The 2021 Michigan Football season kicks off in just 101 days when the Wolverines welcome Western Michigan into the Big House on September 4. With the recent news that Michigan Stadium will be at full-capacity this fall, most fans are already counting down the days until they can resume one of their most cherished annual traditions - Fall Saturday's in the Big House.
Aside from the excitement and promise that inevitably comes with the return of each new season, there is also no shortage of storylines surrounding the football program - storylines that will certainly play a major role in just how successful the season ultimately becomes. Whether it's the quarterback position, the new-look coaching staff, the new defensive scheme or an offense that has yet to find its true identity under third-year offensive coordinator Josh Gattis, there will be plenty of questions that the Wolverines need to answer emphatically in a very short period of time.
The man charged with providing all of those answers is entering his seventh season as head coach of the Michigan Wolverines with his coaching legacy still hanging in the balance.
It's no secret that Jim Harbaugh's future with Michigan still remains uncertain, even with a new contract extension in place that - at least on paper - aims to keep him in Ann Arbor through the 2025 season. However, as is often the case - the devil is in the details. Not only did Harbaugh take a 50 percent pay cut to remain in Ann Arbor, the University of Michigan also made it easier to part ways with the man once dubbed "Michigan's Savior" if things don't improve quickly. Though Harbaugh is owed $4 million dollars if he's fired in 2021, the buyout drops by $1 million in each subsequent year of his contract.
Translation: the clock is ticking.
It's an odd and unexpected reality for a coach like Jim Harbaugh, a man who built Stanford into a national powerhouse and turned a lousy San Francisco 49ers team into a legitimate Super Bowl contender. It was expected that his track record of coaching success would pay off in a very big way for Michigan and that it was inevitable for the Wolverines to become a legitimate national title contender under his leadership. That obviously hasn't happened - yet.
To his credit, Harbaugh has seemingly tried anything and everything possible this offseason to return Michigan to its former glory. Philosophies have changed, his coaching staff has changed (repeatedly) and the players have obviously changed. The one and only constant in the equation from day one has been Jim Harbaugh himself.
Though it would appear that Harbaugh's window of opportunity in Ann Arbor is closing, Michigan Athletic Director Warde Manuel said that he's still willing to be patient.
"Given the contract, obviously I am willing to be patient," Manuel said. "But he and I understand that we need to win. This is Michigan; nobody wants to win more than Jim in football, and me overall. We want success, so did I put a number to his first year? The answer is no."
Manuel's stance on Harbaugh's future - at least publicly - isn't all that surprising. After all, athletic directors typically don't make it a habit of giving their head coaches ultimatums when speaking with the media. At the same time, the details within the contract make it quite clear that the results haven't been good enough and that Harbaugh's future with Michigan is in serious jeopardy.
It's easy to be patient in May, but it becomes much more difficult to remain patient in November.