Jim Harbaugh says he has a plan for Michigan. Here is what must happen

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An agreement which had been in preparation for almost a year, and which should have been concluded earlier, has been concluded.

Jim Harbaugh, who earned the nickname “Captain Comeback” over two decades ago and experienced his odd keen training sense at Ann Arbor in December 2014, will stick around for a bit longer. That’s if he can get this thing across in due time.

Harbaugh signed a four-year extension on Friday that serves more as a new five-year contract, language and everything, replacing the original deal he signed more than six years ago that made him one of the highest paid college football coaches in the world. country.

The New Deal, which guarantees Harbaugh will earn more than $ 4 million a year, no longer allows him to claim that. Instead, he’ll have to win more games and win home championships, both in the Big Ten and college football playoffs, to almost recoup the $ 8million he was set to raise. in 2021.

It was a financially prudent move on the part of Michigan and its athletic director, Warde Manuel, who was stuck between a rock and a difficult place having to negotiate a contract extension for their head football coach amid a pandemic. global. The school’s athletic department is suffering financially, as its football team has just had its worst season of the Harbaugh era, finishing with just a 2-4 record and the sacking of defensive coordinator Don Brown.

Plus: Jim Harbaugh’s new contract: 5 years, $ 21 million, huge incentives to win

But what Manuel found was the right balance, providing Harbaugh with the right financial package to stay while hanging big incentives in front of him to try and change the game. Will it work? Only time will tell. And if not, the Michigan buyout amount (starting at $ 4 million in 2021 and declining by $ 1 million each year thereafter) is small enough to warrant a rapid change – preferably in better economic conditions.

In the official announcement Friday afternoon, as Michigan received heavy criticism on social media from its dedicated fans and supporters, Harbaugh thanked Manuel, school president Mark Schlissel and his board of directors to stay with him while offering candid comments on the state of the football program. .

“Over the past few weeks, Warde and I have had honest, open, insightful and constructive discussions to move our football agenda forward,” Harbaugh said in a statement. “Discussions that I look forward to continuing in the months and years to come. We have a plan. “

“There is work to be done and challenges to be overcome,” Harbaugh continued. “These challenges are being met as we continue to strive for excellence in the classroom and championships on the field, a message which I hope is noted in the language of our agreed contract.

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Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh leaves the field with defensive lineman Donovan Jeter (95) after Jeter was injured during a game in the third quarter of their Big Ten football game against Penn State at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor on Saturday, November 28, 2020 Penn State won the game, 27-17. Michigan is now 2-4 this season. (Mike Mulholland | MLive.com)Mike Mulholland | MLive.com

As we noted above, Harbaugh’s new deal doesn’t offer much in terms of an increase. If it lasts for five years, his guaranteed salary would increase by approximately $ 426,000, an 8% increase in the cost of living. That’s small compared to the first two of the two parties, which included two separate 10% pay increases, plus an addendum that provided Harbaugh with a $ 2 million life insurance line of credit.

This new deal is heavily incentivized, forcing Harbaugh to win – and win big fast. That’s a fitting request given the timing – Harbaugh had six years to make it happen, with more than enough money and resources to do so, just to find a share of the Big Ten East Division title in 2018. The Wolverines came out on top. the right direction under Harbaugh, who burst onto the scene in 2015 and won 10 games, including a rout of Florida in the Citrus Bowl. Michigan followed up with a 10-game regular season in 2016 and came one game away from playing for a Big Ten Championship, but a contested overtime appeal led to a heartbreaking loss to Ohio State. Harbaugh’s teams haven’t really been close since, despite averaging nine wins over the next three seasons. The gap between Michigan and the second-best team in the East, Ohio State, widened with no sign of much change.

Which begs the obvious question here: what can Harbaugh do to change this? It is a complex and nuanced problem that will not be resolved overnight. This will require a fundamental change in both approach and personnel, and it seems destined to address this issue on the defensive side with the recent dismissal of Brown, whose vaunted man-to-man defense was celebrated for the early years. successful in Michigan and lambasted the latter two, when statistical achievements began to plummet, as did recruiting gains. Whoever Harbaugh is looking to replace Brown with, and recent reports suggest Baltimore Ravens linebacker coach Mike Macdonald may be the guy, will need to design a defense capable of keeping up with the best. It’s not an easy task given the pace at which college football teams score these days, but a mix of speed, athleticism and size will be required. Anything less and the results – unbalanced losses for Ohio states and Wisconsins around the world, like this year – will continue.

Offensively, Harbaugh is in a tough spot. He has already given coordinator Josh Gattis two years to set up his system and develop his playing skills. Sure, you can point out that a shortened season and key retirement options are hampering progress in 2020, but the players Gattis wants are here. Gattis helped recruit Giles Jackson, Mike Sainristil and Roman Wilson. Ronnie Bell adapts well to the system. Running back AJ Henning is a guy Gattis played a vital role in landing. The excuse of not having staff is no longer valid.

Related: Jim Harbaugh signs contract extension with Michigan

Which brings us to the quarterback position, a key reason Harbaugh finds himself six years in Michigan with no gear to prove it. He got everything he could out of transferring graduate Jake Rudock in his freshman year, but has since written off when you put it into perspective. Wilton Speight showed promise, got injured and left. John O’Korn’s transfer never took place. He failed to develop Brandon Peters. Shea Patterson has never lived up to the hype – or his recruiting rankings. And while things are going for now, the jury is still out on two other quarterbacks recruited by Harbaugh, Joe Milton and Cade McNamara. And where does five-star signer JJ McCarthy fit into all of this? Harbaugh showed reluctance to play young quarterbacks early on, preferring to help them become college quarterbacks. Could he change McCarthy’s course? Maybe McCarthy ends up winning the job anyway. But the bottom line here is that Harbaugh needs better quarterback play to make it all work. After the dust settles from the coaching carousel and Michigan sets up their defensive coordinator and staff, the quarterback needs to be priority # 1. Maybe that means Harbaugh is dedicated to training. of the post.

Finally, recruiting remains the cornerstone of a successful program – and Michigan is in a rut. Yes, he continues to recruit well, placing in the top 10 classes most years, as the gap between the Wolverines’ obvious path to the Big Ten Championship game and College Football Playoff – Ohio State – continues to overtake them. . It’s a catch-22, isn’t it? Winning attracts the best talent and the best wins matches. Until Michigan can compete with OSU and occasionally win a game, the path to regularly recruiting the Buckeyes is incredibly narrow. This is why talent development is so crucial, especially on the defensive side. Whoever Harbaugh ends up hiring into his defensive staff has to be the right mix of recruiters – coaches willing to go the extra mile, dig in and dominate areas of high talent – and talent developers.

Michigan produced good ones over the years under Harbaugh. Jabrill peppers. Maurice Hurst. Chase Winovich. Devin Bush. Kwity Paye. The names that staff can still name and say to a recruit, “It might be you someday.” But they didn’t come with the consistency the Wolverines need to compete at the highest level. A concise and clear recruiting plan must be developed on the defensive end of the ball if that means.

As to whether Harbaugh will still be around in 2025, the end of his new deal remains to be seen. Many factors will play a role – from the progress (and success) of Michigan shows over the next two years to the rest of the Big Ten East, a division that appears to be heading for change with Greg Schiano’s reintroduction to Rutgers, the push of Tom Allen in Indiana and a Michigan State team already in (and successfully doing) rebuilding mode under first-year head coach Mel Tucker. Meanwhile, the state of Ohio continues to move with no signs of slowing down.

Harbaugh is no stranger to comebacks, but history shows he’s never been in this situation before as a football coach. Which makes next year crucial to its reputation and Michigan, whose “blue blood” status in the eyes of college football traditionalists has been eroding for years.

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