Jim Harbaugh is staying at Michigan, and it's up to the Wolverines to balance the nuisance with the triumph

Jim Harbaugh announced Monday he would remain the head coach at Michigan.

Perhaps it's because, as he stated, “I love the relationships I have at Michigan.” Or perhaps it's because he had nowhere else to go ... no NFL offers coming in despite a willingness to interview.

At this point, it doesn’t really matter. Michigan is retaining the coach that has led it to consecutive Big Ten titles, consecutive College Football Playoff appearances and, most satisfyingly, consecutive victories over archrival Ohio State.

The Wolverines, with Harbaugh and a ton of returning talent, will enter next season favored to three-peat all of the above.

“My heart is at the University of Michigan,” Harbaugh stated.

Perhaps that is true, but if so, it didn’t stop him from interviewing for NFL jobs (Minnesota last year, Denver this time). If he is serious about staying, that needs to end.

A third dalliance with the pros will be even more ridiculous and exhausting than this year’s dalliance with the pros after he vehemently assured everyone that there wouldn’t be any more dalliances with the pros.

Harbaugh can be difficult. He can also really coach the game of football, 25-3 the past two seasons. He doesn’t do much in an orthodox manner, and that has led to infuriated bosses from college to the NFL, whether as a player or coach.

For Michigan though, he is the best it has had in a long time and the best it is going to get at this time. The onus, fair or not, is on the school to figure out how to coexist with Harbaugh more than it is on Harbaugh to reciprocate.

Jim Harbaugh causes Michigan a fair share of headaches, but he's also the reason the Wolverines have won the Big Ten, made the College Football Playoff and beaten Ohio State in back-to-back seasons.  (Photo by Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images)
Jim Harbaugh causes Michigan a fair share of headaches, but he's also the reason the Wolverines have won the Big Ten, made the College Football Playoff and beaten Ohio State in back-to-back seasons. (Photo by Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images)

That includes a bizarre NCAA scandal where Harbaugh’s program is cited, in a draft of a notice of allegations, of committing four Level II violations — generally moderate-to-minor things that carry moderate-to-minor consequences — and one Level I violation … of not cooperating with investigators about it.

Harbaugh singlehandedly turned a molehill into a likely suspension — either games, in recruiting or both. In turn, he left the university wondering what to do moving forward. Would he agree to be more forthcoming with the NCAA and get this behind him, or would he fight everything to the death for no good reason? How do you extend a guy who might not be honest?

Harbaugh v. NCAA is still to be determined, but sources believe an agreement with the infractions people can be reached. And if he is suspended to start the 2023 season, so what? The Wolverines open with a pathetically soft slate of games: East Carolina, UNLV, Bowling Green and Rutgers, all at home.

What happens at the end of the season is what matters for Michigan: at Michigan State in late October, at Penn State in mid-November, vs. Ohio State in Ann Arbor to end it.

The Wolverines are well positioned. Stars J.J. McCarthy, Blake Corum, Donovan Edwards and Will Johnson are all returning. And Harbaugh is benefitting from a new name, image and likeness collective dubbed “The One More Year Fund” that helped bring back Corum and fellow NFL Draft-eligible stars Cornelius Johnson, Michael Barrett, Zak Zinter and Trevor Keegan, among others.

Recent success has set Harbaugh up for a strong Class of 2024 as well. He has never been a truly elite recruiter, but his first order of business should be shoring up potential five-stars such as quarterback Jadyn Davis of North Carolina and wide receiver Ryan Wingo of Missouri.

Add in Harbaugh’s skill thus far in working the transfer portal, and it’s possible the modern system of roster management may prove perfect for him and his program.

For all of that to work though, he has to be truly committed. He has made the good times unduly hard, turned a program with momentum into one draped in uncertainty. It was all self-inflicted.

“I once heard a wise man say, ‘Don’t try to out-happy, happy,” Harbaugh said.

He’s not wrong about that. Is he happy though? Can he be happy?

It’s seemingly all there. Big victories, big success, plenty of appreciation at his alma mater and hometown. At 59 he’s set up for the seasons to come. With an expanded playoff coming, each season won’t come down to a single game against the relentless Buckeyes.

It took Jim Harbaugh a little longer than he thought to get Michigan to this level, to a place where staying put makes more sense than chasing every NFL job. It hasn’t been easy. It hasn’t been smooth. It hasn’t occurred without some ruffled feathers and broken relationships.

He’s back though, either out of necessity or true appreciation. Maybe this all churns up again in 12 months, but for Michigan, at this point, that’s the deal it has to live with.

In the meantime, it is once again the team to beat in the Big Ten.

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