Will Jim Harbaugh Bolt Michigan for Bears or Colts?

jim-harbaugh-michigan-bears-coltsThe Michigan Wolverines’ season began promisingly, with a 4-0 start and wins over Florida and Air Force. It was beginning to look like coach Jim Harbaugh was turning Michigan back into a storied program.

The Wolverines have since stumbled, though, with losses to Penn State, Michigan State, and Wisconsin. Following a 24-10 loss to the Badgers, they sit at 8-3 going into a rivalry game with Ohio State.

The truth is that Michigan is a good team. Good enough to dominate the likes of Cincinnati, Maryland, Purdue, and Rutgers. But they’re just not on the same par as elite Big Ten teams.

This much was evident from last Saturday’s game against Wisconsin. The Wolverines played well for about 30 minutes, keeping the game locked at 7-7.

But then the Badgers finally started putting points on the board. The Wolverines fell behind 21-10 at one point and never had a chance to catch up from there.

This is just the latest big game that Michigan has failed to win. And it has many wondering if Harbaugh has his eyes on other jobs since things aren’t coming together at Michigan.

Harbaugh’s 4-Year Rule

jim-harbaugh-stanfordLooking back at Harbaugh’s other stints, he stays at a gig for four years before moving on. I doubt this is by design – it’s just his coaching history.

The San Francisco 49ers, Stanford Cardinals, and University of San Diego are all jobs where Harbaugh stayed for four years. He’s now in his third year with the Wolverines, meaning it won’t be a surprise if he leaves soon.

The 53-year-old coach never ended any of his previous jobs with a bad record. Even when he was forced out of the Niners job, his team finished a respectable 8-8. His tenure there only ended because of a contentious relationship with the front office.

But so far, his time at Michigan has been a disappointment due to a lack of defining victories. Wolverine faithful were hoping for the second coming of Bo Schembechler 2.0. But they haven’t gotten Lloyd Carr up to this point.

“This is Michigan football right now,” writes the Detroit Free Press’ Nick Baumgardner. “A team that’s not ready to sit at the big table. A coaching staff that has a lot of questions to answer. A program that’s got a long way to go.”

Will Harbaugh be Fired at Michigan?

Michigan is as passionate about football as any major program. And they expect to be in the conversation for the national championship every year.

Unfortunately, they haven’t been on the national radar since the 2006 season, when Carr guided the program to an 11-2 finish. The aftermath has seen Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke fail to keep the school’s winning tradition.

Harbaugh has been better than his two predecessors, finishing with a 10-3 record in each of his first two seasons. But at 8-3 with Ohio State coming up, the needle isn’t moving in the right direction. If Harbaugh loses to the Buckeyes this Saturday, he’ll be 1-5 against the school’s rivals.

Would Michigan would ever fire their coach if he can’t beat rivals? The answer is likely no, as long as he keeps winning 9-10 games a year.

However, the reality is that Harbaugh is still in demand in NFL circles. It seems more likely that he’ll simply walk to a new job while he’s still a hot commodity than get fired.

Chicago Bears are a Possible Destination

jim-harbaugh-bearsThe Chicago Bears were never expected to do well this season. But they started off as a feel-good story, going 3-4 with a largely untalented roster.

Chicago has since fallen to 3-7 amid a three-game losing streak. And it’s very possible that the team will fire head coach John Fox, who’s 12-30 with the team so far.

If the Bears job opens up, it would definitely tempt Harbaugh, who quarterbacked Chicago throughout the late 1980s and early 90s.

He’d start a rebuilding process with a highly touted young quarterback in Mitchell Trubisky. And the Chicago fan base would likely be patient after several years of losing.

Chicago Tribune columnist Bernie Lincicome wrote about how having Harbaugh as the coach carries more appeal than just potential wins:

“While there is no indication Harbaugh would leave his alma mater for the Bears or any other pro job, his name always appears on any wish list, whether it is a columnist’s or an owner’s.

“That is the benefit, or the curse, of being interesting, something John Fox certainly is not. Nor are most coaches in the NFL. The Bears have not had a conversation piece as coach since Mike Ditka.

“Harbaugh turns the volume up wherever he goes, and the noise around the Bears has been something between a whisper and lullaby.

“Not that it matters, but there is also the real benefit that Harbaugh actually can coach, that he has a way with quarterbacks, having been a half-decent one himself.”

The Colts are Another Possibility

Harbaugh could also find himself going to another former NFL team that he played for in the Indianapolis Colts. This has just as much to do with reuniting Harbaugh and Andrew Luck as it does previous coaching accomplishments.

The two formed a very successful pairing at the University of Standard. And as long as Harbaugh can put up with bungling Colts owner Jim Irsay, everything would be golden if Luck returns from a lingering shoulder injury.

Staying in Michigan?

harbaugh-michiganThe one thing that might prevent Harbaugh from leaving Michigan early is that it’s his alma mater. This, and the fact that he has unfinished business at Ann Arbor are good reasons to stay.

One more important point here is that Jim Harbaugh is football’s highest-paid coach at $9 million. No college or NFL coach is within $1 million of this amount.

However, it’s hard to overlook the fact that he’s still a candidate for multiple NFL jobs. And he may start his 4-year leaving tradition one year early if/when the Bears and Colts come calling. Fox will likely be fired in Chicago, while Indianapolis will probably do the same with coach Chuck Pagano.

These talks will only intensify if Harbaugh loses to the Buckeyes a third straight time. According to our GTBets line, Michigan is an 11.5-point underdog at home. And Ohio State has plenty to play for because they still have an outside shot at the College Football Playoff.

We’ll probably learn far more on this situation within the coming weeks.