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Sources: Jim Harbaugh eyeing exit strategy

Michigan hired Jim Harbaugh to do one thing and, no matter what happens from here, it's important to remember he came achingly close of doing that. If JT Barrett was stopped a few inches shorter on that fateful fourth down back in 2016, Michigan goes to the Big Ten Championship with a Playoff spot on the line, and who knows where the conversation around Paul Finebaum's favorite coach sits today.

But Barrett got that first down, and the conversation is different, and now all involved have to wrap their arms around reality as it exists today. And that reality is far off from where everyone thought it would be back in December of 2014.

Michigan is 5-2 today. The dream of a Big Ten title -- a dream Michigan has been hoping to fulfill since 2004 -- died Saturday night in Happy Valley. With remaining games against No. 8 Notre Dame and No. 3 Ohio State and Maryland, Michigan State and Indiana sandwiched between them, an 8-4 record is the most likely finish from here. Certainly 9-3 or even 10-2 is possible, but if you had to bet your life on Michigan's record on Dec. 1, you'd bet 8-4.

Maybe that's a realistic verdict for a program breaking in a new offense run by a first-time offensive coordinator, but that phrase -- a program breaking in a new offense run by a first-time offensive coordinator -- underscores the desperation around Michigan football right now. The only reason Josh Gattis is in Ann Arbor is to win big, and to do it immediately.

Which begs the question that's surrounded the program ever since Gattis was hired: What happens if Michigan doesn't win big immediately?

Lead FOX college football analyst Joel Klatt speculated last month Harbaugh could retire, but sources say the Harbaugh camp has its eye on a different departure.

Sources tell FootballScoop that Harbaugh's representatives have their eye on getting their client back in the NFL.

Harbaugh went 44-19 with three NFC title game appearances and one Super Bowl trip as the San Francisco 49ers' head coach from 2011-14, and he would have no shortage of NFL suitors in a league desperate for proven head coaches.

Should Harbaugh take an NFL job, it would allow both he and Michigan to claim he left the program better than he found it while not trapping either side in what would quickly become an awkward arrangement -- that of a favorite son returning home to lead the Wolverines to the promised land, only to be shackled in football purgatory where Harbaugh is too successful to fire but not successful enough to extend at the big-money figure that would be required to keep him.

Harbaugh leaving for the NFL would give both sides something no one ever anticipated them needing five years ago: a fresh start.

As always, stay tuned to The Scoop for the latest.