Jim Harbaugh is returning to Michigan’s sideline this weekend after completing a three-game suspension related to his program’s sign-stealing scandal.
While he is set to coach the Wolverines in the Big Ten championship game (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app) and possibly the College Football Playoff, it’s also possible that Harbaugh is coaching his final games at his alma mater.
The Michigan coach is once again the focus of rumors that he will possibly make the jump to the NFL.
As FOX Sports NFL insider Jay Glazer recently reported, teams wouldn’t be deterred from hiring Harbaugh amid the sign-stealing scandal. And Joel Klatt thinks that the interest could be reciprocated.
In an appearance on “The Herd,” FOX Sports’ lead college football analyst backed off his prior stance that Harbaugh would be coaching at Michigan in 2024.
“Two weeks ago, I would’ve said, ‘Nope. He’s going to be at Michigan,'” Klatt said of Harbaugh’s potential jump to the NFL. “Now, I’m not as sure. I believe the week of the Maryland game is the real point of demarcation, where the hearing was dropped, and we’re going to go ahead and Jim’s going to serve the three-game suspension. We’re going to fire this linebackers coach (Chris Partridge).
“And even though they didn’t do this, there was some of an almost acknowledgment or admission like, ‘OK, hand in the cookie jar, this is how it’s going to go.’ He doesn’t feel that that’s the case.”
Klatt, who called all three of Michigan’s games during Harbaugh’s recent three-game suspension, said he’s inclined to believe that the coach didn’t have any knowledge of the illegal sign-stealing operation that allegedly took place. He also told Cowherd that, “what’s frustrating him is that the narrative perpetuates” about his alleged involvement in the situation.
Will Jim Harbaugh return to the NFL?
“To his credit, and I can only go by personal experience, but Jim Harbaugh has never lied to me,” Klatt said. “Coaches lie to me all the time. … they do — about availability of players, they’ll talk bad about players. I have a really good sense of guys that I feel like have high integrity and guys that I think will do anything. This is not a knock. That’s just kind of what it is in every industry.
“I can only go with my personal dealings with guys. There are a lot of coaches that have never lied to me, so I trust them. Jim Harbaugh has never lied to me, in any meeting we’ve been in. He has told me, ‘I didn’t know.’ So, what am I supposed [to say]? ‘Well, of course you did!’ Well, he tells me he didn’t. I have no other recourse other than to believe him because of our history together. This is what I do for a living. I cover these guys.”
NFL interest in Jim Harbaugh has not been impacted by sign-stealing scandal
In addition to Klatt, FOX Sports’ Colin Cowherd said he recently heard from someone who’s “connected” to Harbaugh’s situation at Michigan that “there’s a sense that this could be it” for him at Ann Arbor, “especially if they win a [national championship].”
The Athletic’s Dianna Russini also said on Wednesday’s “The Herd” that talks of Harbaugh returning to the NFL have “heated up” over the last week.
“If you remember, [David] Tepper and Harbaugh had conversations last year,” Russini said, tabbing him as a potential candidate for the Panthers’ coaching vacancy. “It obviously didn’t pan out, but this was something they discussed. That’s a name that I’m hearing again. The Chicago Bears are an organization I’ve heard has had some conversations about [hiring Harbaugh] depending on what decisions they make with that coaching staff that they have in place and what they do with that quarterback situation.
“But Jim is certainly a name that’s respected in league circles in the NFL.”
Harbaugh enjoyed a mostly successful four-year stint with the 49ers in only tenure as an NFL head coach from 2011-14, leading the team to three NFC title game appearances and reaching a Super Bowl before departing for Michigan.
But winning a title has eluded Harbaugh so far in his head coaching career at both the college and professional levels. He might have his best shot to do so this season as No. 2 Michigan enters the Big Ten title game undefeated and is the betting favorite to win the national championship.
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