Michigan football is amid its best run in two generations.

The Wolverines' record over their last 34 games is 31-3. To find a better performance over that same kind of stretch, you have to go back to 1972 through the first week of the '75 season, when Bo Schembechler's Michigan squads put together a 31-2-1 mark.

Over the last two-and-a-half seasons, Michigan has lost just one league game en route to dominating the Big Ten to the tune of two conference championships, with a third seemingly on the way. The Wolverines have also owned Ohio State, winning both matchups by at least two scores, and a third consecutive win over the Buckeyes appears likely. (And if that does come to pass, it'll be the first time U-M takes three straight from OSU since '95-'97.)

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So why is the coach who has presided over the best tear Michigan football has enjoyed in a half-century just the fourth-highest paid in the Big Ten and outside of the top 12 nationally? You can safely bet Jim Harbaugh would like to hear U-M leadership explain that one.

Harbaugh's contract hasn't been altered since right after the 2021 season. He flirted with the NFL almost immediately after U-M lost in the College Football Playoff to Georgia that year, but Michigan took the cue and rewarded him with a five-year extension through 2026 that raised his base salary by $3 million. Harbaugh is earning $8.3 million this season, which puts him behind Ohio State's Ryan Day, Michigan State's now-fired coach Mel Tucker, and Penn State's James Franklin, according to Front Office Sports.

A new deal for Harbaugh has been a topic for a while now. This past offseason featured a second-straight dalliance with the NFL that ultimately ended without an offer. Harbaugh returned to U-M, and the university's president very publicly vouched for him, announcing a new contract was in the works.

That, of course, was peculiar. Athletic directors handle these kinds of personnel matters, not university presidents. But there were rumblings then — that still persist today — that Harbaugh and Michigan AD Warde Manuel are not on the best of terms. You can understand why, at least from Harbaugh's perspective.

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What's the hold-up on U-M's end? Well, there's that pesky matter of an NCAA investigation into Harbaugh for recruiting violations, including a Level I offense for allegedly lying to NCAA investigators. That issue is ongoing, even though U-M self-imposed a three-game suspension for Harbaugh to start the 2023 season — which didn't help mend fences between Harbaugh and Manuel, as you could probably guess. The Powers That Be in Ann Arbor reportedly don't like that their head coach is caught up in that kind of a mess.

We also have to address the elephant in the room: Harbaugh just burns people out. Before taking over at Michigan, he had never held on to a head coaching job for more than four seasons. Now he's in his ninth year with the Wolverines. I've been told by multiple U-M donors and connected types that many in positions of influence can't stand Harbaugh, but the results he's produced the last two-and-a-half seasons have given them enough reason to tolerate him further. And with Michigan currently primed for a national championship run, it's safe to assume those people will continue to hold their noses and bear it.

But there's no question that there's tension between the coach and U-M leadership. Harbaugh made that much clear at his weekly press conference a few days ago when he was asked if he'd be open to a new contract with Michigan.

"Like anybody, you wanna be somewhere where you're wanted," he said. "Where they like what you do and how you do it. They tell you that, your bosses tell you that. And then that gets reflected in a contract."

Harbaugh did say that he feels wanted at U-M, but when asked if he has had any discussions or reassurances about a new deal he further illuminated the disconnect between him and his superiors.

"That's been kind of a three-and-a-half-year thing," he said. "I mean, I can't say that any more clearly — I'm definitely open to that. I think I've shown that through the years."

There are rumors that both sides are trying to hammer out the details of a new deal before the end of the regular season. There are also rumors that Harbaugh would require a lifetime contract to remain at U-M. If that's the case, can Michigan really refuse him? The man is responsible for the greatest stretch of football the school has seen since its most legendary coach was patrolling the sidelines in his prime.

Some believe this is Harbaugh's swan song at his alma mater, that it's a foregone conclusion that he'll return to the NFL in 2024. Proponents of that theory say that, with so many key players who returned this season almost certain to be gone afterward, Harbaugh knows this is his last best chance to win a national title at Michigan. And given his track record as a head coach, the math seems to indicate that it's past time for him to move on.

Can U-M really afford to let that happen, though? The Wolverines wandered the college football desert for seven mostly agonizing years with Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke. You have to believe they won't risk that kind of mediocrity again.

And when you factor in the compounding aspects of next year's Big Ten expansion, plus the increasingly tumultuous landscape of the sport, it just feels like Michigan has to meet Harbaugh's every demand. That would be the case regardless of the outcome of his NCAA situation and no matter how this season ends.

The last time U-M chased out a winning coach it took the better part of a decade to recover. A reprise now, at this critical inflection point in college football, could be even more costly.

Why Ohio State Has No Business Being Favored Over Michigan To Win The Big Ten

Several sportsbooks have given Ohio State better odds to win the Big Ten in 2023 than the team that has systematically and thoroughly eviscerated the Buckeyes over the past two seasons. Either Vegas is all of a sudden in the business of giving away money or the oddsharks know something the rest of us don't.


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