The Jim Harbaugh to the NFL rumors are just getting started this January, and once again, there is substance to the reports.
Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper has talked to Harbaugh, the Michigan football head coach, about the team’s head coaching position, according to multiple reputable reports. The Panthers fired coach Matt Rhule – who turned around Temple and then Baylor, before making the jump to the NFL – after a 1-4 start, and have hung in under interim coach Steve Wilks to post a 6-10 record entering Week 18. The Panthers, who were eliminated from the playoffs with a 30-24 loss at Tampa Bay last week, are expected to conduct interviews for the full-time position after Sunday’s regular season finale. Rhule went 11-27 in parts of three seasons.
The Athletic reported Monday, according to multiple sources, Harbaugh is expected to leave Michigan if an NFL franchise offered him a head coach job. His contract buyout is $3 million this year until Jan. 11, when it decreases by $750,000. He was reportedly contacted by the Denver Broncos on Sunday, one day after the Wolverines’ upset loss in the Fiesta Bowl 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 multiple reasons, including their position moving forward in a wide open NFC South.
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Carolina has talent on both sides of the ball, as evidenced by their 37-23 demolishing of the playoff-chasing Detroit Lions on Christmas Eve, and does not have a long-term solution at quarterback. This could appeal to Harbaugh, who played quarterback at Michigan and spent 15 seasons in the NFL, including his last in 2001 in Carolina, though he did not play. A loss Sunday in New Orleans would guarantee the Panthers a top-10 pick in the first round of April’s 2023 NFL draft. Tepper, who took over ownership in 2018, has been aggressive in his short tenure.
Harbaugh, 59, would be one of multiple candidates, because Carolina is required to interview at least two minority candidates in person. He had 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 wore out 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 mark in 2021-22, the best two-year stretch in modern-day Michigan football history. The past two seasons has 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 past six.
Harbaugh last year interviewed with 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 then professed a commitment to trying to win a national title at Michigan. He then signed a new contract for the second straight offseason, and made $10 million this season in salary and bonuses.