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Jim Harbaugh will return as Michigan coach, committing to Wolverines while spurning NFL interest

Despite leaving Michigan on National Signing Day to interview for an opening with the Minnesota Vikings, Jim Harbaugh has decided to spurn NFL opportunities to remain the coach of his alma mater, CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd reports. 

“Jim Harbaugh told [athletic director] Warde Manuel that this would not be a [reoccurring issue] and he would stay at Michigan as long as it wants him,” ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported.

Harbaugh, who last season led Michigan to its first outright Big Ten championship since 2003 and first ever appearance in the College Football Playoff, was believed to be a strong candidate for the Vikings and potentially the Miami Dolphins. Multiple reports over the last week had Harbaugh leaning toward leaving the college game and returning to the NFL as he sought the opportunity to win a Super Bowl.

Harbaugh went 44-19-1 in four seasons with the San Francisco 49ers (2011-14), leading the franchise to the NFC Championship Game in each of his first three seasons (2011-13) and Super Bowl XLVII in 2012. After an 8-8 campaign in 2014, he parted with the 49ers only to take over the Wolverines days later.

Having previously led turnarounds at San Diego (2004-06) and Stanford (2007-10), Harbaugh similarly got off to a hot start at Michigan, going 10-6 across his first two seasons in 2015-16. However, the Wolverines struggled to compete with Ohio State and other top Big Ten teams over his first six campaigns, which led to UM and Harbaugh agreeing to a significant incentive-based restructuring of his contract last year. 

Harbaugh and the Wolverines rebounded in 2021 with Michigan achieving its first win over Ohio State since 2011. The Wolverines finished with a 12-2 record overall, giving Harbaugh a new lease on life at his alma mater.

Michigan keeps its man

It’s easy to forget seven years later, but Harbaugh leaving the NFL for Michigan was a pivotal moment in program history. Over Harbaugh’s tenure, the Wolverines have four 10-win seasons with a 61-24 record overall, eclipsing the 46-40 mark from the previous six years. Even while UM struggled to reach national championship relevance, Harbaugh brought consistent competitiveness to the program. 

His decision to recommit to his alma mater could not have come at a more advantageous moment. The Wolverines are fresh off the best season in two decades and reeled in the best recruiting class since 2019. Now more than ever, the Harbaugh era has momentum. Getting him back is big for the future of the program. Putting the NFL behind him would be even bigger. 

Getting back what’s his

After a shockingly underwhelming Covid-shortened 2020, Harbaugh agreed to revised contract terms that included a massive pay cut. The new contract reportedly pays Harbaugh $20 million over five years, about half of his previous yearly salary. Harbaugh downplayed the pay cut at his Orange Bowl press conference, claiming: “It’s just money. Big deal.” However, responding to the public reckoning with the best season at Michigan in 25 years had to feel like sweet validation. 

Now, Harbaugh is in a position to demand a return to his original contract, if not more. While Harbaugh made $4 million in 2021, Penn State coach James Franklin signed a 10-year contract that could pay him up to $85 million. Michigan State coach Mel Tucker received a mind-boggling 10-year, $95 million contract. Ohio State coach Ryan Day earns more than $7.5 million. 

Reminding Michigan brass that he has options outside of college football easily could have been a leverage play to remind Ann Arbor what it has. Don’t be surprised if Harbaugh soon agrees to terms on a new contract. 

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