Rumors between Jim Harbaugh and the NFL only began in January, and again, the reports are true.
Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper has spoken to Michigan football head coach Harbaugh about the team’s head coaching job, according to multiple reputable reports. The Panthers fired coach Matt Rhule – who revolved around Temple and then Baylor, before making the jump to the NFL – after a 1-4 start, and hung on under interim coach Steve Wilks for post a 6-10 record at the start of Week 18. The Panthers, who were knocked out of the playoffs with a 30-24 loss at Tampa Bay last week, are expected to conduct interviews for the full-time job after the Sunday’s regular season finale. Rhule went 11-27 in three seasons.
The Athletic reported Monday, according to multiple sources, that Harbaugh would have to leave Michigan if an NFL franchise offered him a head coaching job. His contract buyout is $3 million this year until Jan. 11, when it drops by $750,000. He was reportedly contacted by the Denver Broncos on Sunday, a day after the Wolverines’ upset Fiesta Bowl loss to TCU. The Broncos are 4-12 this season and fired their head coach after 15 games.
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The Panthers’ job looks attractive for several reasons, including their position playing in a wide-open NFC South.
Carolina has talent on both sides of the ball, as evidenced by their 37-23 demolition of the Detroit Lions in the playoffs on Christmas Eve, and lacks a long-term solution at quarterback. That might appeal to Harbaugh, who played quarterback at Michigan and spent 15 seasons in the NFL, including his last in 2001 at Carolina, though he didn’t play. A Sunday loss to New Orleans would guarantee the Panthers a top-10 pick in the first round of the April 2023 NFL Draft. Tepper, who took over ownership in 2018, has been aggressive during his short tenure.
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Harbaugh, 59, would be one of multiple candidates, as Carolina is required to interview at least two minority candidates in person. He enjoyed great success in four seasons as coach of the San Francisco 49ers in 2011-14, going 44-19-1, led by quarterbacks Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick. He exhausted his welcome after a bumpy 8-8 final season and immediately signed with his alma mater.
He is 74-25 at Michigan in eight seasons, including a 25-3 record in 2021-22, the best two-year streak in modern Michigan football history. The past two seasons have yielded two wins over Ohio State, two Big Ten championships, and two appearances — and losses — in the college football playoff semifinals. Michigan is 1-6 in bowl games under Harbaugh, losing the last six.
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Last year, Harbaugh interviewed the Minnesota Vikings, visiting the team for an in-person interview on national signing day in February. The Vikings decided not to offer the head coaching job, and Harbaugh later professed his commitment to trying to win a national title in Michigan. He then signed a new contract for the second straight offseason and earned $10 million that season in salary and bonuses.