The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

As Jim Harbaugh meets with Michigan, Ann Arbor gets ready to lose its mind

Jim Harbaugh spoke with reporters for the final time as coach of the 49ers. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP)
Placeholder while article actions load

Sometime quite soon, Jim Harbaugh is likely to agree to become the highest-paid coach in college football, taking the head coaching job at Michigan.

Harbaugh’s job as coach of the San Francisco 49ers is no longer an impediment, with the team and coach mutually agreeing to part ways Sunday afternoon. By Sunday evening, Michigan officials were standing by to speak with Harbaugh. Although there was no immediate agreement that would send Harbaugh to his alma mater, he reportedly has been offered $48 million over six years to take the job. If all goes as planned, Harbaugh would return to Michigan with school officials and would be introduced at a press conference Tuesday and at the late afternoon basketball game against Illinois.

On Sunday, Harbaugh did not deny the rumors that he was heading to Michigan. “There will be announcements made concerning those things,” he told reporters before his departure from the 49ers had been announced.

For Michigan, hiring Harbaugh would be a throwback to the era of Bo Schembechler. He was a three-year starter for the Wolverines and, in 1985, led the team to a 10-1-1 record and a victory over Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl for a No. 2 national ranking. For Harbaugh, aside from the money, the upside is the chance to return to a place where he is beloved. It looks,’s Nick Baumgardner writes, “like magic on paper.”

This is a seismic move for just about everyone involved. For Michigan. For the Big Ten. For college football, as the sport is close to welcoming back one of the game’s finest coaches. It’s also seismic because, in reality, almost no one does this.
Harbaugh’s leaving the NFL after a wildly successful four-year run in San Francisco to help fix his alma mater. It’s not normal. But then again, neither is Harbaugh.
“He’s a rare bird,” the coach’s longtime friend Willie Taggart told me recently. “There’s only one Jim Harbaugh.”

For 49ers owner Jed York and General Manager Trent Baalke, that became one too many. At Michigan, there would be no question who is in charge and the palace intrigue that doomed him, in spite of a stellar record, in San Francisco should be minimized. By Sunday night, excitement in Ann Arbor was building, with ticket prices for the Illinois game soaring. By Sunday afternoon, Harbaughmania was already setting in, with reporting that the cheapest ticket available on StubHub checks were going for $124.89 for a sideline seat in the upper level. Lower level seats start at over $290. (Tickets for the next home game Jan. 10 against Minnesota start at $35.)

As of Sunday night, the Oakland Raiders were expected to make another run at Harbaugh, with no Michigan agreement formalized by that point. Sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter that Michigan officials believe they would be taking Harbaugh and his wife to Ann Arbor with them on Monday. Harbaugh has also begun calling coaches to assess their interest in joining his staff in Michigan, ESPN’s John Clayton reported.