Jim Harbaugh tells podcast: 'I don't apologize for exploring' NFL; focus is national title

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Jim Harbaugh said after the 2021 season, which marked the end of his original seven-year contract coaching the Michigan football team, he wondered if it was time to revisit coaching in the NFL.

Harbaugh, 58, took over at Michigan, his alma mater, following four seasons coaching at San Francisco, where he took the team to the Super Bowl in his third season. He lost to the Baltimore Ravens coached by his older brother, John Harbaugh.

Jim Harbaugh said on the "In the Trenches" podcast he "explored" the NFL, but that is focus now is winning a national championship at Michigan.

On Thursday, a day after signing a contract extension with Michigan through 2026, Harbaugh spoke on the “In the Trenches” podcast with host Jon Jansen. They discussed a number of topics, starting with his NFL flirtation, the changes made to his coaching staff, which lost two coordinators coming off the 12-2 season; the quarterback competition heading into spring practice, which begins Monday; and the public spring game on April 2.

Harbaugh told Jansen that at the conclusion of his seventh year at Michigan, he wondered if it was time to go back to the NFL to try to win a Super Bowl. Harbaugh did interview with the Minnesota Vikings on Feb. 2, but was not offered the head-coaching job.

“Yeah, explored it,” Harbaugh told Jansen. “I don’t apologize for exploring it, and I don’t apologize for wanting to come back and be the head football coach at the University of Michigan.

“I guess there’s been a lot of words used of tumultuous offseason or weird offseason or so-much-going-on offseason. If the word tumultuous means we’ve got a lot of momentum and we’re having a blast over here at Schembechler Hall, then that’s what we’re having.”

Harbaugh admitted to some soul-searching during his recent NFL interest.

“Winning football’s ultimate prize the Super Bowl, yeah, that’s great, but let’s go win college football’s most ultimate prize and that’s the national championship,” he said. “That’s what we’re completely focused on and want to do. Our team last year was outside of the top 25 (in the preseason), and we went from 25 to 3 (in the rankings). It may be farther to get from 3 to 1, it may not be. We’re gonna attack that, and that’s the goal.”

Harbaugh recently hired Jesse Minter as defensive coordinator to replace Mike Macdonald, who left after one season to return to the Ravens, this time as defensive coordinator. Minter and Macdonald were on staff together at Baltimore, and Minter spent last season calling the defense at Vanderbilt. Harbaugh did say he talked to former Michigan linebacker Larry Foote for the job, as well. Foote is on staff with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Offensive coordinator Josh Gattis, the Broyles Award winner as the nation’s top assistant last year, left recently to take over as offensive coordinator at Miami (Florida). Harbaugh elevated Matt Weiss, Michigan’s quarterbacks coach, as co-offensive coordinator, joining Sherrone Moore, co-offensive coordinator last season. Moore will continue to coach offensive line.

He addressed several other topics with Jansen. Here are some of the highlights:

On Jesse Minter: “This goes back to when I was hiring Mike Macdonald. Filling that defensive coordinator’s spot a year ago, my brother John said, Mike Macdonald, linebacker coach, Jesse Minter, assistant secondary coach, they’re both great, if I was you I’d pick one. I looked at both, looked at Mike, and that was the direction I ended up going. Jesse went from the Ravens to Vanderbilt. It worked the time before, figured it would work this time. I talked to a lot of great guys along the way. Larry Foote, made a run at Larry, and some other guys, but really happy we have Jesse. What it does do is there’s a real continuity that’s taking place. Same system, they both came out of Baltimore, knowing the same system, running the same system. It’s been a seamless fit so far.”

On whether Gattis’ departure was unexpected: “Yes. didn’t see that coming.”

More: Here are the details of Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh's new contract

On Weiss and Moore being co-offensive coordinators: "We’re gonna split the play-calling duties. Sherrone is gonna be really dedicated still to coaching the offensive line, which is a huge undertaking, but I think he’s very much a gifted coach who will be able to coach the offensive line, game plan the run game along with (running backs coach/run-game coordinator) Mike Hart and (tight ends coach) Grant Newsome. In the pass game, Matt Weiss, myself, (receivers coach) Ron Bellamy, we’ll be game-planning the passing game, and Matt will call it. Both Sherrone Moore and Matt Weiss, even though they’re both gonna be first-year play callers, they both have the demeanor for it.”

On the quarterback competition with Cade McNamara, who started every game last season, and J.J. McCarthy, entering his sophomore season, who also saw significant playing time last year: “We’re gonna play the best players. One will clearly be the starter, it could be the way we did it last year where they’re splitting time, or it could be one more than the other, or one the full way.”

► On a spring game April 2, Harbaugh said one team will be coached by co-defensive coordinator/defensive backs coach Steve Clinkscale, who will be assisted by Weiss, and Moore, who will be assisted by Minter, will coach the other team. There will be a draft, one team will be in all blue, and the other in all maize. "We’ll make it as much like a football game as can be made,” said Harbaugh, who joked he will be the commissioner.

On the late Al Glick, the Jackson-based businessman and major Michigan football donor who recently passed: "He would always find the good in someone or see it from their perspective. That example is going to live with me. I'm gonna really strive to be more like Al Glick in that way, because I have so much respect for him and admired him so much,"

achengelis@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @chengelis