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What's next for Jim Harbaugh? Michigan coach faces decision on whether to stay or go back to NFL

HOUSTON (AP) — Michigan's climb back to the summit of college football ended with its 34-13 win over Washington in the College Football Playoff championship game on Monday night.

Next, the Wolverines and their fans wait and see if Jim Harbaugh stays or goes.

Harbaugh, as he did during the lead-up to the championship, deflected all questions about his future an hour after the game and again Tuesday. But decision time is drawing near as NFL franchises begin or consider searching for new coaches.

“I just want to enjoy this. I hope you give me that. Can a guy have that?” Harbaugh said after the game. “Does it always have to be, 'What's next, what's the future?'”

Harbaugh looked into NFL jobs the last two years before deciding to stay at Michigan. It's possible he won't this time, especially with the school facing possible NCAA sanctions for recruiting violations and the sign-stealing scandal that hung over the team all season.

There is also the question of what's left to accomplish at Michigan for the 60-year-old Harbaugh. The "Michigan Man" did what he set out to do when he left the San Francisco 49ers in 2014 to return to Ann Arbor, where his father was an assistant under Bo Schembechler and where he was a star quarterback in the mid-1980s.

Running back Blake Corum pointed out Harbaugh has been a winner at each of his coaching stops.

“So who wouldn't want him?” Corum said. “When things come up like that, hey, you’ve got to do what’s best for you. You have a great coach like that, everybody wants a piece of you.”

Harbaugh took over a proud program humbled under Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke and has gone 89-25 over nine years, six with at least 10 wins. His only losing record came during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.

The last three years mark one of the most dominant periods in the history of the only program to win more than 1,000 games. The Wolverines have gone 40-3, won three straight Big Ten championships, made three consecutive playoff appearances and now are national champions. Harbaugh's father, Jack, and NFL coach brother John watched his moment of triumph inside NRG Stadium.

Harbaugh did divulge one of his future plans after the game. He said he would make good on his promise to get a tattoo saying “15-0” if the Wolverines had a perfect season.

“I’m going to put it on my shoulder — I don’t know if it’s my left or right yet,” he said. “I’m a right-handed quarterback. I’ll probably get it on my right. And then an ‘M’ that’s a maize and blue ‘M.’ Also that signifies a thousand in Roman numerals. Can’t tell you what that means to us, too, that we reached 1,000 wins this year.”

The Wolverines' 28 wins over the last two years are the most over back-to-back seasons in program history.

Michigan has said it wants to retain Harbaugh, but the coach put off contract talks, perhaps a sign he wants to entertain NFL offers.

As great a season as it was, the road to 15-0 was bumpy. Harbaugh served a school-imposed, three-game suspension to start the season for the alleged recruiting violations during the pandemic. He also was suspended for the last three regular-season games for violating the Big Ten sportsmanship policy in connection to the sign-stealing scheme blamed on a staffer who resigned during the season.

Harbaugh said the championship victory was glorious.

“We stood strong and tall because we knew we were innocent,” Harbaugh said. “It went exactly how we wanted it to go. It went exactly how we wanted it to go.”

Michigan fourth-year defensive end Braiden McGregor said Harbaugh is always helpful and happy for players who decide to pursue an NFL career.

“So I think that’s the same way we should feel about him,” McGregor said before the game. “If that is his decision at the end of the day or he does get a job, happy for him, hopefully he can go win a Super Bowl. But if he comes back, happy that he comes back, let’s try to win another natty.”

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AP College Football Writer Ralph D. Russo contributed to this report.

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AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-football