Although Jim Harbaugh has never beaten Ohio State or even won a Big Ten East division crown—let alone a conference championship—in six years as Michigan's head coach, athletic director Warde Manuel is not giving him a win ultimatum for the 2021 season.
"Given the contract, obviously I am willing to be patient," Manuel said, per Tom VanHaaren of ESPN. "But he and I understand that we need to win. This is Michigan, nobody wants to win more than Jim in football, and me overall. We want success, so did I put a number to his first year? The answer is no."
VanHaaren noted Michigan signed Harbaugh to a contract extension in January that reduced his base salary from more than $8 million in 2020 to $4 million in 2021. However, it also features up to $3.475 million in bonuses each season and runs through 2025.
To say Harbaugh has failed to meet expectations with the Wolverines would be an understatement.
After all, he reached a Super Bowl as the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers and turned around a struggling Stanford program. A coach with a resume like that who understood Michigan's tradition and expectations from his time as a player for the Maize and Blue seemed like a home-run hire.
For some time, that is exactly what it was for Michigan.
The Wolverines went 10-3 and won the Citrus Bowl in his first season and were firmly in the College Football Playoff hunt at 10-1 in his second season when they lost a heartbreaker in double-overtime to the Buckeyes before losing the Orange Bowl to Florida State.
That became a common pattern, as Michigan was 10-1 again in 2018 and in the middle of the CFP race when it got blown out by Ohio State 62-39. Florida also destroyed the Wolverines 41-15 in that season's Peach Bowl.
It was the last time the Wolverines were in the discussion among the country's best teams by the end of the season, as they went 9-4 in 2019 and an ugly 2-4 during the shortened 2020 campaign. That Ohio State has won the Big Ten four straight years and is an elite powerhouse competing with the likes of Alabama and Clemson for playoff spots and top recruits every year has only made things worse for the Wolverines.
It also led to changes, and VanHaaren noted that Harbaugh added co-defensive coordinators Mike Macdonald and Maurice Linguist, linebackers coach George Helow, running backs coach Mike Hart and quarterbacks coach Matt Weiss to the staff.
There may not be a win total the head coach is expected to meet in 2021, but Manuel still made it clear the expectation is to win.