It’s getting to be an annual thing now. Each year, a number of NFL head coaches lose their job and Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh becomes an instant contender for any number of NFL openings.
It has started already in 2022. Carolina started it all firing Matt Rhule after a 1-4 start this season. The Indianapolis Colts canned Frank Reich four weeks later and the Denver Broncos just axed rookie head coach Nathaniel Hackett. A couple more – like Arizona’s Kliff Kingsbury – could see the door too on the NFL’s Black Monday, the first Monday after the regular season.
Harbaugh has already been talked about as the leading candidate for the Colts job. He played for the Colts during his NFL career and has strong Midwest roots. Does that mean Harbaugh will make the jump back to the NFL? The answer seems like a strong maybe.
There is no doubt that Harbaugh can coach in the NFL. He’s done it before. In four seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, Harbaugh went 44-19-1 and made three trips to the NFC playoffs. He lost in two conference championship games and his 2012 team won the NFC but lost to Harbaugh’s brother John and the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII.
Harbaugh’s current contract at Michigan pays him $7 million per season, but his buyout makes it really easy for him to exit and go back to the NFL. If Harbaugh left after his Wolverines play in the College Football Playoff, Michigan would be owed just $3 million. That buyout is reduced each year over the life of Harbaugh’s contract. One thing is certain. A buyout will not prevent Harbaugh from going back to the NFL.
Becoming a Coach
Harbaugh was a first-round draft pick of the Chicago Bears in 1987. He played seven years in Chicago before playing four years in Indianapolis where he started 46 games. He finished his NFL career in 2001 but began his coaching career while he was still playing. He served as an unpaid assistant under his father, Jack, at Western Kentucky.
He got his first head coaching gig in 2004 at San Diego, spent some time at Stanford, and then went to the NFL with the Niners. In 2015, there was no one better suited to take over at Michigan than the prodigal son. His dad had coached at the school and Harbaugh played quarterback for the Wolverines from 1982 to 1986. He left Michigan as the school’s all-time leading passer and would hold the NCAA Division I-A record for passing efficiency for 12 years.
The Wolverines always talk about the “Michigan Man” leading the program and Harbaugh certainly fits the bill. He has had great success in his eight years with the program. Aside from the shortened COVID year, Harbaugh has produced seven winning seasons.
Over the last two, Michigan has won two Big Ten championships and has earned two shots at the College Football Playoff. This year’s 13-0 team has been his best.
After last season concluded, Harbaugh’s name came up in relation to a number of NFL openings at the time. He even interviewed with the Minnesota Vikings. Harbaugh agreed to a five-year, $36.7 million contract extension in February once the NFL hiring season ended. It’s that contract that has the current $3 million buyout.
The door will always be open for Harbaugh to leave. In early December, he did say that he “will be back enthusiastically coaching at Michigan in 2023.” But, Harbaugh also said that no man knows the future. Sounds like a resounding “maybe” on whether Harbaugh will return next season.
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