Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel wasn’t caught off guard when the Los Angeles Chargers hired Jim Harbaugh on Wednesday. In fact, Manuel said Harbaugh has always been, “extremely upfront with his communication regarding NFL opportunities.” Harbaugh’s return to the NFL came less than three weeks after he led the Wolverines to the program’s first national title since 1997.
“We had a great conversation tonight when he informed me of this decision to return to the NFL and offered his assistance in helping identify the needs for the program moving forward,” Manuel said.
While it appears there are no hard feelings, Manuel made it clear the university was aggressive in attempting to keep Harbaugh. Michigan was even willing to grant its coach immunity from termination for the two ongoing NCAA investigations into the program, according to 247Sports’ Sam Webb.
“We have been discussing a new contract that would make Jim the highest paid coach in college football,” Manuel said. “In the end, he wanted to explore and ultimately decided to pursue a return to coaching in the NFL. We can’t thank Jim enough for all that he has done for our student-athletes, staff and Michigan Football. He will always be a huge part of our rich history, and will be remembered as an all-time great Wolverine, as both a championship player and coach.”
Harbaugh posted an 86-25 (60-17 Big Ten) record. The former Wolverines quarterback led his alma mater to a 37-3 (26-1) record with three Big Ten titles and three wins over rival Ohio State in the last three seasons. He also leaves behind the two NCAA infractions cases that have yet to be adjudicated and a long legacy of flirting with NFL possibilities — which finally came to fruition Wednesday.
But Warde’s complimentary words and similar praise from Michigan president Santa Ono signal an amicable ending to Harbaugh’s tenure, which will be defined largely by a tumultuous and triumphant final season.
“For the fans, the players, and for me personally, we are sad to hear of Jim’s departure,” Ono said. “His drive and ambition turned our program around, delivered our first national championship in a quarter century and maintained Michigan as the all-time winningest team in the history of college football. I thank Jim for all he has done for the University of Michigan and respect his decision. He has been an extraordinary leader and a friend. I will be cheering for Jim as he embarks on this next adventure.”