On Jim Harbaugh

On Jim Harbaugh

January 7, 2022
Jim Harbaugh


The obvious answer is I don’t know.


Jim Harbaugh came to Michigan to right the ship and return the program to national prominence. Rich Rodriguez went 15-22 at Michigan. Brady Hoke went 31-20, which isn’t terrible overall, but things were going downhill. But that’s a 46-42 record over seven years. Jim Harbaugh is 61-24 with a Big Ten championship and a College Football Playoff appearance. Has he won a national championship? No. But that’s the only feat he hasn’t accomplished, other than some personal goals he might have (winning 100 games, becoming the winningest coach in Michigan history, etc.). Ultimately, seven years is a pretty long tenure for any coach by modern standards, and especially if you consider he was at both Stanford and the San Francisco 49ers for four years each.

Harbaugh’s career is essentially the envy of any coach ever. He’s won in the NFL and gone to the Super Bowl. He’s won in college and coached a team to the playoffs. He’s taken broken and abused programs and turned them into perennial double-digit winning programs.

But if you want to win at the highest level, that’s the NFL.

Hit the jump for more.


Nothing’s really wrong with Michigan. After all, it was one of the top four programs in the country for the 2021 season. They pack the stadium, recruit very well, have excellent facilities, etc. But there are a few hurdles at Michigan:

  • Michigan exists in the north. Football talent is centered in the south (SEC country) and the west coast (California). It’s become harder and harder to recruit to the north as the population has moved south and taken football talent with it. You can get players from Texas, Florida, Georgia, etc., but the kids you get are generally the guys who aren’t the most desired by Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Texas, etc. Basically, Michigan has only been able to land the south’s leftovers, with occasional exceptions like Devin Bush, Jr.
  • Michigan doesn’t cheat on a high enough level. I’m not going to sit here and claim that Michigan doesn’t cheat. I’m not going to throw out any names, but I’m sure that various players have been given $500 handshakes and the like at Michigan. I’m also confident that the cheating at Michigan has not approached what goes on at Texas, USC, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, etc. Now that cheating is legal in the form of Name, Image, and Likeness, Michigan needs to open up the floodgates. There’s a lot of money available from Michigan alumni, and there’s a huge fanbase willing to buy merchandise. There have been rumors that Michigan donors are readying a very good NIL program, but it hasn’t happened yet. And until it does, Michigan is going to be playing from behind.
  • The transfer portal is a problem. I generally don’t like the transfer portal for a few reasons, but I’ll save that full discussion for a different day. The primary problem for Michigan, though, is that Michigan does not accept just any Joe Schmoe from other schools. Their academic standards are too high. So while Michigan players are totally free do ditch Ann Arbor in favor of places with more playing time, Michigan can only squeeze through a small number of players. Their best bet is to take grad transfers – such as Jake Rudock, Mike Danna, and Wayne Lyons – but they’re off limits for most other players. Michigan can land a 4-star player out of high school, but they have a hard time landing 5- or 4-star level transfers. Guys who are stars – or superstars – at other schools probably aren’t going to pick Michigan, because they lose credits when they transfer, they don’t have the grades, or they just don’t want to worry about the academic side of playing at Michigan. At the very least, Michigan needs to loosen its transfer restrictions and award more credits for players transferring in.


The two prime locations appear to be the Chicago Bears and the Las Vegas Raiders. Harbaugh was drafted by the Bears, and they’re about to fire head coach Matt Nagy. Nagy is 34-30 with the Bears, but he started off hot and has been declining ever since. Ever since the first season when they showed some promise (12-4), they’ve looked lost and confused while going 8-8, 8-8, and now 6-10 so far in 2021.

The other option is the Las Vegas Raiders, where Harbaugh started his NFL coaching career as an assistant. They have a chance to make the playoffs, and perhaps Rich Basaccia can keep his job if he can get in the playoffs and maybe win a game or two. The Raiders are in a better situation right now, and that would be my first choice if I were picking between the two.


A few names that have been bandied about and some quick thoughts:

  • Josh Gattis (Michigan offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach): Gattis has been at Michigan for three years, and he ushered in a new offense. He also showed the ability to be flexible by changing up the run game and running some next level RPOs.
  • Mike Hart (Michigan assistant head coach/running backs coach): He’s a former Michigan player, but he’s never been a coordinator. This would be a giant gamble.
  • Bill O’Brien (Alabama offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach): This name was thrown out by Adam Rittenberg. The former Patriots assistant and Texans head coach did a decent job at Penn State in 2012-2013, going 8-4 and 7-5 in the wake of the Joe Paterno scandal. Right now he’s at the Nick Saban School of Coaching Rehab and could win a national championship in a few days. He does not seem like a long-term fix and feels like a guy who would jump at the NFL at the first opportunity.
  • Matt Rhule (Carolina Panthers head coach): Rhule played at Penn State and had a bunch of assistant jobs before taking over Temple and turning it around, going 2-10, 6-6, 10-4, and 10-3, which is pretty dang good for Temple. He then went to Baylor and rehabbed that program in the wake of Art Briles, going 1-11, 7-6, and then 11-3. He went 5-11 with the Panthers in 2020 and is 5-11 once again with one game remaining. He could be on the chopping block, although that would be a rough way to go, considering the face of the Panthers (Christian McCaffrey) has been hurt for almost the entirety of his two years there.

I very much want Harbaugh to stay at Michigan and have defended him even when he was going 2-4 in 2020 and losing to Ohio State every year. But I realize that Jim Harbaugh might have different plans.

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