The past month-plus has been filled with speculation regarding Jim Harbaugh’s next move. This has been the norm for the past few years, but it feels different — and more real — than previous rumor cycles. This time, he could really make the jump to the NFL.

Recent reports have linked Harbaugh to the Minnesota Vikings — with whom he’s interviewing Wednesday — and the Miami Dolphins, who are owned by famous UM alum Stephen Ross. Previous rumors suggested that the Las Vegas Raiders and Chicago Bears were interested in Harbaugh, but those fizzled out like the rest of the “reports” have during this time of year.

Wednesday was National Signing Day, which has a lot of people questioning the timing of Harbaugh’s interview. Bad optics, for sure. What message did that send to recruits? This year, it could do damage. In years past, nothing happened because the players knew Harbaugh wasn’t leaving Ann Arbor.

Again, this year is much different.

Michigan AD Warde Manuel must be facing a tough decision. One year ago, he had Harbaugh sign a 4-year “extension” that ended up being a laughing stock when compared to the recent deals Michigan State gave Mel Tucker and what Penn State offered James Franklin. Both got 10-year deals and have ample NIL opportunities, allowing them to compete on the new college football landscape.

With its high admission standards and apparent reluctance to fully embrace the world of NIL, Michigan is at a disadvantage when compared to other national-champion level programs. Harbaugh has fought with administration for the past 2 seasons, at least, to change some things and level the playing field. It seems as if Michigan doesn’t want to budge.

In 2021, Harbaugh — after 7 years — finally delivered on what most expected him to do in Ann Arbor: Win the Big Ten and make the College Football Playoff. The 2016 season, though, was seemingly forgotten; that’s when, in his second year, Harbuagh nearly had the Wolverines in the Playoff race. A road loss at Iowa, via late FG, was the dagger — not the loss at Ohio State.

Anyway, Harbaugh did what he was supposed to do for his alma mater. He won a banner, UM’s first outright B1G title since 2003, and partially restored some of Michigan’s reputation, helping it get back to the days of long-romanced Wolverines football. Finally, the Wolverines were back to their rightful position, according to the lore of college football.

He’s been great on the trail.

Harbaugh’s staff secured JJ McCarthy, a 2021 5-star prep QB who was the second-highest rated QB recruit in Wolverines history, behind Chad Henne. He also scored DT Christopher Hinton, WR Donovan Peoples-Jones, CB Will Johnson (2022) and DB Daxton Hill — all 4 of them are among the highest-rated recruits in program history (recruiting era, of course).

He beat Ohio State. Had to mention that again.

Beat Iowa for a B1G title.

He’s evened the score with Michigan State, which probably won’t run another 8 of 10 as long as Harbaugh is around; it’s a true rivalry and no longer so lopsided, despite the Spartans’ current 2-game win streak.

So he’s flirting with the NFL?

Big deal.

Manuel, obviously, hasn’t come with a convincing offer. Clearly, the school as a whole hasn’t gotten on board with Harbaugh’s vision for the football program. There is friction and animosity, and it has to be growing with each day and each new report.

But don’t get mad at Harbaugh, who is the hottest “free agent” coach on the market; he’s simply gauging his worth and testing the NFL waters. However, if he’s going to leave, he should it now. Another year of this would only ruffle more feathers and cast a bad light on the program. How is a Michigan legend who said he’d coach for free so non-committal to his former team? There is a lot to the story, and it all connects to the UM administration’s dated view on college football.

He gave Michigan fans what they wanted. He stuck through some rough times, didn’t fold and ended up winning big. He turned around a program that was headed for dangerous lows — lows that maybe even a coach like Harbaugh couldn’t overcome. But Harbaugh did it, and he helped the public forget about the dark days of Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke.

Now, Michigan is flirting with disaster by not offering a Brinks truck of cash to Harbaugh, who could feel a little disrespected after UM essentially said “prove yourself” after a 2-4 finish in 2020.

But no hard feelings, right? It’s all business.

But when it comes to Harbaugh and Michigan, it goes deeper than that — and this potential wound of departure could be incredibly difficult to heal.