In case you hadn’t noticed–and perhaps you hadn’t–the University of Michigan has a vacant head coaching position for its football program after it fired Brady Hoke on Dec. 2. The bumbling, stumbling Berenstain Bear of a coach meant well, but was completely ineffective, only going 18-14 in Big Ten play in four seasons. He also only beat Ohio State once, the victory coming in 2011 when the Buckeyes were a tire fire after Jim Tressel’s firing.
So the all-time winningest college football program’s searching for the perfect candidate to fill the vacancy, and one name stands above all the Les Miles and Dan Mullen rumors: 49ers head guy Jim Harbaugh. Harbaugh quarterbacked the Wolverines during his playing days and has gone onto have a successful–if embattled–coaching career in college and the pros; however, with his 49ers’ stumbling at 7-7 only two years removed from a Super Bowl and his contentious personality’s irking, well, everyone, Harbaugh’s been rumored to be heading back to Ann Arbor, especially after the program recently made him an offer to make him the highest-paid college football coach.
But there’s a lot to this story, so here’s a brief summary of how Michigan and Harbaugh have become inextricably linked.
1983-1986: Jim Harbaugh, the Wolverines Quarterback
Harbaugh’s father Jack was a career football coach, moving the family–which included Jim’s brother and Baltimore Ravens head coach John–around the country for his various jobs. Although Jim was born in Toledo, Ohio, Jack eventually moved the family to Ann Arbor to become a defensive coach under legendary Michigan coach Bo Schembechler in the 1970s. It was here that Jim played peewee football before joining the Pioneer High School football team.
He finished his high school career in Palo Alto, Calif., once his father accepted a position at Stanford, but eventually moved back to Ann Arbor to attend the University of Michigan and play on the football team. Harbaugh was a member of the Wolverines from 1983-1986, amassing 31 career touchdowns and even becoming the Big Ten’s Player of the Year in 1986. For some ravenous Wolverines fans–who value the degree to which their coaches adhere to the school’s traditions–Harbaugh is the epitome of a “Michigan Man,” unlike Hoke who, despite adoring the Wolverines growing up in Ohio, played at Ball State.
2011: Michigan’s first pursuit of Harbaugh
The university’s recent attempt at attracting Harbaugh isn’t its first. After the program fired Rich Rodriguez following the 2010 season, it went after Harbaugh, who was finishing up a 12-1 season with an Orange Bowl win. Then-Athletic Director Dave Brandon headed the coaching search, but Harbaugh rebuffed Brandon, instead focusing his energy on landing an NFL job, which would eventually become the 49ers gig after the franchise fired Mike Singletary.
September 2014: Harbaugh reportedly starts losing the 49ers’ locker room
The current Harbaugh-to-Michigan rumors wouldn’t be possible without his allegedly losing the hearts and minds of the 49ers. Reports started to break in September that Harbaugh had pissed off players by making them travel to Baltimore to play his brother John’s team. These grumblings followed on the heels of a contentious offseason where the 49ers allegedly were trying to trade Harbaugh to the Browns, only making his relationship with the organization more tense.
October 2014: Harbaugh reportedly done with 49ers no matter what
The 49ers had a rough first month of the 2014 NFL season, starting 2-2 going into October. FOX’s Jay Glazer dropped a bombshell, though, when he said that “I don’t see any way Jim Harbaugh comes back next year as the head coach of the 49ers,” during a FOX NFL pregame show.
November 2014: Harbaugh’s future with 49ers to be decided after the season
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that sources indicated Harbaugh’s future would be decided after the season had ended, which piggybacks off Glazer’s earlier report that Harbaugh would be gone no matter how the 49ers finished 2014. However, this news doesn’t explicitly say that Harbaugh will leave the team, although the Raiders and Jets are potential NFL destinations if the coach is looking to stay in the league.
Dec. 2, 2014: Michigan fires Brady Hoke
Michigan fired Brady Hoke, and all eyes immediately turned to Michigan’s leading candidates to replace him. Because of Harbaugh’s instability with the 49ers, Bovada.lv placed his chances as becoming the next head coach at 2/1.
Dec. 7, 2014: Harbaugh not sold on Michigan
Several days later, reports began to leak that Michigan had reached out to Harbaugh, but NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport deaded that discussion by saying, “U-M left convinced he wanted to be an NFL coach.” Rapoport then followed that tweet by saying there was mutual interest between the Raiders and Harbaugh on the Oakland franchise’s head coaching position.
Dec. 17/18, 2014: Michigan comes back with astronomical contract offer
Where we stand now is Michigan’s come back with an offer that would obliterate Nick Saban’s current highest-paid college coaching salary if Harbaugh accepts: a reported $48 million over six years (one report places the offer at $49 million over six years), which would pay Harbaugh $8 million PER SEASON to coach the Wolverines. The dollar signs have apparently, finally, reportedly piqued Harbaugh’s interest. Schefter poo-poos an answer in talking about the likelihood that Harbaugh goes to Michigan with this new offer on the table, but admits “it’s possible.”