Once upon a time, Jim Harbaugh was one of the highest-paid coaches in college football. In 2015, he assumed control at Michigan, signing a mega-deal that was worth roughly $9 million per season — and then 2020 happened.

After finishing 2-4, Harbaugh’s future at Michigan was questioned by people who really didn’t know the score. There was no way Harbaugh was leaving, but he did accept a 4-year extension with a low-ball offer, courtesy of Wolverines AD Warde Manuel, who was probably feeling pressure in regard to the performance of his luxury-priced football coach.

From roughly $9 million per season, all the way down to a base salary of a shade under $4.5 million — talk about a downgrade, and talk about a slap in the face. Was it a short-term fix splashed with a dash of ultimatum?

Yeah, probably.

But Manuel wasn’t viewing it that way when he approved the deal.

“Given the contract, obviously, I am willing to be patient, but he and I understand that we need to win,” Manuel said in March, via The Detroit Free Press. “This is Michigan. Nobody wants to win more than Jim in football and me overall. We want success. And so did I put a number to his first year? The answer is no. I want him to move forward and build this and continue to drive us to have success in football.”

That renegotiation basically said UM was losing faith in Harbaugh, who had three 10-win seasons entering 2020. This year, he’ll likely have another 10-win season — after beating up on Maryland this weekend — and he’ll have his team in a major bowl game.

That’s on the low end.

On the high end, he’ll have UM in the College Football Playoff, as a middle-tiered coach, in terms of pay rate.

Possibly one of those elusive wins over Ohio State?

He just came off a 21-17 victory at Penn State that has many critics rethinking their stance on UM’s 7th-year head honcho.

Who knows how Harbaugh feels about all of this.

But one thing is certain: Michigan pulled the plug a little too early. And those who wanted an alternative to Harbaugh, or even entertained the idea, are probably eating their words as they watch No. 6 Michigan (9-1) remain in the hunt for a Big Ten title entering the final 2 weeks of the regular season.

There are only a handful of Power 5 coaches who consistently win 9 games per season, and Harbaugh is one of them. There can only be one Nick Saban-Alabama combo. That union is a rarity in the sport. Longevity and major success for all those years have become more difficult because of the level of parity in college football.

From 2001-2009, Pete Carroll went 83-18 at USC before leaving for the Seattle Seahawks. That type of thing happens, right? Top college coaches often leave for the NFL. Well, that situation was a little different than Harbaugh’s ordeal, but take a look at the coaching carousel the Trojans have ridden since the days of Carroll … they’ve been ugly.

Lane Kiffin was supposed to be the answer, the hottest name among young coaches — he was fired 5 games into his third season. Ed Orgeron resigned after 8 games. Clay Helton was fired. Steve Sarkisian was fired. Now, Donte Williams awaits his fate.

All of those coaches had winning records and did some good things with USC. But USC wanted more and continued looking for the next best thing. The need for 11-win seasons on a regular basis was insurmountable.

The Trojans have yet to find that person, assuming that Williams is just another name on the list of recent coaches, and they probably won’t find that person any time soon.

Texas was once a powerhouse under Mack Brown, but the post-Brown era has been difficult for the Longhorns, who went after Charlie Strong, a coach with mid-major success. When Strong didn’t work out, Texas went after former Ohio State OC Tom Herman, who didn’t work out, either.

Then it was onto Sarkisian, who caught a break by landing at another major program, shortly after being let go by USC for misconduct.

The ‘Horns have been in a lull for 8 years.

Kind of like how Michigan was feeling during the Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke eras.

Harbaugh would have every right to ask for his original deal. Take a look at other programs: How many have been legitimate CFP contenders during the past handful of years? Harbaugh has done that twice. How many teams have three 10-win seasons? Harbaugh does. How many of them piled 36 players into the NFL during the past 5 years? Harbaugh has.

Take a second to think about that …

Only 3 programs have put more guys into the pros since 2017: LSU (39), Ohio State (43) and Alabama (51).

Yes, Michigan fans want their team to be like Ohio State and Alabama. So does every fanbase. Media cries and cries, but they don’t seem to get the big picture.

And it seems like Michigan and Manuel may have been amiss, too. There aren’t many coaches who can do what Harbaugh has done at Michigan. Florida, Texas and USC fans would love a coach with (potentially) four 10-win seasons in 7 years (6.5, really).

Michigan’s lack of faith in Harbaugh looks rather foolish now, doesn’t it?