The Wolverine

March 2022

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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16 THE WOLVERINE MARCH 2022 BY CHRIS BALAS T o say the month following Michigan's first college foot- ball playoff experience didn't go exactly as Wolverines fans expected would probably be an under- statement. Amid basking in the glow of a 12-2 season and No. 3 national finish, thinking about the promise of the 2022 roster and what comes next, Michigan fans had their daydreams interrupted by reports that it might be somebody else leading their team into battle. Head coach Jim Harbaugh emerged as a serious NFL head-coaching can- didate, with the Las Vegas Raiders, Chicago Bears, Miami Dolphins and Minnesota Vikings among the teams interested. Unlike past years, too, when Harbaugh chastised "jive tur- keys" for spreading rumors about his future, the coach did nothing to deny the reports that yes, a return to the NFL might be in his future. He reportedly reached out to the Bears, and to Dol- phins owner and Michigan booster Stephen Ross, while other possibilities loomed. The fans took solace in the fact that at least the latter option seemed to be off the table when Ross acknowledged he liked Harbaugh at his alma mater better. "I love Jim Harbaugh. He once had the opportunity to come to the Miami Dolphins, but he's at the University of Michigan," Ross told reporters. "I hope he stays there; he's a great coach. "I'm not going to be the person who takes Jim Harbaugh away from Michi- gan." Still, there was speculation among Miami media and NFL insiders that Ross would be willing if Harbaugh were dead set on leaving Michigan and had other offers. And that certainly seemed to be the case when Harbaugh headed to Min- neapolis Feb. 2 — the second National Signing Day for college recruits — to visit with the Vikings' owners. Some insisted he left fully intending to take the job, and that he even said many goodbyes. Regardless, whereas the Raiders job seemed most likely at one point, Min- nesota was apparently the destination after Raiders owner Mark Davis went in a different direction. Harbaugh ad- mitted to Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom the interest was very real. "I'm an honest person," he said. "There was a large pull there [for the NFL]. But I didn't feel it was that way for both parties. And that's it. That's my mindset now. "There was a tugging at me that I was once that close to a Super Bowl, and I didn't get it. Some NFL jobs came open. I was contacted by the [Minne- sota] Vikings. For better or for worse, it was something I wanted to explore. I went in thinking, 'I'm going to have 100 percent conviction on this, and if they have 100 percent conviction on this, then it's something I'm going to do.'" He was also the Vikings' top candi- date, per several reports, and the in- terview was supposed to result in him being the franchise's next head coach. What happened in Minneapolis that day is open for debate, but it's also irrelevant. Harbaugh called director of athletics Warde Manuel after a full- day interview to let him know he was returning to Michigan … hopefully, he said, for life. "In a nutshell, I love Michigan," he told Albom. "I love every player. I love every family …" "I called Warde, and I asked him if he wanted me to be the head coach. And he said, 'Yes, 100 percent.' And I said, 'OK then. That's what I want to do.' And I told him, 'Warde, this will not be a reoccurring theme every year. This was a one-time thing.'" Just like that, the jackhammer was back. NOBODY TO BLAME In the aftermath, several reports were written trying to make sense of what happened. Some blamed Man- uel, while others insisted Harbaugh did something wrong. Simply put, and as Harbaugh ex- plained, this was about a guy who still had an itch to coach at the high- est level. Those who don't understand it need to put themselves in his shoes to grasp his thought process. In 2013, the coach, then at San Francisco, lost the Super Bowl on a disputed play — and to his brother's Baltimore Ra- vens team, no less. He was this close to being immor- talized with the Lombardi Trophy, an extremely exclusive club, and still wondered about it. He explained as much to Albom, but the reporter wasn't the one that needed to hear it. He had to convince his players first, in addition to his staff. The former group was just happy to have him back. "They said 'Coach, we all want to go to the NFL, too. And whenever one of us wants to explore going to the NFL, you support us and wish us well. And if we look at it and we come back, you're thrilled, and we get right back to work,'" Harbaugh said. Which is exactly what the Michi- gan coach did, and he didn't waste any time. He called Manuel from Minnesota shortly after his interview concluded to inform him that, despite inter- viewing with the Vikings, he would be back for the 2022 season and be- yond. Michigan was "elated" to get Harbaugh's decision, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported — Minnesota fans not so much. They weren't alone. Several NFL and Vikings reporters were prepar- ing for the "Jim Harbaugh experi- ence," anxious to see for them- HE'S STAYING Jim Harbaugh Flirts With The NFL Before Announcing His Return To Michigan Harbaugh is the only head coach in football history to lead a team to the Super Bowl and the College Football Playoff. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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