When and if Michigan decides to part ways with Jim Harbaugh, the timing of everything could be an issue.
First of all, Warde Manuel is not going to fire Jim Harbaugh. Let’s just put that out there. Because of that, there are really only two things that could happen that would result in Harbaugh not coaching at Michigan next fall.
1: He decides to walk away on his own essentially conceding and admitting that he can’t get the job done at his alma mater. That approach could be pretty bad for his career if he does want to coach elsewhere and also just seems very un-Harbaugh. This isn’t going to happen, in my opinion.
2: He’s offered a job by an NFL team, which actually seems like a realistic possibility this year given how things are going in Ann Arbor. There are some other factors involved that make this seem like a potential outcome.
The problems with those two options are that No. 1 is highly unlikely and No. 2 can’t even start happening until after the NFL regular season is over, which happens on January 3. That’s pretty late in the game when it comes to the college coach and carousel.
Since the highly unlikely option No. 1 is the only way Michigan could begin looking for a new coach at the end of the regular season, Jim Harbaugh is probably still going to be the coach through the end of the NFL regular season, which again, ends on January 3. Because of that, top candidates would most likely already be scooped up.
Other schools won’t have a problem firing their failing coaches as soon as the clock strikes zero on their last game, which will give them a solid window to find a new hire starting on December 19. Other teams also aren’t dependent on what’s going on with the NFL’s schedule. That puts Michigan behind the 8 ball in two different ways.
So here’s how it all shakes out...
Michigan’s last regular season game is on December 12 against Ohio State. No one in their right mind gives Michigan much of a shot in that one which means they’ll then play in that final meaningless ninth game on December 19 to wrap up the season. Now there is a chance that they could play in a bowl game, but the entire bowl season is a bit up in the air right now especially considering that Michigan’s record might not be that good and because the pandemic is still causing problems.
The NFL regular season ends on January 3, which is when teams like the New York Jets, Dallas Cowboys and Atlanta Falcons to name a few, could begin extending offers to new head coach candidates. That’s the earliest that Harbaugh could be lured away from Michigan by pro teams.
The College Football Playoff committee will choose its four teams on December 20, setting the table for the semifinals and finals, which take place on January 1 and January 11, respectively. Who ends up in the playoff and the decisions of some of those assistants certainly factor in, especially in the cases of guys like Brent Venables and Tony Elliott from Clemson who figure to be on several lists for head coaching gigs.
If programs like South Carolina, who is reportedly close to firing Will Muschamp today, Auburn, USC, Texas and others move on from their head coaches between now and December 19, they’ll get the jump on a school like Michigan who wouldn’t be in a position to shop until later if at all because of how it’s going to play out. Hot names like Luke Fickell, Matt Campbell and others would almost certainly be off the table by January 3.
There are a ton of moving parts here and a lot of hypotheticals but enough is concrete to make the timeline very difficult for Michigan if Manuel really is unwilling to fire Harbaugh like we believe.
The most likely scenario right now, as of November 11, seems to be that Jim Harbaugh will still coaching the Wolverines in 2021 in the final year of a seven-year deal without an extension, which is close to program suicide in terms of recruiting and building continuity for the future.