Even with all of the on-field setbacks, I spent the better part of the 2020 season believing that Jim Harbaugh would return to Ann Arbor for the 2021 season. It was once unfathomable that Harbaugh's coaching career at Michigan would possibly end this way given the fanfare that accompanied his arrival six years ago. Six years later, no wins against Ohio State, no divisional titles, no conference titles and no trips to the college football playoff.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
If there was ever such a thing as the perfect marriage between program and coach, Michigan and Harbaugh were it. Michigan was a program that traditionally placed a high value on “Michigan Men”, especially those with the type of history that Harbaugh had with the Wolverines beginning with his days as a player. Harbaugh played for the legendary Bo Schembechler, he understood the rich tradition at the University of Michigan and he understood the expectation that comes with being the head coach of the Michigan Wolverines. Harbaugh was also one of the hottest coaching commodities in all of football following his college success with Stanford and his NFL success with San Francisco. It was a perfect fit.
Unfortunately for both Michigan and Harbaugh, what was supposed to be a perfect fit has now become messy and complicated. Harbaugh has failed to deliver on the lofty expectations that come along with being the head football coach at the University of Michigan. He’s the only head coach in Michigan Football history to begin his career 0-5 against Ohio State and likely avoided 0-6 due to COVID issues within the program. Harbaugh also became the first coach to finish a season winless at home, finishing 0-3 following the shortened 2020 schedule.
Nobody knew exactly when Harbaugh’s coaching career at Michigan would come to an end, but nearly everyone expected his tenure to be filled with success. It was expected that Harbaugh’s coaching legacy would eventually belong in the same conversation as former Michigan greats like Bo Schembechler and Lloyd Carr. However, If Harbaugh has indeed coached his final game at the University of Michigan, his legacy will instead belong in the same conversation as guys like Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke.
It’s hard to imagine Harbaugh’s coaching career at Michigan possibly coming to an end under these circumstances, but here we are.
As the month of December comes to a close, it now appears that the unexpected end is near. Reports surfaced earlier this month that suggested Michigan had discussed the details of an extension with Harbaugh, but also that the extension would include a significantly lower base salary. From the outside looking in, the reported offer from Michigan makes perfect sense - particularly if the goal is to part ways. Not only would the offer of a lower base salary make sense based on results alone, it would also make sense if you were trying to force Harbaugh out without being on the hook for a 10 million dollar buyout.
The delay of announcement may also have plenty to have to do with the NFL schedule. If Harbaugh is in fact eyeing a return to the NFL, we won’t hear anything about it until January 4th when the NFL’s regular season is officially over. At that point, many of the conversations that have been taking place behind the scenes can finally become public and hopefully shed some light on Michigan’s future - with or without Jim Harbaugh.