Jim Harbaugh spurns the NFL and is returning to Michigan

Despite weeks of rumors and an interview with the Minnesota Vikings, Jim Harbaugh has informed Michigan he plans to remain at the university.

Jim Harbaugh will remain a Michigan man. Harbaugh has told Michigan Athletic Director Warde Manuel that he will remain at the Big Ten school after interviewing for the Minnesota Vikings’ head coaching vacancy.

Harbaugh’s decision was met with some surprise by those who felt confident that he would emerge as a strong contender to replace Mike Zimmer.  However, league sources emphasized that Harbaugh was never offered the job. And now Harbaugh has assured the university that this will not be an annual dance of will he stay or will he go.

Instead, Harbaugh is staying in Ann Arbor. Harbaugh, whose parents, Jack and Jackie Harbaugh, live on the same Ann Arbor block as his wife and children, interviewed a second time (this time in person) for the Vikings’ job on Wednesday in Minnesota.

Vikings first interviewed Jim Harbaugh on Saturday

The Vikings interviewed Harbaugh after they requested and were granted permission to speak to him. As required by his contract, Harbaugh informed Manuel of the interview request, according to multiple sources not authorized to speak publicly. The interview came even though Harbaugh has had a revised contract sitting on his desk for several weeks, according to sources.

Harbaugh was battling a perception that he’s grumpy, akin to Zimmer. However, those who know him well say that is a completely false assumption.

Harbaugh pulling out of the race leaves Kevin O’Connell, Raheem Morris, and Patrick Graham as finalists. Several league sources predict that O’Connell will ultimately land the job.

Why did Harbaugh consider a return to the NFL?

Harbaugh and the Wolverines had a resurgent season in 2021. They won 12 games, a Big Ten conference title, beat rival Ohio State, and earned a College Football Playoff berth. That came one year after a 2-4 finish during a COVID-shortened season led to Harbaugh taking a major pay cut.

“The best players play in the NFL, and the best coaches coach in the NFL,” one source said.

“Jim loves college football, but he feels like he has unfinished business in the NFL, so he’s exploring this opportunity. Jim has always had interest in coaching in the NFL again.”
Ultimately, Harbaugh bowed out and will return to Michigan.

Countering the claims of being difficult to work with

Another source noted that Harbaugh is extremely positive, consistent, and honest in his demeanor and dealings with players and coaches. That counters the frequently cited narrative that Harbaugh can be difficult to deal with. One source emphasized that Harbaugh– a family man with a quirky personality — has an incredible work ethic and mind for the game.
Harbaugh is friends with actor Jason Sudeikis and was a loose inspiration for the Ted Lasso character from the Emmy Award-winning Apple TV+ television program. Sudeikis consulted with the Big Ten coach about game-day wardrobe choices after the pair got to know each other when Harbaugh appeared on the television show Detroiters.

Why Harbaugh and the Vikings were a possible match

Although Harbaugh had a strained relationship with then-San Francisco 49ers general manager Trent Baalke, he built a strong connection with new Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah. That led to the conversation between the Vikings and the brother of Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh, whose team defeated Jim’s 49ers in the only head-to-head coaching matchup between siblings in NFL history.

Adofo-Mensah worked for the 49ers in research and development and overlapped with Harbaugh when he was the head coach in 2013 and 2014. Eight years later, they talked about working together again. Adofo-Mensah was effusive in his praise of Harbaugh to the Wilf family, the Vikings’ owners. Like most NFL owners, there’s a natural hesitation because Harbaugh has had so many previous flirtations with the league.

A proven track record in the NFL

Harbaugh has a 44-19-1 record with the 49ers, the fifth-best winning percentage in NFL history. That ranks him ahead of any active NFL coach in terms of winning percentage. In four seasons with the 49ers, Harbaugh made the playoffs three times and coached three consecutive NFC Championship Games. San Francisco fired him after the 2014 campaign in which they went 8-8 and missed the postseason.

The financial impact

Harbaugh received a 50% pay cut in 2021, which reduced his salary to $4 million after the 2020 debacle. But incentives allowed him to earn back most of that shortfall. He signed a four-year contract extension in 2021 and is due for a raise. Harbaugh can get one, per sources, whenever he wants to sign off on a revised contract that will give him a significant boost in pay, back to at least the $8 million level he was at previously.

There’s a $4 million buyout in Harbaugh’s contract that reduces by $500,000 each season. Had Harbaugh left by choice in 2021, he would have been required to pay a $2 million buyout. In 2022, that amount drops to $1.5 million, $1 million in 2023, $500,000 in 2024, and no money in 2025.

For Harbaugh, it’s not about the money. It’s about the love of the game and the challenge, per sources familiar with Harbaugh’s approach to football and business.

Aaron Wilson is the NFL Insider for Pro Football Network. Follow him on Twitter: @AaronWilson_NFL.

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