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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.

John U. Bacon: Lions reach a 'generational' moment; Harbaugh's future at Michigan still unclear

Detroit Lions fans cheer during pregame of an NFL wild-card playoff football game against the Los Angeles Rams, Sunday, Jan. 14, 2024, in Detroit. The Lions will seek their second playoff win on Sunday afternoon at Ford Field against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Duane Burleson
Detroit fans cheered on the Lions in their playoff game against the Los Angeles Rams at Ford Field on Jan. 14. They were rewarded with Detroit's first playoff win in more than 30 years. Up next, the Lions will host Tampa Bay Sunday afternoon at Ford Field.

Winning a playoff game is fun, so the Detroit Lions will try to do it again Sunday when they host Tampa Bay at Ford Field.

Winning a college football national championship is also fun. Less fun is waiting to find out whether your head coach will be back next season. That’s happening at the University of Michigan at the moment.

Michigan Public sports commentator John U. Bacon joined Morning Edition host Doug Tribou to talk about the Lions' chances and whether Harbaugh will stay or go.

NFL Playoffs Divisional Round: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Detroit Lions - Sunday, 3:00 p.m.

Doug Tribou: We haven’t talked since the Lions won their first playoff game in more than 30 years when they beat the Rams last weekend. You grew up in Southeast Michigan. What have you heard from people about the feeling of finally seeing the Lions win a big one?

John U. Bacon: Epic. Mind blowing. People talking about their elderly parents and grandparents who didn't get a chance to see it. This is generational stuff.

DT: One view of the Lions’ win is that they hung tough in a tough game and closed it out when they needed to. Another view would be they almost lost after stalling on offense. Detroit scored 21 in the first half, but managed just 3 points in the second half. What problems did you see in that second half?

"This is this is generational stuff."
John U. Bacon on the Detroit Lions' historic playoff win against the L.A. Rams

JUB: Obviously (Jared) Goff, the Lions quarterback, could have had a better second half. But give Matt Stafford, the Detroit Lions previous quarterback, some credit. [L.A. is] good. They're supposed to be good. They'd won five of the last six games and they started playing like it.

So, both views are true. But only one view matters, Doug. And that is this: the Lions won a playoff game. Say that again.

DT: (Laughs) Up next for the Lions are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This season, quarterback Baker Mayfield — best known for his time with the Browns — took on the challenging position of ‘guy who’s replacing Tom Brady’ in Tampa. And he’s done pretty well, more than 4000 yards passing, 28 touchdowns, and the Bucs just beat Philadelphia in the playoffs last weekend. How do you like the Lions’ chances against them?

JUB: I can't believe I'm saying this, also. Their chances for winning a second straight playoff game are good. They're favored by almost a touchdown in this game. And also, as a fun aside, Peter King, the [former] veteran Sports Illustrated football writer, already put the Ford Field atmosphere in top five of all time. Bring your earplugs. The fans are truly going nuts.

DT: The University of Michigan football team may have won a national title, but now the real postseason has begun in Ann Arbor, with the annual "will Jim Harbaugh stay or go” sweepstakes. Harbaugh and U of M have been reportedly negotiating the terms of a new deal for quite a while now. What are your sources telling you about the contact talks?

JUB: Currently stalled. The money is going to be great. He's going to be making about $12 million a year, whether it's the NFL or Michigan. But the problem is the terms. Harbaugh wants guarantees that his direct supervisor, Warde Manuel, is not the guy who determines his fate, but a panel of three will determine whether or not the clauses in the contract for for-cause firing have been triggered.

So that's the problem. There is a dysfunctional relationship between [Athletic Director] Warde Manuel, and Jim Harbaugh. There's no trust there, which is a problem, obviously. The flip side is Harbaugh has always had an NFL itch, and it's hard to know how to weigh which one is more dominant here, the distrust with Warde Manuel or the desire to go to the NFL.

And it may well be his desire to go to the NFL is overpowering anyway. He's done all he can in college football. He has not won a Super Bowl and his brother has. And in the Harbaugh family, that matters.

"He's done all he can in college football. He has not won a Super Bowl and his brother has. And in the Harbaugh family, that matters."
John U. Bacon on whether Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh will leave to coach in the NFL

DT: Well, after he won the national title, he talked about being able to sit at the adult table now with his father and brother because his father won a football national title in what used to be the 1-AA division. And his brother, as you mentioned, won the Super Bowl.

Jim Harbaugh has interviewed with the L.A. Chargers and the Atlanta Falcons for their head coaching jobs. And John, it does seem to point to this desire to have another shot at the chance to win a Super Bowl, sort of the ultimate pro football to-do list item for a head coach.

JUB: Well, exactly right. And look, the joke about sitting at the big boy table at Thanksgiving with all the championship coaches, his dad and his brother, might be a joke to us. I guarantee it's not a joke to Jim. That's how he thinks. And that's a big itch to scratch right there. The Chargers seem to be very serious. The Atlanta Falcons, I'm not so sure. But this is a very, very serious back and forth. And this this is why, Doug, Michigan can't have nice things. So there we go. (Laughs)

DT: (Laughs) John, let’s close with a bit of basketball. A lot of players have scored a lot of points for Michigan State coach Tom Izzo in his long career. Why are three points at the end of a pretty easy win getting so much attention this week in East Lansing?

JUB: And they should. It's because it's his son. Steve Izzo has been a walk-on on the team since 2019. It makes him about an eight-year senior. (Laughs) He only averaged about two points a game in high school at Lansing Catholic Central. But he's cheered everybody on, his entire career. The guys in the team love him, of course.

With a few seconds left in the game, he made a great move on a guy — totally legit — made a great move on a big player. A cross dribble, comes on in, throws it up there. It bounces on the rim, the backboard, goes back in and everyone goes nuts. The guys on the team are going crazier than Izzo was.

And then at the end of the game, you see Izzo bring his son over and just hold him and just try not to bawl. I was about to bawl outlandishly at that point. Man, I've seen that thing ten times, Doug. If you don't care at all about basketball, but you understand relationships, plug that one in. Steve Izzo. Trust me, you'll thank me later.

DT: Two crazy ovations there as well. One after the basket and he gets fouled and then gets another standing ovation at the Breslin Center. Really, quite a moment John. Thanks a lot. Have a good weekend.

JUB: Doug, thank you.

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

The University of Michigan holds MichiganPublic's broadcast license.

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.
John U. Bacon has worked nearly three decades as a writer, a public speaker, and a college instructor, winning awards for all three.
Caoilinn Goss is the producer for Morning Edition. She started at Michigan Public during the summer of 2023.
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