College Football & Soccer Analyst
HOUSTON – Jim Harbaugh is sticking to his story. When he said a few days ago that he would “gladly talk about the future next week,” he meant it.
On Tuesday, the morning after Michigan beat Washington, 34-13, to win its first undisputed national championship since 1948, Harbaugh once again avoided any talk about returning to Michigan vs. leaving for the NFL. He was in a calm and reflective mood, running on little sleep after Monday night’s whirlwind.
When Harbaugh was hired to restore his alma mater nearly a decade ago, things didn’t get off to a roaring start. The first six seasons were good, not great. There were losses to Ohio State, there were no Big Ten titles, and fans wondered if he was the right man for this job.
“I don’t know how hard [those years] were, I never really looked at it as hard,” Harbaugh said. “They were joyful days. I wouldn’t have changed a thing. I have a few regrets, but just a few. And just some of the best times. Some of the best times.”
Monday night’s victory at NRG Stadium capped a magical season in which Michigan became the first program ever to win 1,000 games. While the team seemed mired in controversy from the outside – thanks to a sign-stealing scandal that got Harbaugh suspended for three games against Penn State, Maryland and Ohio State – on the inside, they were as close and motivated as ever.
“It’s been a team effort all the way. Nothing fancy. No surprises. Just good old-fashioned, roll-up-your-sleeve hard work and teamwork and it’s been a beautiful thing,” Harbaugh said.
“So often the goal is, you’re chasing perfection, and it’s hard to be perfect. And it rarely comes around. You hope to achieve excellence along the way. But, gosh, it’s perfect. It was a perfect 15-0.”
Looking ahead, though, Harbaugh still refuses to address his future. Will he stay or will he go? In winning a College Football Playoff national championship, he did exactly what he came to do. So what else does he hope to accomplish for the rest of his career?
“It’s either people want to look at the past or look at the future,” Harbaugh said. “Definitely going to just enjoy this. This is one of those moments where it was a great feeling last night. And as good is the one waking up this morning. This wasn’t a dream. That was real. We’re national champs.”
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The only thing he’s focused on is a “happy flight” back to Ann Arbor and having a parade to celebrate his team.
“I think everybody wants a parade,” Harbaugh said. “Talking to the players, ‘What do you guys want?’ What do you want to do to celebrate this?’ Have a parade. Who doesn’t love a parade?”
“Who doesn’t?” chimed running back Blake Corum, who was sitting next to Harbaugh.
He also took another opportunity, hours after hoisting the championship trophy, to advocate for player revenue sharing.
“We’re all robbing the same train,” Harbaugh said, repeating the comments he made at media day over the weekend. “The organizations are fighting hard to keep all the money – the universities, the NCAA, the conferences. And it’s long past time to let the student-athletes share in the ever-increasing revenues.”
Asked if he’d be willing to meet with the NCAA or other stakeholders to fight for the players, Harbaugh quipped, “Yeah, they have my number.”
The Wolverines will relish this massive moment, but soon, a decision will have to be made. There are at least six head coaching jobs available, and Harbaugh has still not signed the reported 10-year, $125 million contract extension he’s been offered by Michigan. His bosses want to keep him in Ann Arbor – athletic director Warde Manuel and university president Santa Ono have said as much.
“There’s a reason they’re so interested in him,” defensive back Will Johnson said. “He’s a great coach. He deserves to be looked at in that light. But I’m not too worried about it. I trust whatever decision he makes is best for him and best for the team, and I’m just trying to enjoy where we are right now and worry about anything like that when the time comes.”
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Until that verdict is reached, Harbaugh will avoid the elephant in the room for as long as possible.
“What an exclamation point our guys put on this season,” Harbaugh said, bringing it all back to his players. “Took on all comers. We were the last ones standing. Feels great to be the champs.
“My dad won a national championship. My brother’s won a Super Bowl. And it’s really cool. I feel like I can hold my head up high now. At least be at their same level, not sit at the kids’ table anymore, get to join the big person’s table. You feel like you’re the only guy. Not anymore. So, yeah, it feels great, too.”
Laken Litman covers college football, college basketball and soccer for FOX Sports. She previously wrote for Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. She is the author of “Strong Like a Woman,” published in spring 2022 to mark the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Follow her on Twitter @LakenLitman.
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