Three years into the Jim Harbaugh experience at the University of Michigan, the hype surrounding what I believe to be the greatest rivalry game in college football is a bit dialed down. And perhaps it’s understandable.
Just 37 games into Harbaugh’s regime, Michigan is in a precarious spot. The Wolverines’ final recruiting class under Brady Hoke will be out the door after this year, and not a moment too soon. The team has faded out of the Associated Press Top-25, the natives are restless, and a possible third straight loss to arch-rival Ohio State won’t sit well with anyone rooting for the maize-and-blue. Nick Baumgardner of the Detroit Free Press describes Michigan as “a program that’s got a long way to go,” and cites the coaching staff as one of the reasons why the team is where it is now (i.e. not among the elites).
ESPN’s Dan Murphy attempts to unearth why “Harbaugh-mania” has subsided three years after the prodigal son returned after four-year stints at San Jose State, Stanford, and the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers. In short, the combination of what Murphy describes as middling results (Michigan is 8-3 and enters the weekend fourth in the Big Ten East) and an obsession with newer, shinier things on the college football landscape (Lane Kiffin’s revival at Florida Atlantic, the ongoing pursuit of Chip Kelly’s impending return to the game) have conspired to somewhat dim the spotlight on Harbaugh.
There isn’t a direct tie to the Chicago Bears’ potential pursuit of Harbaugh, but the team’s struggles and the mounting doubt from critics will always lead back to the question of how long he’ll remain in charge of Michigan’s football program. The powers that be aren’t likely to fire Harbaugh, but his name will always be linked to NFL speculation until proven otherwise. We’ve recently discussed Rick Morrissey’s pining for Harbaugh’s return to Chicago as an avenue to discuss the possibility of him being the coach that takes them to the next step, while Bernie Lincicome’s recent trip down memory lane via the Chicago Tribune reveals a city’s longing for their former quarterback to lead the current quarterback into the future.
The vibe is the Bears would (obviously) be interested in bringing Harbaugh on board, but they won’t be the only team interested as there stands to be eight or more openings in the offseason. And while Chicago hasn’t fired its own coach yet, the rumor mill will continue to spin until it is forcibly stopped.