Jim Harbaugh’s tenure in Ann Arbor began with great promise. After all, he went 10-3 in each of his first two seasons and, in 2016, had Michigan ranked No. 2 in the country.
The last couple of seasons, however, haven’t gone as planned. True, the Wolverines went 10-3 in 2018, but they are 10-9 over their last 19 games, including 1-3 this season.
It’s been ugly – and it seems the end is near.
“The Harbaugh situation is the most fascinating story in college football right now,” Yahoo Sports college football reporter Pete Thamel said on The DA Show. “It’s fascinating mostly because there’s no easy answer there. Administratively, the president doesn’t have a lot of energy for football. They, like many campuses, are a mess with COVID. The faculty is revolting against the president. There’s just a lot going on there, and it just doesn’t seem like finding an exit strategy for Jim Harbaugh is a real high priority there. We all see what’s happening on Saturday, but remember: he came back there, he pulled them out of the depths of [Brady] Hoke and Rich Rodriguez, and it’s just not going to be clean.”
Harbaugh is under contract through the 2021 season, though there are murmurs that he could abandon the Ann Arbor ship this offseason and bolt for the NFL.
Thamel, though, doesn’t know if there’s an NFL landing spot for the 56-year-old.
“I think the ending there is tricky,” he said. “They’d love Harbaugh to go find a safe landing place, but I really feel very little appetite for Jim Harbaugh right now in the NFL. He won 69.5 percent of his games in San Francisco. He’s actually the fifth-winningest coach by winning percentage in the history of the National Football League. But his exit was so bad, so dark, so destructive [that] anyone who picks up the phone and calls Jed York, they are not hiring Jim Harbaugh. If you are a GM, he has a reputation as a GM killer, so it would take an owner to be totally infatuated with him.”
That, as of now, seems unlikely.
“Look, if everything goes right, Michigan goes 3-5,” Thamel said. “It’s hard to be infatuated with a GM-killing, scorched-earth guy who can’t even be in the top half of the Big Ten East. It’s just a tough sell for season-ticket holders, for everybody, because the one thing Jim Harbaugh has shown at every stop is he has a shelf life. The adrenaline wears off, and day to day, he’s a strange guy who’s hard to work with. Ultimately, if you’re going to be as weird as he is, you need results – and the results clearly aren’t there.”
Michigan blasted Minnesota 49-24 in its season-opener before losing a nail-biter to in-state rival Michigan State, 27-24. Then came a 38-21 loss to Indiana. Then came a 49-11 loss to Wisconsin. The margin of defeat has only gotten wider as Harbaugh has seemingly become more emotionally detached from the program.
“Jim Harbaugh is a strange human, and I could fully see . . . him just coaching the last year [of his contract],” Thamel said. “In some sense, Michigan owes Harbaugh because he could have at any point in the last five years signed a four-year extension. The fact that he only has 13 months remaining on his deal is an extreme anomaly in the way these coaching contracts work. Warde Manuel, I think at some point in the last two years, said publicly, ‘I want him to retire here.’ There were rumors – it never manifested – of a lifetime contract, so Jim Harbaugh has always had the ability to sign a 10-year, name-his-number figure at Michigan, and he’s never done that.
“This would be a whole different conversation if they owed him $40 million and he was signed through 2024 or whatever it is,” Thamel continued. “It’ll be fascinating [to see what happens]. Replacements for Harbaugh and what’s going to happen with Harbaugh – there’s endless, boundless scenarios and no clear, easy answers.”