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Bobby Carpenter: Jim Harbaugh — Should He Stay Or Should He Go Now?

The Michigan Wolverines just completed their most successful season in recent memory. Many students at the University of Michigan weren’t old enough to remember the last time the Wolverines were the champions of the west, some were in middle school the last time they beat Ohio State, and since its inception in 2014, the College Football Playoff has seemed like a pipe dream.

Jim Harbaugh conquered all those mountains in 2021. 

While their Playoff performance against Georgia still left something to be desired, they had finally been invited to the party of college football elites.

Despite all that success, Jim Harbaugh is still flirting with the NFL… and flirting might be putting it too lightly. He hasn’t publicly denied his openness to explore NFL opportunities, and this week sources from inside the Michigan athletic department leaked that he would “take an NFL job if it was offered.”

While many Wolverine (and Buckeye and Spartan) faithful would love to have Harbaugh there in Ann Arbor ’til the end of time — or at least as long as he’s still vertical — there’s a contingent of fans who wouldn’t mind moving on from the head man. 

Here are the cases for both: 

One day is fine…

It may have taken seven years, but Harbaugh not only beat Ohio State in 2021, but he did so in dominating fashion. He’s come close before. There was that double overtime thriller back in 2016 that came down to a 4th down spot that ultimately doomed the Wolverines.

Though the defense was a huge problem for several years, it appears that they finally have it figured out. After last season, Harbaugh called in a favor from his brother John and brought in Mike Macdonald from the Baltimore Ravens to coordinate the defense. The move paid off, and the Wolverines sported one of the top defenses in the country in 2021, which included two of the top edge rushers in the nation, Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo. Both will most likely be first round draft picks. 

Quarterback has been another problem since Harbaugh was hired, but this season, Cade McNamara played well. He was efficient and managed the game the way Harbaugh would have, had he still been a player. In addition to McNamara’s consistent play, Wolverine fans are also excited about the glimpses they saw of freshman signal caller JJ McCarthy. He was explosive and dynamic in brief regular season appearances. He played much of the second half against Georgia and provided a nice boost, including the only touchdown of the night for the Wolverines. He showed the skill that made him a 5-star recruit out of high school, and the McCarthy era might be starting sooner rather than later for the Wolverines. 

The staple of any of Jim Harbaugh team has been a dominant run game, and last year, Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum headlined a power rushing attack that was reminiscent of Harbaugh’s time at Stanford. Multiple tight ends with shifts and motions made this offense feel like a throwback that relied on an old school ground game. 

While there were many solid veterans on the Michigan depth chart, the real excitement was generated by the youth. Freshman running back Donavon Edwards was versatile and explosive, and freshman receiver Andrel Anthony provided a similar spark.

After seven seasons at his alma mater, Jim Harbaugh has a 61-24 record and is now coming off a 12-2 season featuring the program’s first Big Ten championship since the inauguration of the Big Ten Championship Game in 2011.

The next is black…

Despite the success of the 2021 season, Jim Harbaugh has struggled mightily to return Michigan to its former glory. After back-to-back 10-3 seasons to start his tenure with the Wolverines, they dipped to 8-5. They also had an extremely rough COVID riddled 2020, going a mere 2-4. 

The regular season peaks and valleys have been accompanied by a glaring lack of postseason success. Though they won the Citrus Bowl in 2015, Harbaugh is a mere 1-5 in bowl games, including a 31-11 shellacking at the hands of Georgia in the Orange Bowl on New Year’s Eve.

Jim Harbaugh was also supposed to be the quarterback whisperer. His development of Andrew Luck and Colin Kaepernick were supposed to help him draw the top high school talent in the nation, and then once they arrived on campus, he would quickly turn them into first round draft picks. 

That has not happened at all. Michigan has failed to develop any of the topflight quarterbacks they’ve recruited, and even 5-star transfer Shae Patterson appeared to regress during his time in Ann Arbor. This season, Cade McNamara was effective but appeared to be little more than a game manager with few NFL prospects. 

The rivalry games haven’t been something to celebrate either for Michigan fans. Harbaugh was supposed to be the guy who understood the Michigan tradition better than anyone. He is a Michigan man and the player who in 1986 guaranteed a victory over Ohio State — and then went out and delivered. Despite his performances as a player against the Spartans and Buckeyes, Harbaugh has never beaten both in the same season. (Michigan lost at Michigan State in 2021.) As a coach, Harbaugh is a meager 3-4 against the Spartans and 1-5 against the Buckeyes. 

Jim Harbaugh was supposed to be the answer to Urban Meyer and Ohio State, but he has constantly underperformed in rivalry games. He is currently 0-2 against Spartan head coach Mel Tucker. Combine that with his constant flirtations with the NFL and it seems like he may never have sustained success with the Wolverines. He has recruited well, but he has never brought in a top 5 national class. This year likely won’t be any different. To beat Ohio State consistently and compete with the Georgias and Bamas, that has to change. But so far, it hasn’t.

It’s always tease, tease, tease…

In other words, if he goes, there may be trouble, but if he stays, there may be double. Hopefully soon, he’ll let us know — will he stay or will he go?

Written by Bobby Carpenter

Bobby Carpenter is the resident college football expert at OutKick. He played linebacker for the Ohio State Buckeyes and won a National Championship in 2002. He played in the NFL for Dallas, Miami, Detroit and New England. Carpenter is a radio host on 97.1 The Fan in Columbus, Ohio, where he currently resides with his wife Cortney and their four children.

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