Analysis: Jim Harbaugh’s Revived NFL Ambitions — Now That He’s Won The College Championship, Can He Win A Super Bowl?

Analysis: Jim Harbaugh’s Revived NFL Ambitions — Now That He’s Won The College Championship, Can He Win A Super Bowl?

The curtain has finally come down on the circus of Jim Harbaugh’s tenure as the head football coach of the University of Michigan Wolverines after winning the 2023 NCAA Football Championship

With Harbaugh agreeing to be the head coach of the much-maligned Los Angeles Chargers, Michigan football is searching for its 21st coach in its 145-year history — there have been 15 since 1900.

There had been incessant speculation he would bolt for the NFL after any of his nine seasons and now Harbaugh has finally left to chase his dream of capturing a professional as well as collegiate crown.

He came close to winning the Super Bowl in 2013 as coach of the San Francisco 49ers, but a game-winning drive stalled inside the 10-yard line in the waning minutes of the game.

Early Obstacles At University Of Michigan: Harbaugh came to Michigan with much bravado and bold claims to dominate the college football landscape.

At the onset of his tenure, Harbaugh posted very respectable win/loss records, but he did not dominate his main rivals: he had trouble with Michigan State Spartans and failed miserably against the Ohio State Buckeyes.

In his first six years, he only managed to split with Michigan State, while against Ohio State it was a much worse story. Three of his first five losses were between 11 and 29 points, with Ohio State hanging 62 points on him in 2018 and 56 points at home in 2019. There is no doubt he would have been 0-6 if not for the 2020 game being canceled because of COVID-19.

To his credit, the loss in 2016 was a controversial, heartbreaking one (30-27), as the two teams were ranked No. and No. 2 and vying for a spot in the College Football Playoff.

Without being recognized for the 2023 win — due to his suspension for the first three games of the season — his overall record against the Buckeyes was 2-5. Of course, winning the last three games against the Buckeyes is what Michigan fans want to remember.

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Bowl Game Misery: Harbaugh carried on Michigan’s awful record in bowl games by being 1-5 in his first six appearances. The lone victory came in his inaugural game in 2016 and was followed by five straight losses. It should be noted the final two were in the semifinal of the college football playoffs, the first of which was a blowout loss to the eventual champion, the University of Georgia Bulldogs in 2021. The other loss was a major upset in 2022 to the Texas Christian University Horned Frogs.

Overall, Harbaugh’s record in bowl games at Michigan is 3-6, buoyed by his recent victories.

Rock Bottom In 2020: Following a blowout loss to the University of Alabama Crimson Tide in the 2020 Citrus Bowl (35-16), Michigan football hit the skids in the following season, going 2-4. If they had played a full schedule, it could have been even worse.

With that dismal performance, coupled with domination by Ohio State, Harbaugh was on the ropes for the 2021 season and took a substantial pay cut to remain at the helm. Considering that his two predecessors — Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke — were a combined 1-6 against the Buckeyes, the university’s decision to retain him for 2021 was a questionable one, but it did display loyalty.

Michigan Man: However, despite his thin ties to the Chargers (he played there in 1999 and 2000), Harbaugh cannot expect the same loyalty from the team if things do not go according to plan almost immediately.

The Spanos family, which has owned the Chargers for decades and has been notoriously cheap in paying its coaches — and has the results to prove it — will not be nearly as patient as Michigan was. Michigan’s offer of $12.5 million will certainly be significantly less than that of the Chargers, whose offer will likely lie in the vicinity of Denver Broncos Head Coach Sean Payton’s $18 million. That kind of money demands immediate results.

More importantly, with the Chargers already $27.5 million over the salary cap for 2024, Harbaugh is being paid to win now, without the luxury of lavish spending on free agents.

Must Win: Look no further than the coaching carousel of the NFL to reinforce that Harbaugh is going to be under the microscope from the onset.

This last season, six of the league’s 32 coaches (nearly 19%) were fired. When adding the five coaches who were fired after 2022, nearly one-third of the league’s teams have made changes over the last two years.

Notwithstanding his quirky behavior and outspoken religious and political beliefs, which most NFL players and fans will have very little tolerance for if espoused by a losing coach, Harbaugh has once again put himself in the spotlight.

It won’t be long before we learn about the value of loyalty — and whether leaving the National Champions and the greatest university in the world will pay off.

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