It has become a rite of passage at this point.
Every single year around this time baseless rumors appear connecting Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh to the NFL.
And every single year those rumors prove to be laughable and flat out false.
From Albert Breer connecting Harbaugh to the Carolina Panthers in 2016 to Cris Carter saying that Harbaugh might go to the Cleveland Browns or Green Bay Packers last December, every time there’s a head coaching vacancy, Harbaugh’s name gets attached to the job.
This time the rumor comes from Football Scoop who says that Harbaugh is “planning an exit strategy”. It doesn’t matter whether the rumor has any validity or not, the damage it can do to a program on the recruiting trail remains the same.
When these rumors spring up, Harbaugh has pointed to them being created by ‘enemies’ of the program, those enemies being coaches from other institutions.
“I’m not leaving Michigan. Not even considering it,” Harbaugh said at a banquet in 2016. “A lot of this talk is coming from our enemies, from coaches. You know the names. You probably know the names of the top three I’m referring to. They like to say that to the media. They like to tell that to recruits and their families and try to manipulate them into going to some other school besides Michigan. We know them as jive turkeys.”
While Harbaugh didn’t name drop who the top three were back in ‘16 and hasn’t this time around either, it’s clear he feels that other coaches are going into the homes of recruits and playing dirty and spreading falsehoods to give their program a little bit of an edge.
Harbaugh echoed the same comments on Wednesday morning in a letter to the parents of recruits.
Jim Harbaugh refutes rumors of interest in the NFL: "I don't even have an agent or representative." pic.twitter.com/SyHDn3rsO2— Sam Webb (@SamWebb77) October 23, 2019
If the old saying “all is fair in love and war” applies to how some programs operate on the recruiting trail, Harbaugh’s claims don’t appear that far-fetched. It’s fair to say Harbaugh knows a lot more about the situation and the attempted disruption than he has publicly shared. It’s a big accusation, and one that likely has teeth in some manner.
These rumors can hurt locker room morale, and it can lose high profile recruits. Even if one or two recruits are dissuaded per cycle, that can damage the trajectory of a program in some way.
“Short, sweet and to the point: ‘I’m not leaving,” U-M nose tackle Ryan Glasgow said in ‘16 about these same type of rumors. “‘Don’t worry about it. These are lies made up by our enemies.’ It got the team all riled up. We don’t want any enemies infiltrating the fortress.”
As Harbaugh said in John Bacon’s latest book, “(It’s) hard to beat the cheaters”, and maybe that quote applies here as well. It doesn’t matter if a program like Michigan has around the same amount of resources as other institutions, it only takes a slight edge during a game and on the recruiting trail to come out on top. And if other programs are indeed the parties spreading these rumors, it’s an unethical yet useful practice.
Whether you are happy with Jim Harbaugh as Michigan’s head coach or not, he shouldn’t be having to deal with the same recycled click-bait that is “total crap”. He’s got enough to worry about this week with Notre Dame coming to town.
It’s hard to quantify how rumors like this hurt Michigan with certain recruits, but the rumors don’t help, and may even be harmful. If you believe Harbaugh and his letter, “enemies” of the program are intentionally throwing out these claims into the stratosphere and enjoying the chaos that inevitably follows.