Why? Because Harbaugh is already working with a de facto lifetime contract. The Michigan job is his for as long as he wants to keep it. On paper, his deal expires in 2021. In reality, it will expire whenever Harbaugh wants it to expire.
Through three years, the coach has been more mortal than Khaki Messiah. Two 10-win seasons were a vast improvement over the lean Brady Hoke years. Two third-place and one fourth-place finish in the Big Ten East leave much to be desired, as does a 1-5 record against Wolverines rivals.
Harbaugh’s tenure is not as simple as “pass-fail.” There’s been some major successes and some abject shortcomings. The more instructive measure is how he’s perceived by the fanbase. Despite some rightful critiques, he is still extremely popular and will continue to be in perpetuity.
Fair or otherwise, he enjoys a tremendous amount of room for error. Next year should be a huge barometer for Michigan. Another 9-3 regular season with quarterbacking issues shouldn’t cut it. Or at least shouldn’t cut it by any reasonable measuring stick.
But what so many people miss while wading into the Harbaugh waters is that the typical rules don’t apply to him. There’s a very good chance he’ll be title-less through five years in Ann Arbor with a 1-9 or 2-8 record against Michigan State and Ohio State. And there won’t be any meaningful cries for him to be run out of town.
He is Harbaugh, the chosen one.
Michigan would be smart to put ink to paper and assure that the coach stays on the sidelines until he no longer wishes to coach, even though he hasn’t lived up to the hype and perhaps never will.
He is the best available option. He cares deeply for Michigan and its culture. His track record matches or exceeds any potential replacement. He has the potential to offer stability to a program desperately seeking it.
Making a lifetime deal official would also help stave off some of the silly rumors that follow Harbaugh around like a remora does a shark. Just yesterday news broke that NFL brass believes they can lure him away from the college game. Spoiler alert: they can’t. Not right now and not for the next few years.
Everything Harbaugh has done since landing back in Ann Arbor suggests he wants to be deeply-rooted there. The rampant speculation otherwise is used by opposing coaches on the recruiting trail to create a seed of doubt. There’s nothing unethical about this, but Michigan has an easy remedy. The speculation also adds to the circus Harbaugh seems comfortable in, but does little to build the program. Michigan has an easy remedy to quite this, should the coach be amenable.
Perfect can so often be the enemy of good. Right now, Harbaugh has been good and could conceivably get to perfect one of these years. Michigan needs to take a long, hard look in the mirror and at its history. Consistent 9- and 10-win seasons turned Bo Schembechler into a god. Schembechler, like Harbaugh, also struggled when playing a talented opponent.
They should ask themselves if they can do better than the current job-holder. If that answer is “no,” perhaps it’s time to get on bended knee and pop the question. Taking Harbaugh in sickness and health, good years and bad, is not a bad place to land. In my opinion, the two are already playing house. May as well make it official.