ROSEMONT, Ill. — The tree says the apple is in it for the long haul, kids. Jack Harbaugh coached full time until he was 67, give or take that Sun Bowl cameo at the age of 70. For Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel, men’s basketball coach John Beilein is a new water heater. Football coach Jim Harbaugh is a new roof.
Get the last one wrong, brother, everything else goes to hell in a hurry.
“I love my coaches across the board. I love those two guys in particular, but I’m extremely pleased with where we are from a staffing/coaching standpoint,” Manuel said Tuesday afternoon as the Big Ten’s spring AD meetings wrapped up in suburban Chicago. “And Jim and John are two people that I would love to see retire from this institution [when they] retire from coaching.”
If half of that quip worries you some, join the club. Beilein, who, at a reported salary of $3.37 million, is one of the relative bargains in his industry. He’s also 65.
Harbaugh, who turns 55 in December and made $9 million last fall, is neither.
Then again, Manuel wasn’t pitching logic. Oh, no. This was subtext. This was telling NFL teams to back the expletive off (again). This was telling the coach with wandering eyes he’s got a blank check (again). This was another nod to the sugar daddies who are officially on board and another warning shot to the sugar daddies who aren’t.
Michigan is in Paris right now. The Wolverines were in Italy last year.
Jim Harbaugh revealed the donors of Michigan's two European trips today.https://t.co/EgjPefyc56
— Land Of 10 (@landof10) May 2, 2018
After 8-5 in Ann Arbor, you find out who your real friends are.
If Manuel is willing to double down, there are worse hills to die on. Beilein is in the winter of an honorable, commendable career, a fine wine aging well.
Harbaugh, though, who the heck knows?
Can you imagine the man retiring, the khakis in tranquil repose, content to chase the grandkids around? A lifetime commitment could go to 80 or 85, easily, Amos Alonzo Stagg stuff. Jim Harbaugh without football is Harbaugh without oxygen, Harbaugh without fire, Harbaugh without purpose.
If you’re OK with that, great. But ask yourself this:
What’s his incentive?
The incentive to beat Ohio State?
The incentive to keep Little Brother in its place?
The incentive to push for a seat at the table with Alabama, Georgia, Clemson and the Buckeyes?
Harbaugh inherited a program broken and beaten down on multiple levels, not least of which its collective psyche.
He steadied the ship. He calmed the flock. He raised the Q score. He had fun. He brought back the swagger, the passion, the chutzpah, the unapologetic gall.
He named names.
He picked fights.
But ask yourself this, too: What’s his incentive to start winning them?
Not pressure from above, surely.
“I don’t want Jim to go anywhere, either,” Manuel said of Harbaugh, who’s heading into Year 4 of a seven-year deal signed in December 2014. “He’s got four more years, at this point.
“So, Jim also knows how I feel about him. We’ve had great conversations. And I don’t want him to go anywhere, either.”
For Manuel, dangling a lifetime contract dances perilously close to insanity. Or genius. It’s a fine line, the precipice on which a proud program threatens to tip one way or another. Talk is cheap. Leaky roofs, not so much.