As we inch closer and closer to what’s taken on the appearance of Decision Day for both Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan football program, a growing number of signs continue to point to what just a couple of months ago was thought of as an unlikely reunion.
Friday it was reported that a group of UM officials had traveled to the Bay Area as part of its ongoing pursuit of Harbaugh. Less than 24 hours later, at least one report has a marriage as being imminent.
According to Jason Cole, who was an award-winning NFL writer for Yahoo Sports for more than two decades before moving on to Bleacher Report, “[t]wo members of the San Francisco 49ers staff… said Saturday they expect 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh to accept a six-year, $48 million contract to become the head coach of the University of Michigan.” A third NFL source confirmed the same to Cole.
Cole further added that earlier this year Harbaugh was leaning strongly against a return to the college game. However, he writes, “sources said he has been swayed over the past two weeks as he measured those issues against the opportunities that might be available around the pros.”
Late last week, a report surfaced that Harbaugh’s family and friends have been encouraging him to take the Michigan job, which his brother, Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, subsequently denied. That report came two days after one surfaced that Michigan was prepared to offer Harbaugh a contract in the neighborhood of $8 million annually over six years. Harbaugh subsequently declined to answer when asked directly if his alma mater had offered him a contract, as did his current boss.
The 49ers play their last game of the 2014 season Sunday. At some point after that game ends, perhaps as early as that evening, the two sides are expected to part ways. Whether that would in turn trigger a return to Ann Arbor is still uncertain, although, again, the signs are certainly pointing in that general direction.
Harbaugh’s 49ers contract, which has one year remaining on it, would not prevent him from going back to the collegiate level for the first time since ending a four-year run at Stanford in January of 2011. Barring a trade or dismissal, however, it would preclude him from moving on to another NFL team like Oakland, which has been rumored to be UM’s stiffest competition. As far as the trade front goes, ProFootballTalk‘s Mike Florio taps the brakes on that particular line of speculation.
No one quite knows exactly what will happen. While many in the media have reported/predicted that Harbaugh will be traded, we’ve mentioned once or twice (or more often) that the logistics require a level of patience and planning in which the two sides may not be willing to engage. The details make a trade highly unlikely, which in turn makes that pair of third-round picks that the 49ers would have gotten from Cleveland in February as a practical matter unavailable.
Should Harbaugh return to the place where he was a college quarterback, and should the reports of on the contract be accurate, he would surpass Alabama’s Nick Saban ($7 million-ish) as the highest-paid head coach in the history of college football.