The Season's Over, The Early Signing Period Has Passed; What Now?

Michigan fans find themselves a bit lost as the Jim Harbaugh contract situation drags on.
Publish date:

Football is still being played. Michigan State is out on the field. Clemson and Notre Dame squared off in the ACC Championship. Alabama and Florida battled for SEC supremacy. And Ohio State won another Big Ten title. 

All while Michigan has been chillin' since Nov. 28.

The Wolverines haven't been on the field since just after Thanksgiving and now it's almost Christmas. That's a nightmare for Michigan fans. 

Or is it? 

It's a legitimate question in 2020. The Wolverines finished 2-4 and had at least three embarrassing losses that probably would've been five had they lined up to play Ohio State and Iowa. The offense looked stagnant, the defense looked inept and Jim Harbaugh still hasn't found game-changing quarterback. All of that led to the disappointing campaign that is the 2020 season. And if all that wasn't unfortunate, unexpected or unorthodox enough, things are even weirder now.

What is going on with Jim Harbaugh?

That is the million dollar question. Those very, very close to it don't even have a good guess. Harbaugh and his assistants just reeled in a nice recruiting class and continue to work hard on the trail, but even those coaches aren't sure what's going to happen. They seem to believe that Harbaugh will be back, but it's not with a lot of conviction.

We've all heard so many different things. Famed Michigan author John U. Bacon seemed to have some insight a couple of weeks ago when he sent out some tweets that blew up a bit.

"Athletic director Warde Manuel has discussed with Jim Harbaugh a new contract with lower base salary and buyout, though with good provisions to hire top assistants and large incentives for performance. Harbaugh can now accept, negotiate or decline. At least five NFL teams have expressed an interest in hiring him – per usual – though not clear if any have made firm offers yet," Bacon tweeted.

I tend to believe Bacon, but we just heard about a supposed meeting between Harbaugh and Manuel that took place on Thursday. 

And still nothing. No new contract. No concrete terms. No firm offers from Michigan or NFL teams, apparently. And throughout it all, Jim Harbaugh has been about as noncommittal as possible. Harbaugh, a football coach, couldn't even say that he and his players wanted to play in a bowl game if the opportunity presented itself. Of course he doesn't know what's going to happen due to COVID and the availability of his players, but not being able to commit to anything is sending a very strange message to recently signed recruits, current plays and the Michigan fanbase. 

Now Harbaugh is reportedly away from campus and in California with his family for the holidays. That part isn't out of the ordinary as the season wraps and a continuing recruiting dead period drags on, but it feels different given the state of Harbaugh's contract and the lack of direction from Manuel and the administration.

Contrary to what Bacon reported, we've also heard Harbaugh wants another shot at the NFL and that Manuel is ready to move on, but won't fire Harbaugh. So the man with the power to fire Harbaugh wants him gone, but won't make the move? That doesn't really seem to make any sense, but the whole situation is hard to follow. 

Believe that or not, but it's clear that something is off. If Harbaugh was all in like he's kind of saying in public, and Manuel wanted him back, it would be done long ago. But it's not. That tells you a big chunk of what you need to know — at least one person involved wants the marriage to be over.

Wolverine Digest's former publisher Steve Deace said it this way:

"If you didn't sign a coach to an extension all off-season, then didn't sign him to one during the season, or before National Signing Day, or right after the season, and then that coach left town for almost a month, how should that be taken?"

It's a very fair and valid question.

We've talked about the timing of it all before, but things are starting to take shape even more. Potential candidates to replace Harbaugh like Matt Campbell, Luke Fickell and the Clemson coordinators will still be coaching into January because of their success throughout the season. Harbaugh will have plenty of time to gauge NFL interest over the next couple of weeks as the regular season wraps up and more coaches are fired. 

One trusted source recently told us that Harbaugh has coached his last game at Michigan. I repeated some of that on Twitter and, of course took some flak for it, but how's that look now? After the Iowa game was cancelled, it really seems like Harbaugh might be done walking the sidelines in Ann Arbor. The longer this goes, the more it looks like both Harbaugh and Manuel are waiting for things to work themselves out. Over the next couple of weeks, NFL jobs will open up, college coaches will be talking and new assistants will suddenly become available. 

Really, only one thing can happen right now — an extension. So the fact that it's not means that something else is.