The college football world knew this day would probably come sooner rather than later, but that doesn’t take away from the gut-punch feeling Michigan fans are left with just two weeks after raising the national championship trophy.
Jim Harbaugh is leaving Ann Arbor and making a move to the NFL to become the head coach of the Los Angeles Chargers.
What Harbaugh was able to accomplish during his nine seasons in Ann Arbor was beyond impressive, and ultimately led to him being one of the hottest commodities in this year’s coaching cycle. He helped guide the Wolverines to an 86-25 record since taking over the head coaching role at his alma mater back in 2015, helping restore the winningest program in the sport’s history.
Michigan’s bitter rival, Ohio State, had won eight in a row against the Wolverines before Harbaugh helped snap the streak in 2021, which changed the trajectory of the program.
The Wolverines went on to win three straight games against the Buckeyes, three straight conference championships, and make three straight College Football Playoff appearances, which culminated with a perfect 15-0 record this past season and the program’s first national title since 1997.
“He was able to take players that others didn’t think were that good and turn them into a team that is greater than the sum of its parts,” FOX Sports college football analyst RJ Young said of Harbaugh in the latest episode of his podcast, “The Number One College Football Show.” “He changed the culture at Michigan. It could not have been a better way to end his time there.”
BREAKING: Jim Harbaugh leaving Michigan to become the next head coach of the LA Chargers
Young went on to explain how Michigan did everything in its power to keep Harbaugh, which included offering him a reported 10-year, $125 million contract extension that would have made him one of the highest-paid coaches in college football.
“They understood that [Jim] Harbaugh was the perfect man for Michigan,” Young said. “I don’t know another head coach that could galvanize his program the way that Jim Harbaugh was able to galvanize the Michigan Wolverines, given all that they were able to overcome.”
That included a pair of three-game suspensions this season, the first of which was a self-imposed ban related to illegal recruiting and coaching practices during the COVID-19 dead period. The second suspension, which was for the final three games of the regular season, was handed down by the Big Ten amid an ongoing NCAA invitation into an alleged sign-stealing operation.
“He missed six games due to suspension, and yet this team, led by J.J. McCarthy and Blake Corum, all decided they were just gonna go and win,” Young said. “This team didn’t care about what the media said about them. They were just gonna win.”
So, where do the Wolverines turn now that Harbaugh is taking his talents to the NFL?
“I think you need to try to do as much as you can to keep that culture intact, and 37-year-old Sherrone Moore gives you the best opportunity to do that,” Young said. “That’s the most important thing Warde Manuel can do right now. You need to go ahead and hit the button right now that says, ‘Sherrone Moore will be the next head coach at the University of Michigan.’”
Moore has risen up the coaching ranks since joining Michigan’s staff in 2018. He was hired as a tight ends coach and then his promotion to co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach coincided with the Wolverines’ turnaround on the field in 2021.
Moore filled in as the acting head coach in four of the six games Harbaugh was suspended this season, including the final three regular-season games. He led the Wolverines to a perfect 4-0 mark in those contests, including wins over Big Ten heavyweights Penn State and Ohio State.
With Harbaugh’s decision to leave, Michigan players now have a 30-day window to enter the transfer portal due to a recent exemption introduced by the NCAA. That could incentivize Manuel and the university to act quickly when making the decision on who the program’s next head coach will be.
“When you have these sort of coaching changes this late in the cycle, you are at a disadvantage,” Young said, referencing the amount of players both Alabama and Washington have lost in recent weeks due to Nick Saban’s unexpected retirement and Kalen DeBoer leaving the Huskies to take the Alabama job.
“You have to recruit the guys that are already on campus, and the best way to do that is by elevating the guy that you know they all want to follow and the guy that has proven he can win football games.”
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RJ Young is a national college football writer and analyst for FOX Sports and the host of the podcast “The Number One College Football Show.” Follow him on Twitter at @RJ_Young and subscribe to “The RJ Young Show” on YouTube.
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