Jim Harbaugh’s offseason at Michigan: From NFL interview to NCAA investigation, tracking the turmoil

Jim Harbaugh’s offseason at Michigan: From NFL interview to NCAA investigation, tracking the turmoil

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Jim Harbaugh’s schedule rarely provides a dull moment, but even by Michigan standards, the past three weeks have been a wild ride.

NFL rumours, NCAA allegations and a police investigation into possible computer access crimes inside Schembechler Hall have combined to put Michigan directly under the microscope. After a two-year run that put Michigan back among college football’s elite programs, the Wolverines have a loaded team set to contest a third straight trip to the college football playoffs in 2023. They also have a long list of unresolved issues. from a tumultuous start to the offseason.

Here’s a timeline of events that covers Harbaugh’s contract negotiations, the ongoing NCAA investigation and the uncertainty surrounding offensive coordinator Matt Weiss.

December 31: Michigan’s season ends with a surprise 51-45 loss to TCU in a CFP thriller. Despite a bold comeback, the Wolverines can’t overcome two JJ McCarthy six picks and a fumble inside the TCU 1-yard line. Wolverines finish 13-1 and are one step away from the national championship game for the second year in a row.

Jan. 2: Harbaugh appears as a candidate for Denver Broncos head coach. Despite Harbaugh’s previous statements to the contrary, sources tell The Athletic that he is considering a return to the NFL and would likely accept an NFL job if offered. Reports also reveal that Harbaugh had conversations with Panthers owner David Tepper, although the conversations did not lead to an interview.

Jan. 5: According to a campus crime log entry time stamped at 12:44 p.m., a UM employee reports “fraudulent activity involving someone accessing university email accounts without authorization” at Schembechler Hall. That afternoon, Harbaugh released a statement on social media reiterating that he does not know the future but expects to coach Michigan in 2023.

Michigan man through and through. #GoBlue pic.twitter.com/ZLZiCSw8AG

— Michigan Football (@UMichFootball) January 5, 2023

Later that night, Michigan received a draft Notice of Allegations from the NCAA outlining the alleged rule violations under Harbaugh’s program. The allegations include four Level II violations that involve inadmissible contact with recruits during the COVID-19 dead period, an analyst performing coaching duties in practice, and other low-level violations. Harbaugh also faces a more serious NCAA Level I charge for failing to cooperate with investigators.

Jan. 9: Harbaugh conducts a virtual interview with the Broncos.

Jan. 12: Michigan President Santa Ono issues a statement on social media saying he has had “positive and constructive conversations” with Harbaugh and athletic director Warde Manuel. Ono also says he and Manuel are in agreement that they want Harbaugh to stay in Michigan.

In response, Harbaugh says he “fully supports Chairman Ono’s message to our fans.”

January 16: Harbaugh calls Ono and informs the president of Michigan of his intentions to stay in Michigan. Ono announces Harbaugh’s return on social media and Harbaugh releases a statement expressing his love for Michigan.

Good mission #GoBlue https://t.co/EQ1PksGYBX pic.twitter.com/KNNuYASJWz

— Michigan Football (@UMichFootball) January 16, 2023

“My heart is in the University of Michigan,” Harbaugh writes. “I once heard a wise man say, ‘Don’t try to be happy, happy. “”


With Jim Harbaugh Returning, Michigan May See AD and NFL Drama Release

January 17: The UM Police Department confirms that it is investigating “a report of computer access crimes that occurred at Schembechler Hall from December 21-23, 2022.” A spokesperson for the program confirms that Weiss, Michigan’s offensive co-coordinator and quarterbacks coach, is on leave.

Jan. 19: Yahoo reports talks between Michigan and the NCAA have broken down after Harbaugh refused to acknowledge he deliberately misled NCAA investigators. A quick resolution that includes mutually agreed-upon penalties, including a potential suspension for Harbaugh in the 2023 season, looks increasingly unlikely, setting the stage for a longer fight between Harbaugh and the NCAA.

What Harbaugh’s return means for Michigan

The Jim Harbaugh Show continues, for better or for worse. Off-season drama happens every year in Michigan, and the Wolverines always seem to rise above it once the season begins. At some point, however, the weight of those controversies can start to take their toll.

That’s more than the usual back and forth regarding Harbaugh’s contract and his NFL prospects. Even though NCAA investigations no longer carry the weight they once did, the NCAA has the power to create headaches for Michigan, and the police investigation is a serious matter that has put a key member of the Harbaugh’s staff in limbo. That’s a lot of off-season baggage for a program to carry.

Harbaugh’s return is great news for Michigan’s near-term prospects, but it also comes with long-term questions. One is Harbaugh’s working relationship with Manuel, his boss for the past seven seasons. Their communication has been sparse, sources say, and Ono was the one who facilitated Harbaugh’s comeback. For Michigan to hit on all cylinders as a program, Harbaugh and his athletic director need to be aligned.

Recruitment is another long-term issue. Michigan’s 2023 class was not one of Harbaugh’s best, in part because the Wolverines missed out on hometown quarterback Dante Moore. Landing a top-flight quarterback for 2024 is imperative, and Weiss’ situation surely isn’t helping.

For all the reasons Harbaugh’s program might be vulnerable, he has a knack for creating a unique focus once the season begins. This should be the case again in 2023 with a veteran team aiming for a national championship.


From all-time low to championship contenders: How Michigan recovered so quickly

Where does the NCAA investigation go from here?

If the NCAA is waiting for Harbaugh to back down, it could be a long wait. He’s not running away from a fight and, in some ways, can relish the chance to face the NCAA. He has an enthusiastic supporter in Ono, who has expressed admiration for Harbaugh. As a matter of principle, it’s hard to imagine Harbaugh admitting wrongdoing if he thinks he’s been unfairly accused.

Another coach might be tempted to take a short suspension and move on, but that’s not Harbaugh’s style. If Michigan and the NCAA can’t agree on a negotiated resolution, both sides will have to dig in for a longer fight with no guaranteed outcome. Violation cases can drag on for months or years, and who knows where that would leave Harbaugh in the end. He tends to take things year by year, so he might be content to focus on the 2023 season and worry about NCAA penalties later, if they come at all.

What does this mean for Harbaugh’s contract negotiations?

Harbaugh didn’t have a contract extension on the table when he informed Ono of his intention to return. The parties are not far off, a Michigan source said, but the NCAA investigation complicates the process.

Now that Harbaugh has ended NFL talks, there’s no great urgency to finalize an extension. He is still under contract until 2026 and is expected to earn $7.19 million in base salary next year. Any deal Harbaugh signs would be to recognize the accomplishments of the past two seasons and head off future speculation from the NFL.

Harbaugh and Michigan have pledged to resolve the issues they face and stay together for another year, if not longer. That gives Harbaugh’s program a shot at vying for a third straight Big Ten championship, assuming the Wolverines can get through the offseason unscathed.

Based on the events of the past three weeks, next season can’t come soon enough.

(Photo: Chris Coduto/Getty Images)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *