Michigan HC Jim Harbaugh eyeing return to NFL?

By Matt Johnson
Jan 1, 2020; Orlando, Florida, USA; Michigan Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh (right) leads his team onto the field prior to the 2020 VRBO Citrus Bowl against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Camping World Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The Michigan Wolverines lured Jim Harbaugh away from the NFL, hoping he would turn his alma mater back into a college football powerhouse. More than five years later, with things going south in Ann Arbor, could Harbaugh make his way back to the NFL sidelines?

After posting a 44-19-1 record in the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers, including three trips to the NFC Championship Game and a Super Bowl XLVII appearance, Harbaugh bolted to Ann Arbor. After years of disappointment, a change could be on the horizon.

NFL rumors: Will Jim Harbaugh return to NFL?

Things haven’t gone the way Harbaugh, Michigan’s athletic department or fan base has hoped since he arrived. Expectations were set for the Wolverines to dominate the Big Ten, especially after Urban Meyer retired.

Instead, Michigan has routinely fallen short in marquee games and often looked like it didn’t belong on the same field as Ohio State. With frustration growing around the state, it seems a change is at least possible.

According to Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel, many around the NFL believe Harbaugh is open to returning to the league. While the expectation remains he won’t be fired by the Wolverines, things could change and Harbaugh could be intrigued by a return to the pro level.

Of course, that doesn’t guarantee that the NFL will want him back. While rumors have swirled for years, he left the San Francisco 49ers on a bitter note. Even multiple seasons after his departure, he took shots at the organization, applauded himself for putting up with them and the hostility seemed mutual.

NFL front offices have heard the horror stories regarding the difficulties that come from working with Harbaugh. Given how things have unfolded at Michigan and his departure in San Francisco, Harbaugh might not be welcomed back by the NFL.

“It’s a legitimate question,” an NFL executive said, via Yahoo Sports. “He can’t quite get it fixed there at Michigan. When you leave a place in the NFL, if you have any scars, they’ll get you. And when he left San Francisco, it was scorched earth.”

In his defense, Harbaugh enjoyed tremendous success with the 49ers. Recording 44 regular-season wins across four seasons with two NFC West titles and three appearances in the NFC Championship Game makes for an incredible resume. Unfortunately for Michigan, the program hasn’t come close to that success under Harbaugh.

Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan record highlighted by disappointment

When Michigan hired Harbaugh, everyone imagined the program would return to national prominence as a national championship contender as the class of the Big Ten conference. Entering his sixth season with the Wolverines, this team has failed to meet expectations.

After losing three straight to Ohio State (2012-’14), many anticipated Harbaugh would be the coach to help reverse course and put Michigan back on top in the rivalry. Instead, the Wolverines have routinely been embarrassed by the Buckeyes.

Despite Harbaugh’s objections, there is an enormous gap between Ohio State and Michigan’s football programs. The college football world has enjoyed seeing the Wolverines get demolished in recent years, including a 62-39 loss in 2018 and a 56-27 defeat in 2019.

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Coming off an ugly 27-24 loss to in-state rival Michigan State, things could get even worse for Harbaugh. Ohio State is playing with arguably its most talented roster in years, far better than anything Michigan could put out on its best days.

The Wolverines won’t play Ohio State until Dec. 12, the final game of their regular-season schedule, but it could be the nail in Harbaugh’s coffin. While a 48-19 record would be great at plenty of programs, it’s not enough. If Michigan gets its doors blown off again by the Buckeyes and later loses in a bowl game, which is likely given Harbaugh’s 1-4 record in bowl games, change could happen.