The Wolverine

February 2024

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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30 THE WOLVERINE ❱ FEBRUARY 2024 BY CHRIS BALAS M i c h i ga n h ea d coa c h Jim Harbaugh made it clear two years ago af- ter interviewing with the NFL's Minnesota Vikings he was ready for another shot at the league if all was right. Sources said he left for Minneapolis thinking that was the end of his tenure at U-M, having promised interim athletics director Jim Hackett seven years earlier he'd give him seven seasons before potentially moving on. But when the interview didn't lead to a job, Harbaugh called Michigan Direc- tor of Athletics Warde Manuel with a message after having led the Wolverines to a Big Ten title, its first since 2004: "I'm yours as long as you want me." However, that didn't prevent him from interviewing with the Denver Broncos last year — some have said the job was his if he wanted it — nor did it stop him again this year. As of Jan. 22, Harbaugh was set for two second-round interviews with NFL teams — one with the Atlanta Falcons, who reportedly had former New Eng- land coach Bill Belichick at the top of their list, and one with the Los Angeles Chargers, who some said were looking at Harbaugh as their No. 1 choice. Meanwhile, Harbaugh also had a Michigan contract in the works that would have made him the highest-paid coach in the Big Ten and one of the highest in the country, and Manuel said during the team's national champion- ship celebration at Crisler Center Jan. 13 he was still intent on keeping him. "I am working on getting this man a new contract. I promise you," Manuel said to a roaring crowd while Harbaugh tapped his heart in thanks. U-M President Santa Ono, too, told us on the field following the College Football Playoff National Champion- ship win over Washington in Houston he would do whatever he could to keep Harbaugh in Ann Arbor. He took him to breakfast after the Wolverines won the Big Ten title and made it clear to the head coach he wanted him to stay. When some questioned whether the NCAA cases that led to six games' worth of suspensions for the coach this year would detract from this year's title, Ono didn't flinch. "The views on that have changed with time," Ono said … and NCAA President Charlie Baker seemed to agree, saying, 'Nobody would argue Michigan won fair and square.' "Initially, there was a view of those who were probably the loudest critics of the institution that there would be an asterisk, and now they've changed their mind," Ono continued. "They think there shouldn't be. They think this team has shown with the six- game [Harbaugh] suspension and all they've overcome — a player-led team with very impressive wins over very strong teams — that they deserve this national championship. And I believe that." Which leads some to believe he and Michigan will fight if the NCAA tries to come down harder on the Wolver- ines after the fact. Some think much of the fallout disappears if Harbaugh leaves, and it seems clear the NFL in- terest is real and mutual. Even if Harbaugh goes, Ono said, he'll have left U-M better than he found it. The president also made it clear, though, he'd rather have him back in Ann Arbor. "I believe he has made it better, and he's a Michigan Wolverine through and through," Ono said. "He was a quar- terback here, as you know. He learned from Bo Schembechler … didn't play for the first couple years, broke his arm. "But the most important thing for me is him as a human being. He's guided by his Lord Jesus Christ. He's going to think about what he wants to do with his life. I respect that, sup- port him and love his family. I hope he stays. I'm going to do everything I can to encourage him to stay, but if he doesn't, the Michigan tradition will move on. "Some people have said on some of the networks it's a very, very impor- tant, significant, relevant team now in football. What he's done — my hat's off to him — is a tremendous accom- plishment. "More important is the transforma- tional effect of what the players have learned about life, how to carry them- selves. It is priceless. I think that's probably more important to him than the wins — mentoring and really sup- porting his players as they developed. "That's what really matters … I'm just so happy for the coach and the team, proud to be associated with a university with scholar-athletes like this." FUTURE IN DOUBT Many believe Harbaugh has accom- plished all he could at his alma mater, including a national championship. It was thought that might never happen again for the Wolverines given the "pay to play" landscape now prevalent in col- lege football. He still had a strong desire to chase the Lombardi Trophy, one he fell just short of in the 2012 season in losing to his brother, John, and the Baltimore Ra- vens in Super Bowl XLVII. FUTURE IN FLUX Will Third Time Be A Charm For Jim Harbaugh In His Flirtation With The NFL? After celebrating U-M's national champion- ship victory, Harbaugh interviewed for a pair of professional head coaching jobs with the Los Angeles Chargers and the Atlanta Falcons. As of Jan. 23, it was still uncertain whether he would return to the NFL or stay at Michigan. PHOTO BY MICHAEL MILLER

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