Jim Harbaugh is leaving Michigan to become the head coach of the NFL’s Los Angeles Chargers, and he is also leaving the next Michigan Man holding the bag.
Harbaugh came to Michigan to win a national title, which is exactly what his team did this past season. When he arrived in Ann Arbor in 2015, the plan was to spend a few years getting the Maize and Blue ship righted and then head back to the NFL to chase the Super Bowl.
A “few years” turned into nine, and each of those years had their own adventures. Harbaugh’s teams averaged just under four losses per season over his first six years.
But the final three years of his Michigan tenure saw the Wolverines go 40-3, which was one more win than they had managed over the previous five years combined. They also won three Big Ten Championships over those final three years, defeating Ohio State three times. The Wolverines then capped it all with a national championship win over Washington this past season.
Having accomplished at least one of his missions each year by making Michigan relevant again over that span, Harbaugh looked for an NFL job after each of the 2021, 2022, and 2023 seasons.
Over the second half of this season, Michigan crafted a contract extension and a raise in an attempt to keep him from looking towards the NFL yet again. It was a contract that would have made him the highest paid coach in college football. And to hear some tell it, he was on the verge of signing that baby every day for about three months straight.
He was totally gonna sign it.
Jim wanted to sign it, but his girlfriend from Alaska wouldn’t let him. She’s real. You don’t know her.
Harbaugh just needed a couple of provisions. Like an immunity clause that would limit his liability for all of the NCAA sanctions that are headed Michigan’s way from his time as head coach. One of the other provisions was that Michigan just sit by and chill for a bit while he kept looking for a job he’d rather have.
Of course, Harbaugh’s search for a new job was not the only interesting aspect for Michigan over the past three seasons. Those three seasons also happen to coincide with a cheating scandal that saw Harbaugh end the regular season just the way he started it — with a three-game suspension.
Yes, Jim Harbaugh also leaves Michigan as the Grover Cleveland of suspensions.
And both of those suspensions stem from NCAA investigations that are still open. One area where those investigations could be closed, however, is getting some one-on-one time with Harbaugh himself.
Would the now-former Michigan head coach make himself overly available to any ongoing investigations? (Not that he was all that helpful even when he was available.)
Some would say, “Of course he’ll make himself available. He has nothing to hide.” Others would say, “I just saw a man in khakis run by me with a go-bag!”
Looking back on it, this has all been a long time coming.
Way back on July 22nd of 2021, Jim Harbaugh told a crowd of reporters at Big Ten Media Days that Michigan was going to beat Ohio State “or die trying.”
Depending on how things are looking after the NCAA gets done with them, Harbaugh may have been right on both accounts.
And yet Michigan got what they wanted. The fans and players and coaches all get to celebrate. They are the victors, as you may have heard. The aftermath, however, will eventually come as quite a shock for a population that is still mostly in denial at this point.
But it may not really matter what happens to that title down the road because championships are just one-year rentals anyway. The memories will always outlast the coaches and players and low-level staffers that made them happen.
Jim Harbaugh stayed long enough to get Michigan out of the darkness, but he may have steered them right back into it in his desperation to get back to the NFL.
Even if he never knew how an employee was gathering intel, he also didn’t seem intent on finding out. The winning was too good. If he had dug a bit, maybe he would have been the one to discover what was going on. Maybe he could have saved his alma mater a second time.
Harbaugh leaves Michigan in a better place than he found it.
At least for now.
But the next 12-60 months may tell a different story.