'Bigger fish to fry': Jim Harbaugh has no update on possible Michigan contract extension

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, in his first weekly news conference of the abbreviated Big Ten season, confirmed receiver Nico Collins is not on the team, sort of confirmed Joe Milton is the starting quarterback, and reiterated a lack of concern regarding his contract status.

The Wolverines, ranked No. 18, open the eight-game Big Ten-only season at No. 21 Minnesota on Saturday in a 7:30 p.m. kickoff at TCF Bank Stadium. The teams haven’t met since 2017, Michigan winning, 33-10, to retain the Little Brown Jug. This will be the 97th time the programs have played.

Jim Harbaugh

They will be without Collins, who reportedly signed with an agent and left the team after the Big Ten originally suspended the season on Aug. 11. Collins, who returned to Michigan after the bowl game rather than head to the NFL, is no longer on Michigan’s roster. He has not released a public statement regarding his decision.

“Nico is not participating in football right now,” Harbaugh told reporters on a Zoom videoconference Monday. “I don’t have a crystal ball if his mind would change or not. No, he’s not currently on the team.”

Michigan opens the season with a first-year starter at quarterback, Joe Milton. Because Big Ten teams are undergoing daily COVID-19 testing, Harbaugh was reticent to name a starter, but clearly, Milton is No. 1 with Cade McNamara as backup.

“He’s shown a lot of great things,” Harbaugh said of Milton. “Joe’s been running with the ones. He’s made a lot of strides, getting a lot of reps, as well as Cade McNamara, who has closed all gaps, as well. He’s playing extremely well. Really good command of the offense, showing a real savviness and also a lot of talent.”

More: Angelique S. Chengelis' Big Ten East breakdown

Players must test negative for COVID on Friday to make the trip and negative on Saturday to play.

“Naming any starter at this point, it’s a daily thing right up into game time, so tough for me to say definitely anybody is going to be starting,” Harbaugh said.

Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck told reporters Monday he knows how many of his players will be unavailable for Saturday night’s opener but declined to share specifics. Harbaugh said that as of Monday afternoon, Michigan does not have a player out for COVID reasons.

Meanwhile, Harbaugh’s contract expires after the 2021 season but has not yet been extended. He told reporters in July that he and athletic director Warde Manuel had begun contract negotiations in the winter but the COVID pandemic shelved discussions. Manuel has had to lay off 21 athletic department personnel and a hiring freeze this summer has resulted in 15 unfilled positions.

When asked Monday why his contract extension hasn’t been completed, Harbaugh repeated what he said in July.

“No update since then,” Harbaugh said, referring to his July meeting with reporters. “Just been other fish, bigger fish to fry.”

He was asked about other programs using the lack of a contract extension to negatively recruit against the Wolverines.

“Go Blue,” he replied, smiling.