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The Jim Harbaugh Situation: Here's What We Know

Jim Harbaugh is Michigan's head coach right now and he's acting as such, but the NFL still has his attention at least a little bit.

Jim Harbaugh just went 12-2, beat up on Ohio State, trounced Iowa in the Big Ten Championship Game and made an appearance in the College Football Playoff. He's due for a big raise and one is certainly coming, but will be at Michigan or somewhere in the NFL?

It feels like it's going to be Michigan or the Las Vegas Raiders right now, but teams like the Chicago Bears, the Stephen Ross-owned Miami Dolphins and even the New York Giants have been mentioned as well. In my opinion, it's between A2 and Sin City and that's it.

Here's what we know...

1. Jim Harbaugh is choice No. 1 for Mark Davis and the Las Vegas Raiders

I didn't know this to be true until yesterday evening when more than one person very close to the situation in Las Vegas told me it was the case. Before that, I knew there was interest from Davis and the Raiders, but I didn't actually know if Harbaugh was at the top of the list or merely on it. Knowing that Harbaugh is who Mark Davis wants makes the possibility of him ending up in Las Vegas much more realistic.

2. The Raiders firing Mike Mayock is a domino that needed to fall

It seemed possible that Harbaugh could end up in Vegas when Mayock was the general manager, but now that he's out, it feels borderline probable. Mayock was part of the Jon Gruden experiment that clearly didn't work out so with him gone, it's going to be a fresh start. I'm not sure if Harbaugh wants any GM responsibilities, but that's at least on the table now, as is the opportunity to be involved in helping find the next GM, or at least being on board with who is coming in. Current Indianapolis Colts assistant general manager Ed Dodds has been talked about as Mayock's potential replacement, which is interesting since he used to work for the Raiders and Al Davis back in 2003. Another notable person was on that Raiders staff in 2003 as well — Jim Harbaugh. With Mayock gone and Dodds as a candidate for the job, the whole situation with Harbaugh makes a lot more sense. Of course, Dodds is by no means a shoe in, but it's an interesting angle.

These two reasons are why I tweeted out my thoughts yesterday evening.

3. Mark Davis feels stuck

Interim head coach Rich Bisaccia took over for Gruden back in October and did a great job with a flailing franchise. In spite of the fallout with Gruden, the tragic situation with wide receiver Henry Ruggs and the release of cornerback Damon Arnette after an absurd video came out of him brandishing a gun and threatening people, Bisaccia steadied the ship and led the Raiders to the playoffs. He gained the respect of his peers and won over his players. Yet he's not viewed as a true head coach candidate. There are multiple jobs open in the NFL right now and none of them are considering the former special teams coach. Davis doesn't see Bisaccia as the long term solution but doesn't want to rock the boat and upset his players and staff by not hiring him, which would almost certainly result in his departure once a new regime comes in. Davis is truly between a rock and a hard place with Bisaccia whether Harbaugh is involved or not.

4. The timeline on both sides

Michigan beat Ohio State 51 days ago. On that day, athletic director Warde Manuel, everyone in the athletic department and maize and blue fans everywhere knew that Jim Harbaugh was in line for a restructured contract. All he did after that was destroy Iowa en route to a Big Ten title and compete in the College Football Playoff. At that time, he was (and still is) the 11th highest-paid coach in the Big Ten, which is unacceptable given what he just accomplished. He's at or near the top of his profession based on last season's performance and he needs to be compensated for it. Manuel and anyone else who needed to be involved could've whipped up a new contract at any point since then. Michigan obviously wants Harbaugh back, so if he wanted to be back, and he was completely uninterested in the NFL, it would be done and could've been done long ago. There's been plenty of time to rectify that, so that the fact that it hasn't been addressed certainly supports the notion that Harbaugh is waiting on something.

Then there's the Raiders' timeline. They obviously just lost in the playoffs last weekend, so not much time has passed, but things move incredibly fast in the NFL when it comes to coaching moves, usually. That fact that it's been slow going in Vegas makes it seem like something is afoot. A source close to the Raiders organization feels like Mark Davis is trying to work something out with Harbaugh and that talks about it may have started last month. The Raiders have been very deliberate and methodical with their head coaching interviews, which isn't typical, and only one name has been attached to the head coaching search beyond Bisaccia in Jerod Mayo. It's worth noting that interviewing Mayo would satisfy the Rooney Rule, which Davis botched in 2018 when he hired Gruden.

The way all of this is dragging out indicates that Harbaugh is definitely weighing options and trying to make the right decision.

5. Money is not going to be an issue

There are some who believe that Mark Davis and the Raiders won't offer enough to persuade Jim Harbaugh to leave Ann Arbor, but that's not the case per a source. Remember, Davis and the Raiders inked Jon Gruden to a 10 year, $100 million deal in 2018 when that really wasn't a thing. There are two or three coaches in the pros and in college making around $10 million per year right now and Harbaugh could become one of them if Davis wants him bad enough. He wouldn't bat an eye at that amount if that's truly what both sides want.

6. Sarah Harbaugh has ties to Las Vegas 

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Jim Harbaugh's wife, Sarah, used to live in Vegas and was a successful teacher and real estate agent while there per John U. Bacon. She was living there when she met Harbaugh in 2006 while he was in town for a coaching clinic and the two have essentially been together ever since. Any time there's familiarity with a place, it makes a move there easier. The Harbaughs' life is much different now than it was in 2006, as is Las Vegas, but that connection still makes it feel like an easier transition.

7. Jim Harbaugh loves Ann Arbor

This has never been questioned but it is worth noting as he tries to figure out his next move. Harbaugh spent some of his formative years in Ann Arbor, obviously played at the University of Michigan, has been back for seven years now and has put down a lot of roots in The Tree City. He has several school-aged children walking the halls of the same buildings he did as a child, has at least one kid enrolled at U-M, has his parents living next door to him and has a faction of the fan base who would support him no matter what. He's not going to be able to recreate that exactly in Vegas or anywhere else if he were to take a job in the NFL. That certainly carries some weight.

8. Jim Harbaugh is doing his job

This should come as no surprise as Harbaugh has always been a grinder and a worker. Even if he is considering a return to the NFL, there's no way he would just sit around and do no work while still employed as U-M's head coach with recruiting in full swing and open positions on his staff. Plus, even if Harbaugh was 90% sure he was going back to the NFL, that leaves a 10% chance he'd be back in Ann Arbor next year, in which case it's in his best interest to do his job and do it well even if he is leaning toward a move to the league. In the world of college football, you can't afford to go hours let alone weeks without doing your job. Harbaugh participating in recruiting and hiring Mike Elston as the new defensive line coach to replace Shaun Nua are not surefire signs that he'll be back in Ann Arbor next year. Landing a guy like Elston is certainly a great hire and an indicator that Harbaugh could remain at Michigan but it's not a guarantee.

9. Jim Harbaugh's message to everyone

Some of these points get a little murky because Jim Harbaugh hasn't told anyone reporting on any of these developments anything directly. It doesn't matter who your favorite Michigan media personality is, Harbaugh is not telling them and has not told them his plans for next year.

If you believe what Sam Webb says, and you should, then Harbaugh openly told the father of 2021 Michigan signee Darrius Clemons that he would listen to and entertain NFL opportunities. That's pretty cut and dry to me. The fact that so many disbelieving fans are hanging on to a narrative that Harbaugh is telling "everyone" that he'll be back next year and that leaving is not even a remote possibility is bizarre because Webb published quotes on the record to disprove it.

The same goes for current players. I kept seeing "reports" all over the place that Harbaugh has told the team that he's staying so I wondered if it really was addressed that directly. More than one player said that they hadn't personally heard anything and that other players also haven't heard anything from Harbaugh. If Harbaugh had even told a few players directly that he was coming back, every player would know. There's no way half the team could know his intentions while the other half was in the dark. 

With that said, just like the hiring of Elston isn't a guarantee that Harbaugh will be back next year, Harbaugh not mentioning his exact plans to current players isn't a guarantee that he's gone. He's not obligated to sit the entire team down and reveal his plans. Coaching is a tough business and coaches make quick, surprising and even deceptive decisions all the time (see Brian Kelly, Mel Tucker and Nick Saban to name a few). I'm not saying Harbaugh is deceptive, because I don't believe him to be, but if he's really still figuring everything out, the approach with the team and recruits makes sense.

He could easily say to anyone that he plans to be in Ann Arbor next year because at that given moment, he probably does, while still understanding that the NFL is possible. That doesn't make him a liar or a cheat or a bad person. 

10. Not a peep

Finally, the overall silence on this entire situation when it comes to players, parents, signees, recruits, commits, staffers, assistant coaches and Harbaugh himself is just wild if he has indeed made up his mind in either direction. In today's day and age of social media posts, leaked videos, screen-shotted messages and e-correspondences and up-to-the-minute press releases, no one directly involved with Michigan football has said a word publicly. Not one person who would actually know has directly or decisively said, "Jim Harbaugh is doing X next year," out in the open or even behind the scenes in a way that would prove what the head coach is going to do.

Not one Snapchat story from Ronnie Bell saying, "My coach is coming back next year, you guys are crazy." Not even one cryptic tweet from any of the assistant coaches. Not one reporter has gotten their hands on a private text message conversation between some staffers or players or recruits. Not one simple statement from Harbaugh or Michigan to quell all the rumors. Nada.

If the current and former players, along with high schoolers who are committed to or interested in Michigan know about Jim Harbaugh's intentions, how is it possible that NOTHING has leaked in any way, shape or form? Not only is that improbable, it's impossible.


These are all things we know. Harbaugh's definitive plans are clearly not on the list, which is why we're all digging, deciphering and deciding on our own.

Given all of this information, I feel like things are trending toward Harbaugh's return to the NFL. The timeline is so drawn out, Harbaugh's stock has never been higher and might never be this high again, stars seem to be aligning in terms of available coaches to potentially round out his staff (Pep Hamilton, Vic Fangio and others) and some of the only NFL jobs that would ever make sense for Harbaugh happen to be available right now.

The best scenario for Michigan is that an offer never comes from an NFL team or that Harbaugh simply decides of his own volition to stay at Michigan. I was critical of Harbaugh after last year and deservedly so. But now, he's proven that he can win at the highest level and he's the best man for the job in Ann Arbor. I don't know how all of this is going to play out, but it feels like Harbaugh to the NFL is really picking up steam. The crazy thing about all of this is, I don't know if Harbaugh himself knows what he's going to do right now.