2025 season with the Michigan Wolverines.
“I’m doing cartwheels,” he said, per a UM release.
Cartwheels were things that used to be done by the old Harbaugh, the guy who came in and rocked the Big Ten — and rest of college football world — with a renewed “enthusiasm unknown to mankind” when signing an initial 7-year deal Dec. 30, 2014. Michigan is hoping that the same energy will resurface during the next 4 seasons.
Including base salary of $605,000, Harbaugh is scheduled to make a total base compensation of at least $4 million per year, but he’ll have the chance to make much more, should he reach certain performance-based criteria. There will be hefty bonuses for winning the Big Ten, going to a New Year’s 6 bowl, making the College Football Playoff and, ultimately, winning a national title.
This is an insanely Michigan-friendly deal, and one that leaves both sides with a ton of flexibility. I think that's a positive no matter whose "side" you're on.
Also, for as bad as you may think Jim Harbaugh's coaching was in 2020, his negotiating just blew it out of the water. pic.twitter.com/T4as6CvXFt
— Scott Bell (@sbell021) January 8, 2021
Harbaugh is excited. Michigan is excited.
On paper, and in theory, they are a great match.
Michigan AD Warde Manuel insisted that Harbaugh is the “right man to lead our program in pursuit of Big Ten and CFP championships,” despite a disappointing 2020 campaign.
It was all rosy Friday, and Michigan headed into the weekend feeling pretty good about its football program. While other staff changes have been made, and more are expected, securing Harbaugh for another stretch was certainly the proper move for the Wolverines, who finished 2-4 in 2020 before having to cancel its final 3 games — Maryland, Iowa and Ohio State — due to COVID-19 concerns.
Manuel wants Harbaugh at Michigan for the long-term, or at least he has said so in the past. A 4-year extension could be the bridge to more down the road. However, the road to the extension was littered with inaccurate reporting, rumor and speculation, and the ever-present Harbaugh-NFL discussion.
In the past, Harbaugh had publicly shot down those rumors. This time, he barely said a word, other than mentioning that it was his plan to stay with the Wolverines. But it was vaguely worded and never sounded 100% official. Sure, he wanted to be there … but was it really going to happen?
There was a short time that insiders felt that Harbaugh may leave. Then, as late December approached, the thoughts changed. New information — credible, not the rumor-mill stuff — surfaced through the work of actual, good reporters: Nick Baumgardner of The Athletic, Angelique Chengelis of the Detroit News, along with national media members.
People like them helped clear the air.
But then others only served to pollute, going with hearsay and relying on message boards for the real scoop.
Harbaugh was waiting on the NFL, they said. There was possible interest from the LA Chargers — Harbaugh used to play for the San Diego Chargers — and the New York Jets. Same old story, every year since 2017. Same people throwing stuff at the wall in hopes of it sticking and making them look like they have actual connections.
Look, the Harbaugh-NFL situation is the easiest, most convenient propaganda vehicle in all of sports; it’s a story — true or not — that will never go away for as long as Harbaugh coaches at Michigan.
Instead of appearing to look for better options, such as the reports suggested, Harbaugh and Michigan should have immediately squashed all reports of his supposed NFL interest. It harms recruiting. It worries current players and could cause transfers. Bad information, especially in today’s world, is incredibly damaging — so it’s only right for those false narratives to be quickly handled and dismissed.
Michigan did none of that. And as a matter of fact, the only real indications — other than sources with knowledge — that Harbaugh was staying was the fact that the Wolverines signed all of their anticipated commits on Day 1 of the Early Signing Period. Even 4-star WR Xavier Worthy, who was thought to be out the door and headed to Georgia.
That’s what the rumor mill did to this past cycle, and previous cycles — it put the notion that Michigan may not have the same coach going into the 2021 season.
But … with a low buyout of roughly $4 million, it’s going to be even easier for people to speculate at the end of each season. The new deal will have Harbaugh defending his stance even more. Questions about the relatively easy exit — should it be necessary — will loom toward the closing weeks of each season. They’ll also be hot topics during preseason media days. People will look for ways to poke holes in Harbaugh’s intentions until he clearly says otherwise.
And that’s what he’ll need to do for the next 5 years, assuming he intends on fulfilling the contract extension.
Maybe starting the year off with “I am not going to the NFL after this season” would suffice. Or maybe even just going on-record and saying that he’s sticking around until 2025, or longer if desired. Publicly calling out those who publish false narratives should also be the new norm — just go ahead and blast whatever outlet said you’re playing with Michigan’s heart by waiting on the NFL.
Go ahead and call BS on those who made it look like the Wolverines were just a second option because their current head coach really has designs on coaching on Sundays.
All of that would help, and coaches/players should get into the habit of dismissing rumors before they blow up and cause significant damage. It’s been so bad, especially for Harbaugh at UM, that the Wolverines actually issued a release to parents calling out a wannabe-insider for publishing false claims and misrepresenting his connection with the program.
That was a home-run move. UM and Harbaugh should swing for the fences more often. They complain about lazy journalism but they haven’t really done too much to combat those “journalists.”
Be tough. Be vocal. Call out the lies, Jim. Don’t let there be another mess like the one you just went through during the past handful of weeks. It’s a bad look for you and the program.