Ann Arbor buzzes over Harbaugh’s arrival

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Hanging along the wall of a fine men’s clothing store on State Street is a rack of maize and blue ties — minus three that reportedly were bought last week by a friend of the University of Michigan’s new football coach.

Nick Margolis, a sales associate at Van Boven, doesn’t know all the details, but said he understands one of the ties could be worn Tuesday by Jim Harbaugh when he is introduced on campus as UM’s next football coach.

“Signs are pointing in a good direction,” said Margolis, a UM undergrad. “I’m excited to see what happens.”

Though most students are gone from the campus for winter break, Ann Arbor was buzzing Monday about Harbaugh — ex-coach of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers, UM alum, former Wolverine football player and one of the most sought-after coaches in the nation. He will replace fired UM head coach Brady Hoke, who was given his walking papers after a disastrous 5-7 season.

“I am really looking forward to him turning the program around here,” said Sarah Kucemba, a UM alum, football fan and program coordinator for UM’s Center for Educational Outreach. “There’s been a dark cloud hanging over the city for some time.”

Harbaugh could not only reinvigorate the football program, but fill Michigan Stadium again, recruit some of the best players in the nation and return a positive national spotlight to UM, said Clyde Parrish, an Ann Arbor native and lifelong Wolverine fan.

“Ann Arbor could use that right now,” Parrish said. “UM deserves to have that attention again.”

At the Big House, where games had been sold out for years, attendance dipped this year as students and other fans rebelled against higher ticket costs and mounting defeats.

Chelsey Arnett, who graduated from UM in 2013 and works at the university as a nurse, is thrilled Harbaugh has been hired and said she may even buy season tickets next year.

“Right now, we have someone who knows Michigan football, has been a part of Michigan football and can lead Michigan down the right path,” said Arnett, 23.

Michael Proppe, a graduate accounting student, said many on campus are excited about the hire.

“This is really the home run hire that everybody has wanted for five years now,” he said. “This is really great news for the football program. This restores instant credibility to the program.”

Proppe has been a student season ticket holder for five years. He graduates in May, but plans to continue to get tickets next year.

Harbaugh’s presence will come with a steep price: a reported $8 million per year for six years, making him the highest-paid coach in college football and on par with the highest-paid coaches in the National Football League, according to David Berri, a professor of economics at Southern Utah University.

Nick Saban, head coach of the University of Alabama, is the top-paid college football coach, earning nearly $7.2 million a year, with Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio second-highest at $5.6 million, USA Today reported last month. Meanwhile, New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton and Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll both earn $8 million a year, according to

Harbaugh’s salary would be more than three times the $2.3 million in salary and bonuses Hoke earned this year. UM’s deal with him comes as the school is in the midst of a $4 billion fundraising campaign, Victors for Michigan. As of Nov. 30, the school had received gifts and pledges to the campaign totaling $2.49 billion, UM said in a statement.

Berri said it is odd a public university would invest so much in a coach, but UM is able to pay its coach that amount since it doesn’t pay the players, unlike NFL teams. Harbaugh could have a positive impact on UM’s bottom line — at least in athletics — by recruiting better players and coaching them to more wins.

“That can lead to more donations to the school, though studies show those donations tend to be biased toward the athletic department,” said Berri, a Detroit native. “It likely won’t help the rest of the university all that much. ... To me, this is not really what the university’s mission is about. We only see professional athletic programs in North America. (UM) could be investing their money elsewhere.”

Proppe said the money Harbaugh is expected to make is “worth every penny if he comes in and wins.”

“The school is going to get a great return on investment if he can come and turn this program around,” he said.

Proppe thinks that interest in the university will increase, such as student applications.

While some students and alumni paused at Harbaugh’s potential salary, others suggested he would be worth it.

“Jim is the one coach that can unite the Blue Nation, entice the nation’s best recruits and make us instant winners,” attorney and UM alum Michael Hammer said. “If you’re going to successfully hire the most sought-after coach in all of football and pull him from the clutches of the NFL in the prime of his career, you have to have to take compensation out of the equation and pay the price.

“The compensation we pay for him will more than pay for itself in terms of bowl, club, and suite ticket and merchandise demand, donations and goodwill for the university,” he said. “The difference between paying him $4-5 million and $8 million is immaterial in the big picture.”

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Detroit News Staff Writer Candice Williams contributed.