As the oddity of the 2020 football season nears its end in Ann Arbor, the fan base remains split on the significance of a shortened season marked with setbacks. While some are willing to cast aside the seasons failures as the byproduct of a strange year, others are viewing 2020 as the final nail for Jim Harbaugh.
Two camps, two very different outlooks.
Camp One: 2020 Is A Throwaway Season
The people who fall into this camp generally aren’t too alarmed by the way the 2020 season has played out. The losses, though painful, can easily be explained away by a team that has been decimated with opt outs and injuries, forcing the Wolverines to play many inexperienced first-year starters and backups. As a result, many people within this camp have opted to cut Jim Harbaugh some slack and believe he deserves another shot in 2021.
The alternative, they argue, is to cast a perennial 9-10 win program back into rebuild mode - undoing all of the work that Jim Harbaugh has done to bring the program back to “national relevance”. For these folks, Harbaugh’s winning percentage is proof that he’s brought the program back to what it has always been, and that he’s earned the right to continue on as the head football coach at the University of Michigan. Besides, “who are you going to replace him with?”
The Issue: In order for Jim Harbaugh to be roaming the sidelines in Ann Arbor in 2021, he’ll first need a contract extension in place - one that will keep him in Ann Arbor well beyond the 2021 season. The problem is that the jury is still out on whether or not Jim Harbaugh actually wants to return to Michigan for the 2021 season and beyond. There’s also been no public indication at this point from Michigan’s side, mainly Warde Manuel, that would suggest they want him to return either.
The Bottom Line: You might not blame Jim Harbaugh for much of what has transpired during the 2020 season, but there’s a zero percent chance that he is coaching at Michigan in 2021 without a new contract in place. If you believe Jim Harbaugh deserves to finish out his current contract, you’re also advocating for a new one. Based on the results through six years, it’s hard to imagine any rationalization for either Michigan or Jim Harbaugh to want to continue down the same path.
Camp Two: 2020 Is An Indictment
This is the camp that the majority of Michigan fans appear to call home. Most acknowledge that 2020 has presented some unique challenges, but also that those challenges aren’t unique to Michigan. Attrition is part of the game - departing players and injuries are always part of the equation. Up until this weekend, Michigan was one of the few lucky programs within the Big Ten to have escaped issues with COVID.
For this group, the issues they’ve seen play out on the field through the first six weeks have less to do with COVID and more to do with Harbaugh. During the broadcast of Michigan’s latest embarrassing home loss to 0-5 Penn State, an infographic flashed across the screen that told the only story that matters to them. That story included an 0-5 record against Ohio State, a 3-3 record against Michigan State, an 11-16 record against ranked teams, a 2-12 record against top-ten teams, and zero conference titles.
The fact that 2020 threw everyone a curve ball didn’t change the damage that had already been done, and the struggles this season only served as further validation for what most of these fans already believed - that Harbaugh’s time in Ann Arbor should come to an end.
The Issue: Jim Harbaugh deserves all of the heat he is getting for his job performance, not just for the 2020 season, but for the entire body of work since taking over in 2015. With that being said, he is also set to welcome in the No. 2 ranked recruiting class in the Big Ten - a class that includes prized quarterback JJ McCarthy. If Michigan does indeed part ways with Jim Harbaugh, it may also mean parting ways with the highest rated quarterback recruit Michigan has had in 13 years. Worse yet, there are several other commits who are part of the 2021 class that may also opt to take their services elsewhere if McCarthy isn’t part of the equation. Oh, and you’ll also need to find a new head coach.
The Bottom Line: Prepare yourself. Parting ways with Jim Harbaugh might be the right thing to do at this point, but that doesn’t mean that the issues with the football program will suddenly disappear by removing him. If the Harbaugh era comes to an end in a few short weeks, that would mean that Michigan has struck out on all three of their last coaching hires. Personally speaking, I don’t necessarily have a ton of confidence that they’ll get it right on number four. The frustration built on nearly 20 years of subpar football also won’t magically disappear overnight, nor will the issues that led to it. The next man who steps to the podium and accepts the responsibility, the challenge and the expectation of coaching at Michigan will certainly have his work cut out for him. Best of luck to whoever that brave soul may be - patience is in short supply in Ann Arbor.