Jim Harbaugh was once considered the hottest head coaching candidate in the country, fielding offers from both college and NFL teams alike.
Harbaugh’s stock began to rise during his tenure at Stanford where he turned the Cardinal from a Pac 12 punching bag into a Pac 12 title contender. In 2010, Harbaugh led Stanford to it’s first 11-win season in program history and received a BCS bowl bid as the No. 4 ranked team in the nation. Harbaugh would cap off his spectacular 2010 season with a 40-12 Orange Bowl victory over Virginia Tech - Stanford's first bowl win since 1996 - and would ultimately be named as the Woody Hayes Coach of the Year.
The very next year (2011), Harbaugh would take his coaching talents to the NFL where he would enjoy even more coaching success. During his first year with San Francisco, Harbaugh led the 49ers to a 13-3 record and captured the NFC West Division title - it would also be the 49ers first playoff appearance in eight years. By his second year, Harbaugh had the 49ers playing in Super Bowl XLVII - their first Super Bowl appearance in 17 years. By the time Harbaugh’s coaching tenure with San Francisco had come to an end, he was widely considered to be one of the top coaches in the NFL.
Six years later, Jim Harbaugh’s head coaching stock is now at its lowest point.
Harbaugh spent his first six years in Ann Arbor enjoying one of college football’s most lucrative head coaching contracts. At just over $8 million per year, Harbaugh trailed only Dabo Swinney ($8.2 million), Ed Orgeron ($8.6 million), and Nick Saban ($9.1 million) as the highest paid coach in all of college football. As of Friday of last week, Harbaugh is now listed just outside of the top 30 highest paid head coaches.
It’s hard to overstate just how unheard of this is.
With today’s college football coaching salaries skyrocketing year after year, Michigan and Jim Harbaugh went in the complete opposite direction and did so by a significant margin. In fact, I was unable to find any record of something like this happening with any other college football coach in modern history. To be clear, it isn’t necessarily odd that Michigan would offer Harbaugh such a significant pay reduction. It’s certainly bold, but it’s definitely not odd based on the results through his first six seasons. What is odd, however, is the fact that Harbaugh would agree to it - particularly after weeks of negotiation.
Good college football coaches typically aren’t interested in taking pay cuts, and they certainly aren’t interested in taking 50% pay cuts. The idea that Harbaugh would accept such a drastic reduction in pay suggests a harsh new reality for the man who was once dubbed the “savior” of Michigan Football.
Beyond just his legacy at the University of Michigan, there is far more at stake for Harbaugh as he attempts to bring the Michigan Football program back to being a legitimate title contender. Six years ago, the general consensus was that Michigan desperately needed Jim Harbaugh. With several reports indicating that few NFL teams showed serious interest in his services, it now appears that Jim Harbaugh desperately needs Michigan - and Michigan, according to this contract extension, is growing impatient.