Jim Harbaugh's future has been covered from every angle. It has been one report after another after another after another. Panic deadlines have come and gone, a "done deal" extension still hasn't happened and, even though many respected insiders believe he'll be back in 2021, we still don't know for sure.
So what if he is back in Ann Arbor next season? What if he isn't? No matter what happens with Harbaugh, those winged helmets will run out of the tunnel and under the banner next fall. What would it look like in both scenarios?
If Harbaugh returns...
The most obvious change is going to be at defensive coordinator. Don Brown has already been relieved of his duties so someone new will be calling the shots on that side of the ball no matter what. Penn State's co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Tim Banks makes a lot of sense. Michigan safeties coach Bob Shoop wasn't with the team last year after some "issues" and likely won't return in 2021, so Banks could definitely lend some expertise there while also calling defensive plays. He went to Central Michigan, is a Detroit native and has recruited the state's richest recruiting grounds very well for the Nittany Lions.
On the offensive side of the ball Joe Moorhead's name started to pop up back in mid-December, but man are there conflicting reports about him right now. He's coaching Oregon's offense in the Fiesta Bowl against Iowa State tomorrow, but there has been some rumblings that he doesn't see eye to eye with Ducks head coach Mario Cristobal. Moorhead is a dynamic play caller with head coaching experience, which would make him an extremely intriguing hire.
New coordinators don't automatically equal success but those two would certainly move the needle among the Michigan faithful. New position coaches would also likely be part of the equation but it's really hard to speculate on those without coordinators in place yet. There are just a lot of moving parts still.
Of course none of that matters if you don't have faith in Harbaugh, which seems to be the case for a lot of Michigan fans. I've been pretty open about my thoughts on Harbaugh and I haven't changed my line of thinking. I've thought it was time for him to go for a while. Some people are fine with his 69% winning percentage but that's not really that good especially when you consider most of those wins came against Big Ten bottom feeders. He's just 9-15 against Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State, Wisconsin and Iowa and doesn't have a winning record against any of them. He's 1-4 in bowl games, has never played for a Big Ten title and routinely has issues at the quarterback position, which was supposed to be his specialty. I was beyond excited when he was hired, but it just hasn't worked out. That's not agenda driven or because I don't like the guy personally, it's just based on results and a lack of accomplishments.
We all have six years of evidence to dissect and even with outstanding coordinators I just don't have a lot of faith in a Harbaugh-led team.
If Harbaugh leaves...
If Harbaugh moves on, which will happen at some point, things could get worse, and that's every Michigan fan's biggest fear. So many U-M fans still feel so burned by Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke, that the idea of taking a step back after Harbaugh is enough of a reason to keep him.
Of course, the opposite is possible too. Things could improve after Harbaugh. A new coach could come in, win the gimmes and start to turn the table a little bit in the big games and against teams with comparable or better talent. Matt Campbell has certainly done more with less at Iowa State. He's had a whopping total of four 4-star recruits during his entire time in Ames, but has managed to beat Oklahoma and Texas twice each. He had the Cyclones in the Big 12 Championship this year and seems to be a master at creating a winning culture. He hasn't beaten in-state rival Iowa, but it's Iowa State. They were never close to good until he got there. That's worth more than consistently losing to Iowa in my eyes. Luke Fickell is another hot name within coaching circles but he's a former Buckeye, which is a deal breaker for a lot of people. Still, he's been punching above his weight for a few years at Cincinnati and nearly beat Georgia earlier today if not for some bad clock management down the stretch that allowed the Bulldogs to kick a 54-yard game-winning field goal. Wolverine fans can certainly relate to those types of situations. There hasn't been nearly as much buzz about Fickell coming to Michigan, but he and Campbell are just two examples of coaches who could elevate the program. It happens at other schools every year. Why can't it at Michigan?
I've been saying it for a while now — I don't know what Harbaugh is going to do and, if you read the tea leaves and listen to what other experts are saying, neither do they. But I'm a very rational, common-sense type of guy. Everything that Harbaugh has done makes it seem like he's looking for a way out of Ann Arbor. We knew early on that Warde Manuel wouldn't fire him and that Harbaugh wasn't going to just resign leaving nearly $10 million on the table and essentially signaling a forfeit. But he also hasn't signed an extension. Why? I know that a lot goes into contracts, and there are legalities and written documents involved that I can't begin to understand, but we see coaches get extended, fired and hired within hours sometimes it seems. Why is it taking so long for Michigan and Harbaugh to get on the same page if he is indeed coming back? I just can't compute it.
If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck. That's where I'm at. I'm not saying I have better information than anyone else. I'm not saying any specific insider is better than another. It just doesn't look good from the outside. Other programs don't operate this way, and if an extension is wanted by both the athletic department and the coach, it sure as hell shouldn't take a month, or longer actually, to get it done. It looks like Harbaugh wants out of Ann Arbor to me. If he can find a respectable way to make that happen, maybe he will move on. Or maybe he won't. Maybe he'll return to Michigan next year, we'll see more of the same, he'll fall to 0-6 against Ohio State and 2021 will be his last year. Or maybe he'll put it all together next fall, run the table, beat the Buckeyes and do all of the big things he's failed to do so far. I'd love for it to be the latter, but that really feels like wishful thinking at best at this point to me.