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Michigan’s obsession with Jim Harbaugh unhealthy for future of program

In an offseason of change at three of the biggest programs in the Big Ten, the worst kept secret of the three is Michigan’s pursuit of favorite son Jim Harbaugh. After a weekend full of reporting and speculation, one thing has become clear for those in Schembechler Hall — it’s Jim Harbaugh or bust for the Maize ‘N Blue.

Whether or not Harbaugh continues his coaching career in the NFL or at Michigan isn’t necessarily the issue. What is at issue, is the fact that in Michigan’s obsession to get the biggest name possible they’ve also sold the farm to do it.

Michigan has reportedly put out a six-year offer that would pay Harbaugh over $8 million a year. That’s more than Nick Saban is making and more than Harbaugh is making as an NFL head coach.

All that for a coach who has never won a championship at the FBS or NFL level. He’s gotten both Stanford and the San Francisco 49ers oh so close, with Stanford finishing second in his last year at the helm of the Cardinal and the 49ers losing a Super Bowl as well.

It’s the same scenario that Michigan had when hiring Brady Hoke, the only difference is Harbaugh has done it on a grander scale. Michigan fired Hoke because he wasn’t competing for and winning championships. Harbaugh hasn’t exactly proven he can do that at the highest level either.

However, Harbaugh took lowly University of San Diego and turned it in to a Pioneer League champion in back-to-back seasons before taking over at Stanford.

Given that track record and Michigan’s lackluster record since Lloyd Carr left it’s easy to see why the Wolverines would be hard after Harbaugh. He’s a winner, understands what Michigan football is all about and he’s a big name that recruits will want to pay for.

Just how obsessed with Harbaugh is Michigan though? On Tuesday morning it took to twitter to wish Harbaugh a Happy Birthday.

If that doesn’t remind you of the guy who’s obsessed over a girl in high school, I don’t know what will. However, it also underscores the dangers of putting all the eggs in the Harbaugh basket.

There are more questions than answers at this point, even if Harbaugh does take the job, and that’s the main problem with the obsession U-M has with its main target.

What happens to Michigan if Harbaugh gets an offer he can’t refuse from the NFL? What about his ability to wear a relationship thin with his superiors?

After all, we’re talking about a guy who left Stanford with a less-than-stellar relationship with his athletic director and proceeded to fire staff at Stanford despite the best season it had had together. It’s also no secret that his relationship with 49ers brass has eroded to the point where they are ready to part ways. All of that despite this being the first down year after three years of at least making it to the NFC Championship game in San Francisco (or Santa Clara these days).

By making this move, Michigan is telling us it is just a head coach away from being a top contender in the Big Ten and nationally. If it gets burned by missing out on Harbaugh this time around or having Harbaugh bolt back to the NFL, the risk to the future of this program as a nationally relevant one is huge.

Michigan is putting a ton of faith in the hope that Harbaugh won’t burn them, and if he doesn’t this could be a stroke of genius for the Maize ‘N Blue.

Sure, the Wolverines are doing rounds of interviews with secondary candidates and doing due diligence, but it’s hard to see how the “second choice” candidate is a long-terms solution at Michigan.

Can you imagine the pressure on that coach if things don’t go exactly as planned in year one?

There’s also the factor of hiring that “second choice” candidate and then an athletic director behind him.

Without Harbaugh being the hire, anyone else coming in to the head coaching position is likely to be on tenuous footing at best. No AD likes to come in with someone else’s hire in there when they’ve got their own idea on what a head coach should be.

That could put Michigan right back where it stands today, and that’s not what interim AD Jim Hackett or anyone else associated with the program wants.

So for the sake of the Michigan program’s future the Wolverines better be sure it gets its man in Jim Harbaugh and that that man sticks around for more than a few years.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball


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