The Wolverine

February 2021

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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66 THE WOLVERINE FEBRUARY 2021 N ational radio show hosts and analysts called from all over after Michigan's 49-11 home loss to Wisconsin, one in which the Wolver- ines put up less resistance than a wet paper bag to a gallon of milk: "When does the Michigan athletics de- partment pull the plug on Jim Harbaugh?" Southern media especially seemed incredulous when we not only suggested it wouldn't happen during the season, but almost might not happen at all … that if anything, they'd wait until the end of the year and pos- sibly even extend him. That was the only other option, after all. Harbaugh was already the only Power Five conference head coach with less than two years re- maining on his contract. Going into the last year of his seven-year deal without it wasn't an option, a cer- tain death knell for recruiting with 'lame duck' written all over it. In hindsight, director of athlet- ics Warde Manuel made the most logical move. Notice we didn't say the 'right' move or the obvious one, because it's clear given the circum- stances this was anything but a typi- cal negotiation. In fact, had COVID-19 not hit in March, Harbaugh might have already signed an extension worth closer to what he'd been making — a deal that put him in the top five salaries among college coaches — and not considering an agreement that paid him roughly half his salary with incentives to reach his previous level. It's a risk for both parties, but Manuel handled it as well as he could have facing a reported $100-million budget deficit because of the pandemic. Upon signing, Harbaugh did what he's prided himself on his entire career and what he told many close to him he was going to do — he bet on himself. Only this time, he was doing it in the literal sense. To reach his former level of compensation, he'd have to win the Big Ten East Divi- sion outright, capture the program's first conference championship since 2004 and make the College Football Playoff. The path to reaching all those goals still winds through Columbus, and the Buckeyes have one of the top three or four programs in the country. So bold and confident are they that the OSU football Twitter account 'liked' tweets suggesting Harbaugh would be signed to an ex- tension in the days before the Jan. 8 announcement. The 'old' Jim Harbaugh might have taken to Twitter with fire and brimstone in response. The 2021 ver- sion, however, has been much more measured. That was on display again when he outlined his goals for the 2021 season during a virtual speech at the annual Michigan High School Coaches Association clinic shortly after his signing. "I will make no decisions based on my own personal job security," Harbaugh said. "They will all be made in what is the best interest of our players and our football team … I will not be scared of any man, mo- ment, circumstance or of being fired." That's a far cry from guaranteeing a win over Ohio State, as he did as a player in 1986, or the "what's your deal?" Har- baugh who went for two to run up the score on USC when he was the head coach at Stanford. Humility might have something to do with that. Harbaugh is 0-5 against Ohio State, having been outscored 221-126 in those meetings, and this year's team looked every bit as bad as its 2-4 record indi- cated. But reticence is exactly what Harbaugh can't bring to the job. He needs to be hands-on in every aspect. Fair or not, there's been the perception that he's deferred too much on major de- cisions and is more distant on both sides of the ball. He took a step toward that when he announced he'd be coaching quarterbacks this year in addition to his head coaching duties. And if he needs any more fuel for his rebuild — exactly what this is now after overhauling his staff, to which the overwhelming response from rivals was he'd never get the program back on top — he can sim- ply look south for motivation. Following a Big Ten conference call tiff with Harbaugh last year, OSU head coach Ryan Day told his players his team was going to "hang 100 on Michigan." That alone should be enough to bring 2015 Harbaugh out of his shell and into self-described 'jackham- mer' mode, something Michigan fans have been waiting for and have truly missed. ❑ Chris Balas has been with The Wolver- ine since 1997. Contact him at cbalas@ and follow him on Twitter @Balas_Wolverine. INSIDE MICHIGAN   CHRIS BALAS Summoning The 'Jackhammer' Jim Harbaugh bet on himself, signing a four-year contract extension heavily based on incentives. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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