Bobby Carpenter: No Way Out… The Jim Harbaugh Story

It’s been seven years since Jim Harbaugh left the San Francisco 49ers and returned to his alma mater, the University of Michigan, with the expectation that he would restore it to its former glory.

After former head coach Lloyd Carr road off slowly into the sunset with his stars Mike Hart and Chad Henne in 2007, the Wolverines staggered through seven years of mediocrity. 

First, they hired an outsider, Rich Rodriguez, the hot commodity from West Virginia who turned down the Crimson Tide prior to accepting the head job at UM. He wanted to be a Michigan Man in the worst way. But he abandoned Michigan’s power running game in favor of the up and coming spread offense and stumbled to a 15-22 record. So he was chased from Ann Arbor like a stray dog off the porch. 

After departing from school tradition and hiring Rodriguez, the first outsider since Bo Schembechler, the Wolverines returned to their roots and hired their former defensive line coach, true Michigan Man Brady Hoke. Hoke referred to the Buckeyes as “Ohio” and soon endeared himself to the faithful after an 11-2 record and winning Big Ten Coach of the Year in his first season. It was all downhill from there though, and after limping to a 5-7 record in his fourth season, he was out.

In walked Jim Harbaugh. 

The man who, as the starting QB for the Wolverines in the mid-1980s, called his shot against Ohio State… and delivered. As the coach of the 49ers, he had a 44-19 record and no losing seasons in four years. He made three straight NFC Championship appearances along with a trip to Super Bowl XLVII. Four years may be a small sample size, but his performance is the envy of many NFL coaches. If not for some internal disagreements with GM Trent Baalke, Harbaugh would probably have continued to coach in the Bay.

But he didn’t. He went to Michigan.

Harbaugh’s seven seasons at Michigan have been largely successful. He has returned the Wolverines to national relevance, and they routinely win at least 9 games. The white whale of his first six years at UM was Ohio State, but Harbaugh coached his team to a decisive victory over the Buckeyes last November, his first in the rivalry as a coach. He followed it up with a Big Ten title and a trip to the College Football Playoff.

However, for at least the last few years, Harbaugh has been sniffing around the NFL again. Last offseason, he reportedly called about nearly every job available. 

It was obvious he wanted to return to the NFL.

In the past month, Jim Harbaugh has delivered a top 10 recruiting class, but has also attempted to elope with any NFL team that would have him. The Minnesota Vikings brought him in for a second interview on national signing day. Now signing day isn’t what it used to be, but it’s still an embarrassing situation for a blue blood program, fresh off the CFP, to have their head coach on the NFL interview circuit on the very day many recruits announce their final decision. 

Harbaugh didn’t get the Vikings job after all, even though he thought he had it in the bag. So he returned to Ann Arbor and said he will be at Michigan “as long as they’ll have me.”

And he was welcomed back with open arms. 

How Michigan Athletic Director could allow Harbaugh to openly lobby to leave his alma mater but retain is job is utterly amazing. Michigan is a proud university with a distinguished history, and Harbaugh has made it look like the “other woman.”

Maybe this will simply be a blip on Jim Harbaugh’s long and illustrious career… or maybe philandering with the NFL this year will irrevocably damage Harbaugh’s relationship with his alma mater.

Maybe Harbaugh stays at Michigan for another decade… or maybe he jumps to the NFL, given the chance. 

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.

2 Comments

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  1. I love the “other woman” analogy. Maybe Michigan is the “she’s nice and our marriage is, you know, OK and … but …”
    .
    “I think I’ll check out the secretarial pool for younger fresher talent if ya know what I mean …. I can always come back home. She’s not going anywhere.”

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