Back in late 2014, when Jim Harbaugh took the Wolverines head coaching job in his return home, he signed a significant 7-year deal.
Fast forward to 2016, following a 20-6 start in two seasons, and Harbaugh received a $2 million per year raise. That raise came in the creative form of insurance payments not rolled into his base salary or additional compensation, but that did not come with an extension. The raise made Harbaugh the third highest paid coach in college football last season.
Today, on October 14th, the clock is ticking on that seven-year deal he signed back in 2014 and we’re sitting 14 months away from the expiration of that contract. That is uncharted territory in the coaching world, as normally coaches, especially those who have won over 70% of their games at a place, would have agreed to a contract extension by now.
Over the past several years, athletic director Warde Manuel has shared on more than one occasion his desire to see Jim Harbaugh retire as the Wolverines head coach. Yet here we sit at a crossroads, and Harbaugh does not have a new deal.
But as Pete Thamel points out in a recent article, since the COVID pandemic has hit Harbaugh has been at odds with Michigan president Mark Schlissel about whether football should be played at all this fall in Ann Arbor.
Overall, Harbaugh is 47-18 heading into the 2020 season at Michigan, and 32-12 in Big Ten play. While that certainly seems like enough to warrant an extension, the tricky part is how Michigan has performed against top team teams (2-12) and in bowl games (four straight losses).
In addition to that, looking back at Harbaugh’s track record as a head coach from San Diego, to Stanford and then with the 49ers, Michigan is the first place he has spent more than four years. The chatter for years has been that his unique personality and approach simply rub a lot of decision makers in administration the wrong way.
With pay cuts athletic department wide in Ann Arbor due to the pandemic, Harbaugh agreed to a 10% pay cut earlier this year, but it remains to be seen if Schlissel and Manuel are keen on shelling out that extension and another $8 million per year to a team that has finished above 3rd in the Big Ten East just once, and failed to beat rival Ohio State in five tries.
If Michigan doesn’t announce an extension soon, Harbaugh could find himself effectively coaching for a new contract under the toughest of circumstances with COVID restrictions limiting what they were able to do this off season, also throwing a wrench into recruiting with an extended dead period and limitations on official visits, and a lot of questions about how many games they’ll be able to get in this fall as various other programs around the country have had to shut down due to COVID testing results and cancel games the past few weeks.