New book details Jim Harbaugh’s final weeks with Michigan football

On Jan. 9, 2024, Jim Harbaugh was between a rock and a hard place. His Michigan Wolverines had just won the national championship. Though he was under contract in Ann Arbor, he was a bargain for the athletic department, which was looking to lock him with a long-term deal.

However, multiple other factors were in play. He would be, as he usually was, a hot commodity for NFL vacancies. And the NCAA was continuing to gun for him after the Connor Stalions saga despite his having been suspended for three games by the Big Ten.

Ultimately, Harbaugh departed for the NFL, but fans wonder ‘what if?’

A new book by Armen Ketayian and John Talty on college football called “The Price” is forthcoming. One chapter addresses Harbaugh’s final days in Ann Arbor. CBS Sports obtained an excerpt that detailed how the Harbaugh camp wanted to return but was leery about what the governing body might do given what appeared to be quite a hostile agenda.

In the wake of the Connor Stalions sign-stealing investigation, NCAA enforcement had made yet another sweeping request for Harbaugh’s school-issued and personal cell-phone records dating back eighteen months. In response, Harbaugh’s attorney Tom Mars wrote a stinging email, saying he would need to review 6,199 emails plus texts, and oh by the way, your request is illegal under Michigan employment and privacy laws, “outrageous and offensive and without probable cause.” (And it wasn’t just Harbaugh. The NCAA had demanded similar records from the entire coaching staff only to drop that request.)

In the end, Mars knew Harbaugh would eventually face two Committee on Infractions hearings before what he deemed a hostile crowd and a certain suspension that could cost him half-a-season — or more.

“I will tell you this,” said Mars, “I told [Harbaugh agent] Don Yee and Jim as clearly as I could, more than once, more than twice, that in my opinion if he stayed at Michigan . . . the COI is going to punish Jim under the vicarious coaches’ responsibility legislation, and he’s dealing with a COI that’s clearly manifested bias against him. He’s going to sit out four games, maybe six, and whatever we do the COI is going to find him guilty.”

Michigan ended up offering Harbaugh a contract that would make him the highest-paid college football coach in America, but Harbaugh wasn’t certain that if the aforementioned NCAA tribunal came calling he would have many defenders to save him from the proverbial guillotine, if it came to that.

Harbaugh and his wife went to visit Todd Anson, a friend who also is a friend of the program, and he vented about the uncertain future and his distrust of Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel should the NCAA insist on doing its worst. But he quickly felt the love of the NFL and turned course in a hurry.

During a two-day getaway with his wife Sarah on Coronado Island off the coast of San Diego, Harbaugh unloaded to longtime friend Todd Anson. He told Anson he wanted to remain at Michigan but believed Manuel — no matter his public pronouncements — was not the advocate he needed in his corner, particularly in front of the Board of Regents. He also raged against Big Ten commissioner Tony Petitti, who before the three-game Big Ten suspension had promised to meet Harbaugh in Ann Arbor and brief him on what the conference was doing, only to stand him up. [Through a spokesperson, Petitti declined an interview request.]

The day after his outburst to Anson, Harbaugh had an initial interview with the Los Angeles Chargers. Afterward, his tone had softened. Leaning toward taking the NFL job, if offered, he dialed down the Manuel rhetoric, no longer interested in a potential legal battle and fighting people he later said were “gunning for me.” It suggested in attitude and tone that his days in Ann Arbor were numbered.

Indeed they were.

The Petitti revelation is something. As one of the premier member institutions in the Big Ten, given the hostility between Harbaugh and the commissioner, it makes sense Harbaugh would want some assurances from the conference moving forward. Being stood up added to the uncertainty he faced as he made decisions on his future.

There’s a lot more to read over at CBS and while none of this will satiate Michigan fans who are still upset at his departure, it is an interesting look into what went down in his final days as the Wolverines coach.

Story originally appeared on Wolverines Wire