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Is Harbaugh Using Michigan for Leverage?

Since it was reported publicly that Michigan has offered Jim Harbaugh a contract that'd make him the highest paid coach in football, there's been lots of speculation that he's just using Michigan for leverage. Is this true?

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

If you haven't noticed already, today's Word of the Day is "leverage."

Yesterday evening, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported that Michigan had offered San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh a six-year, $48 million contract. This reported contract would not only make Harbaugh the highest paid coach in college football but would also make him the highest paid coach in all of football.

In the 24 hours since Rapoport's report, there has been a flurry of additional reports, reactions, and speculation regarding whether the former Wolverines quarterback would leave the NFL and return home to Michigan. Though local reporters close to the Michigan program, like Wolverine247's Steve LorenzGo Blue Wolverine's Sam WebbThe Wolverine's Chris Balas, and John U. Bacon, have become more optimistic about this development in recent days, much of the national media thinks the leak of the numbers of Michigan's monstrous offer is just a ploy by Harbaugh and his agent, David Dunn, to use it as leverage when other NFL teams come calling after the season.

There's Mike Florio from ProFootballTalk [emphasis mine]:

For those who believe 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh wouldn't use his alma mater as leverage for his next job, here's perhaps conclusive evidence that he would.

He already has.

In 2011, Harbaugh rejected an Ann Arbor offer that would have paid him $5.2 million annually. Instead, he took $5 million per year from the 49ers, who originally hoped to get Harbaugh for $4 million to $4.5 million per year. Without the Michigan offer, it would have been difficult for Harbaugh to shake $5 million per year from the Niners.

There's Charles Robinson from Yahoo! Sports:

There's Michigan alumnus Adam Schefter from ESPN [emphasis mine]:

Let me just say this, this is the time of year where often times agents do a great job at creating leverage.

In fact, the word is being tossed around so frequently with regards to Harbaugh and Michigan that this is the first news result when you Google only "leverage":

Harbaugh and Leverage - Google Search

So yeah.

And I understand this point of view. If Dunn leaked Michigan's offer that'd make Harbaugh the highest paid coach in football, this sets the bar for NFL teams, perhaps the Raiders, Jets, Bears, or Dolphins, that may try to pursue him. On the surface, it appears, if any of them want a shot at hiring Harbaugh, they'd need be within sniffing distance of Michigan's $8 million-per-year offer, even if Harbaugh prefers to remain in the NFL.

But did Harbaugh and Dunn actually leak Michigan's offer to use as leverage?

I cannot say for sure, but I do not believe so.

For starters, I actually think it may have been Michigan who leaked the offer, not Harbaugh and Dunn. Rumors that Michigan was going to offer Harbaugh a contract worth an estimated $8 million per year or $48-49 million total began to surface on the Michigan premium sites as early as two weeks ago. Further, the first non-Michigan reporter to report that Michigan had offered Harbaugh this deal, hours before Rapoport did, claimed he learned of the details from "a friend close to the Michigan program."

Why would Michigan leak these details? Some have asked this question, arguing that these details going public is bad news for Michigan. They claim that this makes Michigan look desperate and, if Harbaugh decides to take an NFL job, Michigan's Plan B candidate will have the better bargaining position, knowing the Wolverines have struck out with their top candidate and have a money cannon that they are ready to fire at a coach.

But there are two benefits for Michigan to have these details out in the open. First, this may put pressure on Harbaugh to give Michigan an answer behind the scenes before December 28th, the last day of the NFL season and around when many expect Harbaugh to make his decision. Therefore, if Harbaugh were to say no to Michigan, it would not seem like he strung along his alma mater and left them in the cold. And, second, this demonstrates to the Michigan faithful that interim athletic director Jim Hackett and Michigan did everything they possibly could to bring Harbaugh home. This will help appease a Michigan fan base that not only wants to see Harbaugh in Ann Arbor but also a Michigan fan base that has become disenchanted with the athletic department.

Even if Michigan didn't purposely leak these details, which wouldn't be a surprise because it's no easy task to keep a contract offer that'd make someone the highest paid coach in football a secret, there's enough evidence to suggest this came from Michigan.

But let's say Dunn was the one who leaked Michigan's offer. This doesn't necessarily imply that Harbaugh is using Michigan's offer only as leverage to receive better offers from NFL teams as so many national pundits have claimed. Though he understands he's a hot commodity and in a position of power, would Harbaugh, a man who played under, idolizes, and imitates Bo Schembechler on the sidelines, really just use his alma mater to raise the bar for how much his next contract will be worth? I don't believe so. Our own Joshua Henschke penned an excellent piece saying that line of thinking doesn't make sense. And Harbaugh reportedly has genuine interest in coaching at Michigan.

This doesn't mean, though, that Harbaugh will be marching up and down the sidelines at the Big House next season. I don't have that answer. Most people close to Harbaugh probably don't have that answer. Heck, Harbaugh may not even have that answer right now. But, if you think this is just a ploy to use Michigan as leverage, I'd say to think again.