The longer this ridiculous delay continues, the clearer it becomes that Jim Harbaugh’s time in Ann Arbor should come to an end. I am not one of those individuals who subscribes to the idea that Warde Manuel, Jim Harbaugh, and Harbaugh’s assistants are all hunkered down in a bunker at some undisclosed location in Ann Arbor tirelessly hammering out the details of a contract extension. Instead, I subscribe to what has appeared so painfully obvious for weeks now - that Jim Harbaugh is using Michigan as a fallback option if his preference of an NFL return falls through.
Through discussions with multiple sources, the belief that Michigan is Harbaugh’s fallback plan isn’t just a belief that is unique to those who are on the outside looking in. It’s clear that there has been a serious lack of communication from Harbaugh with folks who deserve to know whether or not he intends to return to Ann Arbor for the 2021 season. The impact of this lack of communication won’t simply disappear when/if Harbaugh decides to sign the extension and remain at Michigan. In addition to the challenge of improving the football team, Harbaugh will also be tasked with repairing the relationships with those who have grown skeptical of his intentions by being left in the dark.
At this point, it’s hard to see how Harbaugh’s return would be at all beneficial to the Michigan Football program.
Though Michigan appears to be playing the role of hostage during the contract saga, don’t be surprised if the powers that be are actively making phone calls behind the scenes to gauge interest from potential replacements should Harbaugh’s time come to an end. In fact, I would be shocked if Michigan hasn’t already been working the phones for weeks. Assuming they have, the very first phone call should have been placed to Iowa State’s Matt Campbell.
Campbell has become the runaway favorite among the fan base to replace Harbaugh if that time comes. Campbell is fresh off of a 9-3 season with Iowa State that included a Fiesta bowl win against Oregon. In his five seasons at Iowa State, Campbell has taken the Cyclones from a bottom feeder program into a legitimate Big 12 title threat. Prior to Campbells arrival, the Cyclones had suffered through nine losing seasons over the course of ten years, including losing seasons in six straight years before Campbell accepted the position. Since his arrival, Iowa State has reached nine wins for just the third time in program history and Campbell has put together the most successful five year stretch of any head coach in program history.
A football program like Iowa State has no business being competitive within the Big 12 conference, yet many within the conference have found out the hard way just how competitive Iowa State can be. In just his second year at Iowa State, Campbell led the Cyclones to an 8-5 season that included wins over No. 3 Oklahoma and No. 4 TCU. During his third season, Campbell once again led the Cyclones to an 8-5 record that included a 6-3 record in conference play - good for the most conference wins during a single season in program history. Campbells 2020 season was his most successful, leading Iowa State to nine wins for the first time since the year 2000. By the time the 2020 season had come to a close, Campbell would be named as the Big 12 coach of the year for the third time just in five seasons.
In addition to his fiery sideline personality - similar to what Jim Harbaugh had early on in his Michigan career - you can tell that Matt Campbell loves to coach the game and that, perhaps more importantly, his players love to play for him. The things that Matt Campbell brings to the table are the very things that seem to be severely lacking with the football program in Ann Arbor at the current moment.
If Michigan is on the verge of making a fresh start post-Harbaugh, making a call to Matt Campbell is a great place to start.