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Weekday mornings on Michigan Radio, Doug Tribou hosts NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to news radio program in the country.

Football with John U. Bacon: Harbaugh stays. Stafford goes. Everyone wins. Maybe?

Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh holds up Big Ten championship trophy and players point to it.
Michigan Photography
Michigan beat Iowa, 42-3, in the Big Ten Football Championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana, on December 4, 2021. Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh had his best season with the Wolverines by beating Ohio State, winning the Big Ten title, and getting into the College Football Playoff.

Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss. Michigan football fans had been waiting to learn if the Wolverines would be looking for a new head coach, but after being considered for a job in the NFL, Jim Harbaugh will be back on the sidelines in Ann Arbor next season.

Michigan Radio sports commentator John U. Bacon talked to Morning Edition host Doug Tribou about Harbaugh's decision to stay with the Wolverines.

Doug Tribou: Jim Harbaugh interviewed with the Minnesota Vikings this week about their head coach opening. But since then, the Vikings decided to hire Los Angeles Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell. They’ll make that official sometime after the Super Bowl. What do we know about why Harbaugh didn’t get the job?

John U. Bacon: Not that much, and we're never going to know the whole thing because those meetings tend to be incredibly confidential. But he certainly wanted the job, and the Vikings seemed to want him. And somewhere in the interview, things kind of fizzled, basically. And it's a bit mystifying also that Harbaugh did not get more attention from the NFL. If he were a head coach today, he'd be the winningest coach by winning percentage in the league, so I don't know why that guy has not got a job in the NFL.

DT: As you mentioned, Harbaugh has coached in the NFL before. He spent four seasons with San Francisco - got to one Super Bowl in those years. Then he came to Michigan. How badly does he want to get back to the NFL?

JUB: Well, obviously he wanted to get back quite badly because after a 12-2 season at Michigan, first win over Ohio State, first Big Ten title, first invitation to the College Football Playoff, he was willing to publicly go after the Vikings job. When he took the job at Michigan seven years ago, he did tell interim Athletic Director Jim Hackett that he'd promise seven years, which is a good amount of time to get things turned around, but he still has "unfinished business in the NFL."

DT: How does Harbaugh’s pursuit of an NFL job affect player recruitment in the short, and longer, term at Michigan?

There's a big hullabaloo about it right now, but it's going to fizzle out pretty quickly because this is by far the simplest solution for Michigan: having Harbaugh come back.
John U. Bacon on how Harbaugh's pursuit of an NFL job affects Michigan football

JUB: Well, there's a big hullabaloo about it right now, but man, it's going to fizzle out pretty quickly because this is by far the simplest solution for Michigan: having Harbaugh come back, even with a public flirtation with the NFL, because you don't have to do a coaching search.

You keep your very, very good staff together, probably the best staff Michigan's had in years. And the recruits, not one recruit so far has said he's going to be leaving. So you've got to probably mend some fences and sew up some relationships. But it'll pass pretty quickly would be my guess. And don't forget, Doug, winning solves a lot of problems.

DT: Yes. Harbaugh just had his best season in the seven years that he's been at U of M, as you mentioned, he achieved a lot of firsts, including beating Ohio State and getting to the College Football Playoff. So, you could say, "Success breeds success and the future's bright." On the other hand, it did take seven years to reach those achievements, and you could say, "Maybe it doesn't get better than that." The only place to go up is winning a national championship. What's your view of the chances that Harbaugh can equal or surpass the accomplishments of last season?

JUB: Great question. And the sadly easy answer, Doug, is nobody knows.

DT: But that's not why we have you here, John! [laughing]

JUB: Because [I'm] the guy who's supposed to know, right? [laughs] I would say that his odds are better going forward than they were the first seven years. In other words, they seem to be poised for sustainability.

I stress the staff. A year ago with a do or die contract, Jim swapped out six of his 10 assistant coaches and it paid off handsomely. And these guys are young. They're in their 30s. But back to your earlier point. My father often said, and it's the title of my first chapter of my latest book, "When you're on the floor, you can't fall out of bed." There's something good about taking over a rotten team, and this is not that.

DT: Let's turn to some other football news. After spending his whole career in New England, Tom Brady left the Patriots last season for Tampa Bay and then won a Super Bowl. Then this season, former Lion Matthew Stafford — in his first year as an L.A. Ram — knocked off Brady and many others in the playoffs. Now Stafford’s in the Super Bowl and the Rams are favored to win. As you like to say, you can’t make this stuff up.

JUB: No you cannot make this stuff up. Tom Brady, at age 44, was older than many of the coaches in the playoffs. Some of his teammates had not been born when he started his career.

DT: Well, and if you're a Lions fan, you have to be a Rams fan in this Super Bowl, don't you?

JUB: I would think so. Of course, some are bitter that he didn't win any playoff games for Detroit. Now he's won of a handful for the L.A. Rams. But man, this guy was at Detroit for nine years with a subpar team. Very subpar coaching. Not once complained publicly. That, to me, is a guy you got to pull for now that he's at his new team and in his first year in the Super Bowl.

By the way, what does that tell you? What are the variables here and what are the constants? I bet you can figure that out.

Editor's note: Some quotes in this story have been edited for length and clarity. You can listen to the full interview near the top of this page.

Doug Tribou joined the Michigan Public staff as the host of Morning Edition in 2016. Doug first moved to Michigan in 2015 when he was awarded a Knight-Wallace journalism fellowship at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
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