Jim Harbaugh‘s NFL return has moved toward evergreen status as a late-season or early-offseason talking point, but after the Michigan HC’s two-suspension 2023, rumblings of this hiring period finally being the one in which he returns have been steady.
But Harbaugh NFL momentum has previously led to Michigan extensions. That plot may reform once again. Harbaugh and Michigan have resumed talks on an extension, according to Yahoo.com’s Dan Wetzel, who reports the ninth-year Wolverines HC’s salary would eclipse $11MM per year on this deal. The sides are negotiating a five-year agreement, though that component is not too relevant regarding any Harbaugh aspirations to return to the NFL. Harbaugh signed extensions in each of the past two years. Barring language that prevents Harbaugh from speaking with NFL teams, another extension would merely delay more talk of the fiery HC’s return to the league for a bit.
Harbaugh has been embroiled in controversy this season, but his second three-game suspension served during the campaign – stemming from Michigan’s sign-stealing scandal – has not done too much to deter teams from looking into the former 49ers HC. The NCAA still may punish Harbaugh further for his alleged role in the scandal. Harbaugh has also been away from the NFL for almost a decade. As the extensions with his alma mater keep piling up, the more difficult it will be to envision Harbaugh making a move back to the professional ranks.
The former Super Bowl HC has interviewed with NFL teams in each of the past two offseasons. He met about the Vikings’ job in 2023 but was never offered the position. Harbaugh then became the first candidate to interview for the Broncos’ gig this year. That keyed an up-and-down process. Harbaugh interviewed with Denver’s new ownership group on Jan. 9; on Jan. 16, he agreed to stay at Michigan. But he then met with Broncos CEO Greg Penner in late January in Ann Arbor. That meeting did not produce an agreement, as the Broncos soon finalized a trade for Sean Payton’s rights.
The Raiders, who gave Harbaugh his first coaching job (as quarterbacks coach under Bill Callahan), have been rumored as a team that will have interest. Harbaugh, 59, would also have a chance to interview before current NFL staffers, who are now prevented from speaking with teams until after the divisional round. The other team with a vacancy, Carolina, may not be a fit due to a potential for Harbaugh to seek full personnel control.
Despite the controversy this year brought, Harbaugh has the Wolverines entrenched as one of college football’s top programs. Michigan has qualified for the College Football Playoff for a third straight year, beating rival Ohio State in each of those campaigns. The Wolverines received the No. 1 position in the CFP hierarchy this year and will match up with Alabama on New Year’s Day. It is possible that game will take place with assurances Harbaugh will not be testing the NFL waters, something that has eluded the Wolverines for the past two years.