Sources close to Jim Harbaugh believe its a done deal

Sources close to Jim Harbaugh believe it’s a ‘done deal’ if he lands NFL bid

By Bruce Feldman, Nicole Auerbach, Austin Meek and Nick Kosmider

Multiple sources close to Jim Harbaugh told The Athletic Monday they expect Harbaugh to leave Michigan for the NFL if a franchise offers him a coaching job. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Harbaugh has a 74-25 record in eight seasons in Michigan. He led the Wolverines to back-to-back Big 10 championships and college football playoff appearances
  • The coach’s buyout is just $3 million this year, and it’s getting smaller with each year of his new contract. The severance payment would be due within 60 days of leaving. Harbaugh, under the contract, can be fired for cause if he participates in a job search without notifying the athletic director.
  • “I think it’s a done deal if he gets an offer,” said a source close to Harbaugh.

The Athletic’s instant analysis:


Last year, Harbaugh, who had just led Michigan to its first Big Ten title in 17 years, was targeting a return to the NFL.

On Signing Day in 2022, Harbaugh met with the Minnesota Vikings but ultimately wasn’t offered the job. Afterward, he told reporters, “There was an attraction to the NFL because I got so close to the Super Bowl, but that was the time. And this is the last time. Now let’s hunt down college football’s greatest prize.”

That year, Harbaugh led his alma mater to an even more impressive season, going unbeaten in the regular season and once again dominating arch-rivals Ohio State. This time it happened in Columbus and the Wolverines won 45-23.

Over the past two seasons, Harbaugh has shown his evolution as a head coach and his program has taken a dramatic turn. UM were big favorites going into their college football playoff semifinals game against TCU last weekend but were upset, and now that NFL teams are paying renewed attention to Harbaugh, 58, his next move will be fascinating to watch be. A return, perhaps to the Denver Broncos or his old team, the Indianapolis Colts, could be very tempting. — Feldman

Harbaugh’s track record

Harbaugh is 44-19-1 as an NFL coach.

He took over the 49ers in 2011 after the organization went eight years without a season and led them to the NFC title game in his debut season. In his sophomore season, he led them to the Super Bowl, where they lost to his brother John’s Baltimore Ravens team. In Year 3, the 49ers made it back to the NFC title game from Harbaugh. His team went 8-8 in his fourth and final season before returning to college to take on Michigan. — Feldman

Why the Broncos would make sense

After hiring three direct, first-time head coaches who haven’t had a winning record in any of their six combined seasons, head coaching experience is almost certainly a requirement in the eyes of Denver’s new ownership group. Harbaugh’s success with the 49ers — a 44-19-1 record and a streak of three consecutive NFC championship games — would certainly appeal to a franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2015.

There is also the Stanford connection. Broncos CEO Greg Penner and his wife, co-owner Carrie Walton Penner, both attended graduate school at the university. Limited shareholder Condoleezza Rice, who is part of Denver’s search committee, also has deep ties to Stanford, where Harbaugh trained from 2007-2010. Rice recently helped Stanford find a replacement for longtime coach David Shaw.

Penner also noted in his media address last month following the firing of Nathaniel Hackett that he was looking for CEO qualities in the team’s next head coach, who will report directly to Penner. That would be a box ticked by Harbaugh, who has spent the last 19 seasons as a head coach at the collegiate or professional levels.

“I’ve worked with a lot of great CEOs, and that starts with really strong leadership,” Penner said Dec. 27. “That will be the most critical factor here with a head coach. Of course, the X’s and O’s are important, but we need a strong leader for this organization that’s focused on winning. That starts with the culture. It instills a sense of responsibility and discipline. We need an identity on offense. In the beginning it has to be about culture and leadership. These are the qualities we will focus on the most.” — Kosmider

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(Photo: Kirby Lee / USA Today)