Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh's three-game suspension is over, but the impact it left behind is not.
Harbaugh will return to the sidelines to lead No. 2 Michigan (3-0) on Saturday against Rutgers (3-0) after missing the entirety of his team's non-conference schedule; three uneventful wins against East Carolina (30-3), UNLV (35-7) and Bowling Green (31-6).
While he intends to never miss another game until retirement, Harbaugh continued to try to "look at the positives," from his suspension. Among them, he said he gained a "new perspective" as he watched first from Sherrone Moore's house, then his own and most recently on a computer in California.
"I went to a place I've never been, which wasn't on the sideline," Harbaugh said Monday. "Seeing the game in a different way, through a different lens, I think it's made me a better coach and as a result going to implement some new things that I haven't done as it relates to a few policies around here to make sure I don't ever get sidelined again.
"Ramping that up to a gold standard."
U-M's head man had to serve a university-mandated suspension because the NCAA continues its investigation into his football program for a series of recruiting-related Level II violations, as well as into Harbaugh himself for a Level I violation, when investigators allege he "misled" them.
Among the reported Level II violations, Michigan coaches were said to have overseen athletes via Zoom during non-sanctioned periods and analysts served beyond their allowed capacities in on-field roles. Without saying it, the latter appeared to be what Harbaugh alluded to as far as policy changes, even though he has yet to get into specifics (he remains adamant he's not allowed to) regarding the NCAA investigation.
"The analysts, and making sure there's absolutely no coaching whatsoever," Harbaugh said about more specific policy changes. "You say that over and over to guys and it's just that natural coaching instinct. You know, they've gotta protect us, I want to protect them, I want to protect me.
"And we've done an incredible job I mean gone to the Nth degree to follow every rule."
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It was early January when U-M's athletic director Warde Manuel confirmed his office had received a 'notice of allegations' from the NCAA. Then, in July, reports first surfaced that Harbaugh and Michigan had sent a negotiated resolution to the NCAA's committee on infractions which would've seen him suspended for the first four games and offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore and tight ends coach Grant Newsome each for Week 1.
One source told the Free Press at the time it appeared "as good as done" but to the surprise of many, the NCAA's deciding body rejected U-M's settlement agreement, which then kicked the proverbial can down the road.
In an act of good faith, Manuel opted to suspend Harbaugh for three games − right or wrong, the NCAA has long preferred universities to self-govern and self-police − however, the investigation continues and is expected to leak into the 2024 offseason.
“While the ongoing NCAA matter continues through the NCAA process, today’s announcement is our way of addressing mistakes that our department has agreed to in an attempt to further that process,” Manuel said when the suspension was announced. “We will continue to support coach Harbaugh, his staff, and our outstanding student-athletes. Per the NCAA’s guidelines, we cannot comment further until the matter is resolved.”
Harbaugh appointed four different coaches to serve with the title of interim in the meantime − defensive coordinator Jesse Minter in Week 1, special teams coordinator Jay Harbaugh and running backs coach Mike Hart each took a half in Week 2 and Sherrone Moore in Week 3 − and all maintained their roles rather easily as the 'guardian of victory'.
Though Harbaugh has been around for all of the practices and game plans except for game days, there was a palpable excitement in Schembechler Hall on Monday, knowing he will lead the team out of the Lloyd Carr Tunnel for the team's Big Ten opener.
Star running back Blake Corum described Harbaugh as particularly "fired up" and said it will "mean something" a little extra this week. Harbaugh tried to get the point across too, as best he could.
"If I seem a little bit distracted it's because I've got so much on my mind," Harbaugh said. "Hopefully we can keep this a little bit short, because there's so much to do."
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Next up: Scarlet Knights
Matchup: No. 2 Michigan (3-0, 0-0 Big Ten) vs. Rutgers (3-0, 0-0), Big Ten opener.
Kickoff: Noon Saturday; Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor.
TV/radio: Big Ten Network; WXYT-FM (97.1), WTKA-AM (1050).
Line: Wolverines by 24½.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan football, Harbaugh change policies to avoid future suspension