Whether He Stays or Leaves, College Football Is Better with Jim Harbaugh

Adam Kramer@kegsneggsNational College Football Lead WriterJanuary 27, 2022

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh celebrates with his team after the Big Ten championship NCAA college football game against Iowa, Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021, in Indianapolis. Michigan won 42-3. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)
AJ Mast/Associated Press

In the midst of figuring out his future, with two football industries seemingly waiting on his next move, Jim Harbaugh did something incredibly important.

He squatted.

He didn't wear gym shorts or workout attire. That would be too easy and not nearly Harbaugh-ian enough. Instead, while visiting Jesuit High School in Tampa, Florida, on a recruiting visit, Harbaugh found himself underneath a barbell.

The faces on the students in the background say it all: a mix of joy, curiosity and bewilderment.

He wore navy dress pants, a light blue button-down and a face serious enough that one could question whether this was for content or actually his hamstrings. That's the thing and beauty about Harbaugh; you never quite know.

This is who he is. And whether he does it for himself or to generate headlines, it's largely why Harbaugh's personality, which tends to rub every college football fan one way or another, is perfect for the sport.

Now, however, Harbaugh has a decision to make. No matter how well his personality blends with the absurdity of CFB, he might not be long for it.

He could stay at Michigan, the football program he played quarterback for many years ago. After leading the Wolverines to the College Football Playoff this past season, Harbaugh and the school have been working on a new contract one year after his salary was cut in half and he nearly lost his job, according to The Athletic's Nick Baumgardner.

After six up-and-down seasons with Michigan, Harbaugh broke through. And despite the loss to Georgia in the semifinals, the Wolverines are poised to be relevant for a while longer.

Well, perhaps.

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - DECEMBER 31: Michigan Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh catches the ball on the field before the start of the College Football Playoff Semifinal game between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Michigan Wolverines at the Capital One Orange B
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Harbaugh could also return to the NFL. While it's been a minute, Harbaugh led the San Francisco 49ers to a Super Bowl berth after the 2012 season. He won at least 11 games in three of his four professional seasons and finished with an overall mark of 44-19-1.

With more than one quarter of the NFL currently looking for a head coach, Harbaugh is likely to gain consideration for multiple openings.

Al Davis, the former Raiders owner, gave Harbaugh his first job in the NFL. As such, the connection to the Las Vegas Raiders and owner Mark Davis, Al's son, is too easy not to make.

Whether it's Las Vegas or Chicago or Minnesota, Harbaugh is likely to have multiple NFL suitors.

If Harbaugh decides to leave college for the NFL, good for him. Given the pressure that has followed him since he arrived at Michigan, one can't blame him if he settles on a reboot that comes with a massive new contract.

His tenure at Michigan, outside of this year, has been turbulent. Every shortcoming was picked apart. Every loss was magnified. The scrutiny was amplified—sometimes fair and sometimes extreme.

This past season, however, the results came. He beat Ohio State. He won the Big Ten. He made the playoff. He didn't do these things as often as we expected him to do, but he climbed most of the mountain. And he did it at just the right time.

Contracts for college football head coaches are taking on new life. If Mel Tucker is worth $95 million to Michigan State, what's Harbaugh worth to Michigan? If Brian Kelly is worthy of a 10-year contract at LSU, shouldn't Harbaugh be in a similar financial situation?

In this instance, money might not be what's most important. Granted, it matters. But Harbaugh will be paid a fortune at whatever level he chooses. This is likely more about comfort.

If he is to leave Ann Arbor, it'll be a tremendous loss. For Michigan, it'll have to scramble to find a new head coach—something it has been bracing for since the connections to the NFL began.

With that will come other staff departures and, of course, new hires. The transfer portal would likely become active as well, depending on which coach fills the sizable void.

For college football, however, this would be an even greater loss.

MIAMI GARDENS, FLORIDA - DECEMBER 31: Head Coach Jim Harbaugh of the Michigan Wolverines looks on before the game against the Georgia Bulldogs in the Capital One Orange Bowl for the College Football Playoff semifinal game at Hard Rock Stadium on December
Michael Reaves/Getty Images

To many, that might sound strange. It is possible, perhaps even likely, that you have strong opinions about Harbaugh. Very few people are indifferent about the head coach who has a knack for twisting together delightful soundbites and bathing in his originality.

There was the infamous sleepover at a high school player's house and the shirtless camp appearance that still pops up on social media every now and then. There was the picture of him eating steak with a colossal glass of milk—a combination most beef-long folks cringe at just thinking about.

Harbaugh's headlines, successes, failures, mannerisms and quirks have made him a popular target. Heck, up until this fall, even Michigan fans were torn on the possibility of him staying around one more year.

Nine months later, those sentiments have shifted.

Most everyone else, however, would likely prefer to see Harbaugh lose at the college level, and the power of that cannot be overstated.

You would be hard-pressed to find a more polarizing and interesting coach in college football. Whether you love him or hate him, whether you root for him or against him, whether you're bothered by him or entertained by him, these emotions are currency for college football.

Harbaugh is an entertainer. He is imperfect just like every college football coach not named Nick Saban. But beyond the publicized missteps, he's also brilliant at what he does.

His brilliance has put him in a rare position few coaches will ever enjoy. Stay or go.

If he is to leave, an NFL franchise will likely be better for it. They will also be instantly more interesting, no doubt.

If he is to stay, the stream of content will continue. The appreciation and disdain will flow freely. A personality befitting of a sport laced in pageantry and individuality will be welcomed back with open arms, even if many of the constituents don't realize how good it is to keep him around.