Michigan football: Jim Harbaugh has every right to entertain the NFL -- again
Jim Harbaugh said last year he was done flirting with the NFL. He was over dreaming of Sundays, instead focusing on winning titles at Michigan.
During the past 2 seasons of his 8-year tenure with the Wolverines, he has made College Football Playoff semifinal appearances, crushed Ohio State and hoisted 2 Big Ten Championship banners. In December, Harbaugh said that he’d “enthusiastically” return to his alma mater in 2023.
And then he lost to TCU in the College Football Playoff.
And then NFL rumors resurfaced, linking him to the Denver Broncos, Indianapolis Colts (his former team) and the Carolina Panthers (not an interview). Sources then said it’d be a “done deal” if he were to receive an NFL offer. Harbaugh, earlier this week, issued a statement saying that he expected to return to Michigan next season.
And then the potential NCAA violations came out of the shadows, adding more insult to injury.
It has been a horrible week for Harbaugh, who has every right to explore — maybe just one more time — coaching in the NFL. If his job could be on the line for watching some Zoom footage and buying a kid a hamburger at a local spot near campus, he’d be well within reason to leave the college game and go to the pros.
Let’s face it, college football has changed a lot since Harbaugh returned to Michigan in 2015, following a stint with the San Francisco 49ers. Amateurism is out the window and now it’s perfectly legal for teams to basically bid on the top recruits — not that it wasn’t done before the whole NIL madness started, but it’s now front-and-center.
The transfer portal has changed the game, too; it’s a free-agent pool that has yielded great results for many players. Some have played at Michigan for Harbaugh, who probably didn’t foresee the massive change to what college football has become — the minor leagues for the NFL, and a cash cow for the nation’s top players.
For the same, or maybe even less, level of stress, he could be getting NFL coaching money and avoid the song-and-dance with UM athletic director Warde Manuel, who has flipped and flopped Harbaugh’s contract a couple of times during the past 2 years.
Rumors or not, the NFL talk has brought more attention to Michigan. The Wolverines, due to Harbaugh, have experienced a resurgence like no other in program history since Captain Comeback assumed the reins. Now, he’s facing potential punishment for Level I and II NCAA violations, which seem relatively tepid compared to other dishonest practices we’ve witnessed in the game for years.
Not being forthcoming about a receipt for food, allegedly. Watching a Zoom during the dead period in 2021? Harbaugh could be suspended. Or face the music for a cause termination from Michigan (which is explained in his contract). Michigan has 90 days to respond to the NCAA’s notice of allegations, but as we’ve seen, placing a timetable on an NCAA investigation, verdict and potential punishment is worthless. The reality is, this could play out over several seasons.
Harbaugh returned Michigan to its glory, and then some, by twice and consecutively stomping Ohio State, winning the B1G and making the CFP. The Wolverines are back in the driver’s seat when it comes to Michigan State. They’ve consistently had great defenses and strong recruiting classes.
The brand is back.
Harbaugh was major in the Jordan deal. He came in with a bang, holding the Signing of the Stars recruit event in 2016, only to pull back from the glitz and glam in order to focus on building a program. He jumpstarted the Wolverines machine and hopped behind the wheel.
He owes Michigan nothing. He shouldn’t have to worry about his job for minor violations, which could result in a cause termination. He shouldn’t have to play the money game with recruits. He shouldn’t have to do a lot of things, really, when it comes to the college game.
Should he walk away from Michigan, he’d probably be discarding a huge weight off his shoulders. At 59, he has a decade of prime coaching left in the tank, so why not use that fuel to make another run at the Super Bowl?
That’s what he’s always wanted; it’s been clear in his language and it’s been made more clear in the past 2 years. Through his recent statements, he’s left the door open, using ambiguous terms such as “I expect” more than a couple of times, or “no one knows the future.”
The door is open; he could easily walk through it. Michigan fans might be upset, but they’d better recognize that the past 8 years of Harbaugh saved their beloved football program from fading into the abyss and turning into the Dallas Cowboys of the NCAA, who remain relevant due to history and proud fans … but not for winning anything of note recently.