The easy thing to do — and goodness knows the easy way out is more popular than ever in college football these days — would’ve been for Michigan to pull the rip cord on Jim Harbaugh’s tenure at this time last year.
Given the toxicity of a 2-4 record during Michigan’s COVID-19 affected season, his 0-5 record against Ohio State, his inability to develop a quarterback and some concerning trends in recruiting, it almost seemed obvious that Harbaugh’s time was up. As much hype as he arrived with in 2015, most fan bases and administrations that are serious about football would’ve long since been ready to move on.
“Thanks for trying, Jim. Here’s a nice fat buyout check. We’ll take our chances with Matt Campbell or whatever hot coach won a few big games this season.”
But on Jan. 8, Michigan athletics director Warde Manuel did something that has become increasingly rare in his business. He used common sense.
“I continue to believe that Jim is the right man to lead our program in pursuit of Big Ten and CFP championships,” Manuel said in a statement confirming that Harbaugh would remain the coach on a new five-year contract that paid him less and made it more financially responsible for the school to fire him if it became necessary.
To be clear, Manuel’s support was not unconditional. Harbaugh had to have a plan for getting Michigan turned around, which included changes to his coaching staff and his approach. If things continued going the same direction, the school’s patience was not going to last forever.
But 11 months later, you could argue the best move of the entire coaching 2020 carousel was the one Michigan didn’t make.
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