Jim Harbaugh says he's 'committed to Michigan' but analyst sees risks of 'instability'

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

What has made the issue of Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh’s job status even more unique and intriguing is that with just a couple days until the early signing period for the upcoming freshman class, it remains unclear whether he will extend his contract that ends after next season or if he will move on.

These are concerns for incoming recruits who must weigh whether they’re signing with a program or with a coach, and there are some in this class of 21 commitments that are wavering. Five-star quarterback J.J. McCarthy has affirmed his commitment to Michigan, but others like four-star receiver Xavier Worthy, the second-highest rated player in the class, have shown signs of waffling.

Michigan is 2-4 and canceled its last two games because of COVID-19 issues. The Wolverines are practicing now to play at Iowa on Saturday in a crossover game to conclude the abbreviated Big Ten schedule.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh.

But Wednesday is Early Signing Day and that’s a big day for every school across the country. Michigan’s class currently is ranked No. 9 nationally by the 247Sports Composite and could get a boost with the addition of four-star running back Donovan Edwards from nearby West Bloomfield. If Edwards signs with Michigan, he will bump Worthy as the second-highest rated player.

Subscription: Will it be Michigan? Nation's No. 2 RB Donovan Edwards to make 'program' decision

Harbaugh, finishing his sixth season with Michigan, reiterated on Monday that he and athletic director Warde Manuel will meet after the season to discuss his future. This is what Manuel laid out last week, saying they would talk after the game Saturday.

To maintain the recruiting class, Harbaugh reportedly held virtual in-home visits over the weekend. He admitted Monday during his weekly news conference that recruits have expressed concern whether he will remain at Michigan.

“Yeah, that question does come up and I tell 'em, my plan is committed to Michigan,” Harbaugh said Monday during his weekly news conference. “Have been, am and will remain. As far as the (contract), Warde and I will talk at the end of the season on the current contract. That’s the truth. That’s where it stands.”

He was pressed on whether some of the commitments are wavering.

“Been having conversations as we always do,” Harbaugh said. “Very excited to sign their national letter of intent. It’s been a lifelong dream to do that. Excited to sign with Michigan.”

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Tom Luginbill, ESPN recruiting analyst and college football sideline reporter, said the issue for Michigan right now is avoiding decommitments.

“Listen, of course he’s going to say he’s committed,” Lugbinbill said Monday on an ESPN conference call. “The question is, are they committed? And that’s what worries prospects. There’s two things prospects don’t like in recruiting and that’s instability and uncertainty. Right now, you’ve got both of those surrounding the program.”

Luginbill said negative recruiting also plays a role at this stage because of the uncertainty of Harbaugh’s job status at Michigan.

“The class itself, I think it’s a pretty strong class, particularly the top half of it,” Luginbill said. “The bottom half of it I think is good but not championship-level good. I think the bottom half should be more like the bottom third, but that’s not the case, and I think a lot of that may have to do with the performance on the field.

“The one thing Coach Harbaugh is gonna say and should say and will continue to address is not going to stop what happens in this vicious cycle, and that’s negative recruiting. If there’s guys out there other programs are trying to flip, there’s guys out there that are still on the market Michigan would like to have, that’s what the ploy is gonna be on behalf of other programs. You’re not going to be able to address that until there is something publicly stating that, No. 1, Jim Harbaugh is gonna still be the head coach at Michigan and more importantly, for more than just the next year. That’s really, really important in this cycle.”

Last week, Manuel was asked if there is an urgency to get this contract situation settled, in part because of negative recruiting.

“You know what’s not unique in college athletics? Negative recruiting,” Manuel said. “That’s not unique. Negative recruiting occurs all the time. All the time. And so I’ll let it go at that.”


Twitter: @chengelis