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Attempting to make sense of why Jim Harbaugh’s future has not been made official

The rumors continue to churn, but the tea leaves aren’t difficult to read.

Michigan v Maryland Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

You’re likely exhausted by the lack of a resolution with the Michigan Wolverines. It’s understandable and despite what will surely be an attempt from the powers that be to convince you everything is fine and normal, the situation surrounding Jim Harbaugh’s future with the football program is anything but normal.

What we know is that an extension has been offered and on the table for a little less than a month (or longer, who knows at this point?) and it remains unsigned. Potentially tentatively agreed-upon, yes, but still unsigned.

I’ve written about how I believe it is time for Michigan to move on. I’ve written about how both sides are culpable in the current predicament. In the last number of days, we have fielded several questions and criticisms in the comments directed at the Michigan media as a whole as to why people are not working harder for answers.

Even the most connected in our sphere seem to not have much of an idea of what is going on. No disrespect intended to our peers that have been providing updates, but there just has not been a lot that has been a massive development on that front, either.

We have kind of taken the stance here to not report every shred or rumor that comes through the pipeline. We think there are plenty of other outlets that do that and we just try to make sense of what’s going on, so that’s what we are going to try to do here.

To be frank — and I should preface this by saying I do not have inside information — it does not seem like the situation is all that complicated. The message seems like it has been sent given the actions since the end of the season. That is how Harbaugh said he would like for where he stands to be judged, so we’re going to do that.

On Dec. 7, John U. Bacon confirmed the rumors that a three-year deal was on the table with incentive-laden language and lower buyouts. He also mentioned that as many as five NFL teams had an interest in potentially hiring him. Chris Balas of The Wolverine, who made the first mention of the three-year deal, has reported that a deal being consummated seems like a formality, not that the deal is done as some have posted on social media and aggregated on other sites. Sam Webb of The Michigan Insider has had a handful of updates as well, which included an effort to get a deal done by Christmas and an update this week that while the plan appears to be to have him at the helm in 2021 and beyond, there is at least some preliminary interest still there from a handful of NFL teams.

The NFL rumors have been perpetual since Harbaugh left the league to come coach at his alma mater, but they carry a little more weight this year the longer this goes on. The Houston Texans, Detroit Lions, and Atlanta Falcons jobs are already available. The Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Jets, who will hold the top two picks in the draft with shots at franchise quarterbacks, figure to be next in line. The Philadelphia Eagles, Cincinnati Bengals, and Los Angeles Chargers could be other jobs to watch. That puts you at eight potential openings pending surprises from teams like the Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos, or Minnesota Vikings, for example.

This is worth bringing up because that is a lot of positions to fill and even more interviews to take place. Given that what is going on between Michigan and Harbaugh currently seems like it would be a logical parting of ways, there are certainly opportunities there should he choose to pursue them.

Some believed that the dismissal of defensive coordinator Don Brown was a sign that Harbaugh would be back. It was pretty apparent that Brown was not going to be here next year anyway, so I took that as giving him a head start to find other opportunities if he still wanted to coach. Given that he’s landed with Jedd Fisch at Arizona, that hunch is confirmed. Harbaugh is still under contract and has a program to run, so the move had to be made regardless of what his future is.

So let’s tie this all together, shall we?

Harbaugh and Michigan have been operating right now under the assumption that he is back and locked in moving forward because, well, as of now that is the safest outcome to predict. He was offered an extension and it’s there to be signed. The ball is entirely in his court at the moment. We can argue whether or not Michigan should allow that to be the case, but this is a fact of what is going on right now.

The initial timeline was reported that a push would be made to get a deal done before the New Year and then it was moved up to Christmas. We passed the first holiday and we are rapidly approaching passing the second one. The tea leaves aren’t hard to read as to why we’re here. It seems likely, if not 100 percent accurate, that Harbaugh is going to wait to sign any deal on the table from Michigan until he gets a fuller picture of what his opportunities are back in the NFL. This would also give athletic director Warde Manuel an opportunity to get his ducks in a row either way just in case he does have to make a head coaching hire.

The idea that Michigan is a fallback for the current head coach moving forward has ruffled feathers and rightfully so. If he’s not the guy, it would be wise to just cut bait and move on. Lowballing him with an extension offer and clinging to hope that he takes an NFL job so you avoid paying a buyout is borderline malpractice. It is an attempt to save face and be able to say you did right by Harbaugh and wash your hands of blame for why the situation got here in the first place. There is a budget crunch due to the pandemic and that likely factors in here, too. That cannot be discounted. But again, nothing about how either of these sides are currently operating is normal.

If it is true that he is waiting out NFL positions, what happens if those fall through and he signs the extension? Is it another season of going through the process and digging for answers? On a three-year deal under those circumstances, it feels like we would be right back here again next year. I don’t know how you sell that to prospective assistants and high-profile recruits.

If it is true that he’s back, announce that you’ve picked your lane and move forward. He is still under contract, so he has a job to do in getting things back on track.

So we keep playing the waiting game and when there’s news to report, it will be. But for now, the silence is speaking loudly.

It still feels more likely than not that Harbaugh will return, but the lack of clarity as we crawl into a potential year-seven is getting to be a bit too much.