The Jim Harbaugh NFL buzz has begun, even if it is a quiet murmur. Yahoo's Pete Thamel kicked off the whispering and eyebrow-raising with a piece exploring the Michigan Man's future. The focus is on the best-laid plans of next year and the potential allure of a greener former pasture. And while that's all interesting, the real intrigue is what happens after next year.
Allow me to move some of these beer cans and papers off the table and offer this scenario for inspection. The Wolverines' post a 5-3 record this year and are crushed by Ohio State for yet again. Harbaugh, who still hasn't been offered a contract extension in his penultimate year (a lot rarer situation than one may think), will have, somehow, some way, failed to do any of the on-field things he was brought to Ann Arbor to do. How could Michigan offer him more time after another colossal shortfall?
Harbaugh is likely to go into his final year essentially coaching for his job. If it doesn't go well, if he can't solve the scarlet-and-red riddle that's perplexed him for over half a decade, then he'll prove to be a false savior. But he'd need to leave with dignity and respect and a handshake. The PR machine would need to be revved up to high.
He would need to be given a parachute and a pat on the back. There's a simple way to provide him with both at the same time.
All that would need to happen is Warde Manuel and other Michigan bigwigs make it abundantly clear behind closed doors to Harbaugh that he won't be coming back. So the time to scratch that ol' NFL itch is now. Tell him it's his swansong and give him a glowing recommendation to professional teams that come calling. And they will.
Harbaugh posts another 9-win season and announces his intent to pursue other opportunities at the bowl game. He's feted and celebrated and always welcome back but off to the Denver Broncos or New York Jets or whatever.
That'd be a win-win-win situation straight out of Michael Scott's leadership self-help book. Harbaugh gets to pursue a Super Bowl and reclaim some of his lost panache. Michigan gets to explore a different plan, perhaps thinking bigger than just winning an introductory press conference this time. And less savvy fans would be none the wiser. Hopefully just happy to be able to attend football games in person again. They wouldn't know it was essentially a firing but with more smiles. They wouldn't care because, hey, have you tried this new IPA?
Now, we're a long way from all that playing out. But consider things going in a different direction than this. What, exactly, does that look like? Great Success that so captivates Borat? An even uglier season with hurt feelings and fractured relationships?
Nah. The other plan, specified above, is the path of least resistance. Which, for this case, may be the best avenue.