Will Michigan fire Jim Harbaugh? Rest of Big Ten season, contract loom large in decision

Michigan will try to avoid a third consecutive loss when it faces No. 13 Wisconsin at Michigan Stadium on Saturday night.  

The Wolverines (1-2) have fallen out of contention in the Big Ten after back-to-back losses to Michigan State and No. 10 Indiana, and now the pressure is mounting around sixth-year coach Jim Harbaugh. Michigan has not lost three straight games under Harbaugh since 2017, but this team is in danger of finishing below .500 for the first time under one of college football’s most-polarizing coaches.  

Will this be the year Harbaugh bolts for the NFL?  

“I don’t really have anything to really say to that, because I don’t have an interest in listening to that kind of stuff,” Harbaugh said via MaizeNBrew on Monday. “I think you know me by now, I always like letting the action speak for what you have to say.” 

Sporting News breaks down Harbaugh’s tenure at Michigan, and how much time might be left:  

What is Jim Harbaugh’s record at Michigan?  

Harbaugh has compiled a 48-20 record with the Wolverines. Michigan ranks 10th among Power 5 programs in winning percentage since his arrival in 2015. Here is a look at the school with a winning percentage higher than .700 in that stretch:  

By the numbers, Michigan is a top-10 program. The problem, however, is that every school ahead of them except Wisconsin has either won a conference championship or reached the College Football Playoff.  

Michigan is still looking for its first Big Ten championship since 2004. Despite that success, the Wolverines still have the fourth-best record among Big Ten schools.  

Jim Harbaugh vs. top 10 teams

The narrative of the Harbaugh era is simple. He’s 37-5 against unranked teams and 9-3 against teams ranked outside the top 10.  

It’s the big-game success that has eluded the Wolverines. Michigan is 2-12 against top-10 teams under Harbaugh, and the failures are most-notable against the Wolverines’ biggest rival.  

Jim Harbaugh vs. Ohio State 

Ohio State is 5-0 against Michigan under Harbaugh, part of an eight-game win streak in the rivalry heading into the 2020 matchup. The Wolverines had their best chance to beat the Buckeyes in a top-five showdown in 2016. The game is best known for “The Spot.”  

MORE: How ‘The Spot’ changed The Game 

Ohio State won that game 30-27, and the trajectory of both programs since has created a considerable gap. The Buckeyes are 41-5 since that game; the Wolverines are 28-15.  

Ohio State has won the last three meetings in convincing fashion, too:  

That’s an average margin of victory of 20.3 points per game. That gap appears to be growing in 2020.  

Jim Harbaugh in 2020  

Michigan’s 2020 season started off right with a 49-24 victory at No. 21 Minnesota, but it unraveled the last two weeks.  

The Wolverines lost 27-24 to in-state rival Michigan State on Oct. 31. Harbaugh is now 3-3 against the Spartans. No. 13 Indiana beat Michigan 38-21 on Nov. 7 – the Hoosiers’ first victory against the Wolverines since 1987.  

The Wolverines are in danger of finishing .500 or worse as a result of the 1-2 start, and that would increase the pressure on Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel, who was Harbaugh’s teammate as a player.  

Can Michigan really move on from Harbaugh?  

Jim Harbaugh’s contract situation  

According to USA Today, Harbaugh had the fourth-highest salary among FBS coaches at $8.1 million. The only coaches who make more – Alabama’s Nick Saban, Clemson’s Dabo Swinney and LSU’s Ed Orgeron – won the last three College Football Playoff championships.  

Harbaugh’s contract runs through 2021. A buyout would be in the $10 million range, which makes it likely that the coach will stay through 2021 and get one more prove-it year, hopefully without the COVID-19 pandemic as a backdrop for the season.  

Unless, of course, Harbaugh leaves on his own terms.  

Jim Harbaugh’s NFL prospects

NFL rumors have followed Harbaugh since he left the San Francisco 49ers for the college game.  

Harbaugh had a 44-19-1 record in four seasons with the 49ers. That’s a winning percentage of .695. That’s the fifth-highest winning percentage all time in NFL history.  

Despite the five-year layoff, Harbaugh could transition back to the professional game. Harbaugh’s brother John remains a successful coach with the Baltimore Ravens and has adapted his scheme around Lamar Jackson.  

Jim Harbaugh could do the same upon a return, and this is a possible scenario.  

Jim Harbaugh replacements 

What if Harbaugh does leave Michigan? Who would take the job? If the consummate “Michigan Man” could not win big enough, then who can?  

Perhaps a coach with Ohio State ties would be the answer. After all, Bo Schembechler was an assistant under Woody Hayes at Ohio State and Gary Moeller was a co-captain with the Buckeyes as a player.  

Urban Meyer won’t take the Michigan job. Names such as Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell and Boston College’s Jeff Hafley are more-intriguing. Iowa State’s Matt Campell – also an Ohio native who played at Mount Union – will be mentioned.  

Former Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops is yet another Ohio native that will have his name tossed around.  

Other names that have gained message-board traction are Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables and Oregon’s Mario Cristobal.  

There is no candidate that checked every box quite like Harbaugh when he arrived.  

That is the biggest conflict Michigan faces should the two sides part ways. 

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