Hand-Wringing Up North Over Jim Harbaugh's Job Status is College Football's New Normal

By Johnny Ginter on January 21, 2022 at 10:10 am
Michigan head football coach Jim Harbaugh

When I started thinking about writing this about a week or so ago, I had wanted to make this article a Threat Level celebrating/making fun of whatever ended up happening with Jim Harbaugh and Michigan (and the Raiders or the Bears or a scrappy group of youth hockey league kids). Would he get a raise and an extension from the powers-that-be at Michigan, after taking a giant pay cut a few years ago? Would he bolt for the NFL, realizing that his stock might never be higher and after being given carte blanche from a buddy in Vegas?

Either way, it'd be over and I could write a nice bit of light-hearted finality to an ongoing drama that's played out largely in the brains of Michigan fans ever since the Wolverines got unceremoniously bounced out of the College Football Playoff by the Georgia Bulldogs.

But, as you can see, I'm not doing that. And I'm not doing that because nothing has happened. Well, not nothing, but "nothing" in the sense that Harbaugh has played this whole thing extremely close to the vest, leaving the rest of the Wolverine world to read tea leaves about extremely bland tweets or attendance at hockey games or staff hires or squats in Florida (nice form) or "brief phone conversations" or whatever.

National writers don't seem to have any better clue, either. Here's Bruce Feldman of The Athletic saying that Michigan thinks Harbaugh would take a Las Vegas offer. Here's Vic Tafur, of uh, also The Athletic telling people to pump the brakes, while also citing yet another Athletic writer who muddies the waters even further:

“The thing no one’s real sure about is what Jim will do if he gets an interview request or an offer,” Nick Baumgardner, The Athletic’s Michigan beat writer, said. “He might take it.”

Baumgardner has also written that Michigan could try to push Harbaugh's salary over $8 million per year to keep him around. Michigan's offer to Harbaugh most likely includes some kind of amorphous commitment to NIL and a bunch of incentives, but since that was kind of predictable and boring I'm mostly just impressed that The Athletic ouroboros has managed to make this much hay out of "Harbaugh is kind of dicking around and Michigan threw a barrel of cash at him."

Anyway, here's what writer, Michigander, and Harbaugh whisperer John U. Bacon has to say about all of this, as of a couple of hours ago:


And that's about it. Harbaugh is so wily that he's fooled his own brain into not knowing what he'll do next. I agree with Bacon's take, for whatever that's worth. The Raiders have to satisfy a number of procedural NFL dictates before they can really get down to brass tacks with Harbaugh, and he's in no hurry to assuage the feelings of an easily bruised Michigan fanbase (there's also probably no small amount of saltiness on his part at having his salary cut in half due to not being able to do the thing he was hired to do). Sometimes "50/50 time will tell" really is the best way to look at things.

Harbaugh will ultimately do whatever he wants, whenever he feels like it.

Obviously all of this is relevant to Ohio State fans from a rivalry perspective; the transitions from Lloyd Carr to Rich Rodriguez to Brady Hoke to Jim Harbaugh have mostly been pretty advantageous for the Buckeyes, as the Wolverines have struggled to find a head football coach that could seriously challenge Ohio State hegemony in the Big Ten. Now that the Woverines have finally won their first Big Ten title since 2004, whatever comes next for them is going to be fascinating for both the interplay between those two teams and for the conference as a whole.

But more specifically for Ohio State, this might be a disconcerting look into our future. Ryan Day is coming off an ostensibly "bad" season for Ohio State, that still saw them win 11 games (including a Rose Bowl) and finish 6th in the AP Poll. If that's the expected floor for Ohio State, maybe it isn't so incomprehensible that a young coach like Day might at some point in the future decide to seriously see what he could do in the NFL. The perennial scattered chatter about him and the Chicago Bears is exactly that, but given the nature of college football head coaching tenures in the 2020's, it isn't unreasonable to image that he'd reciprocate legitimate interest from the league.

Not that I think Ohio State fans should start worrying about that anytime soon, but it's something to keep in mind as Michigan fans anxiously await the white smoke to emerge from Ann Arbor, that no fanbase is immune to the gnashing of teeth and wailing that comes with the offseason coaching carousel.

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