Michigan’s sign-stealing scandal got at least a little closure on Thursday when head coach Jim Harbaugh accepted a three-game suspension – despite denying any knowledge about Connor Stalions’ elaborate, clandestine operation.
The settlement was announced in a statement from the university:
“This morning, the University, Coach Harbaugh, and the Big Ten resolved their pending litigation. The Conference agreed to close its investigation, and the University and Coach Harbaugh agreed to accept the three-game suspension.
Coach Harbaugh, with the University’s support, decided to accept this sanction to return the focus to our student-athletes and their performance on the field. The Conference has confirmed that it is not aware of any information suggesting Coach Harbaugh’s involvement in the allegations. The University continues to cooperate fully with the NCAA’s investigation.”
So yeah, Harbaugh’s absence from the Wolverines’ win at Penn State — after which interim boss Sherrone Moore got emotional— counted as part of the three-game ban. Thus, he’ll only miss a matchup with Maryland and “THE GAME” against Ohio State.
Assuming Michigan runs the table and pummels the Buckeyes for the third year in a row, Harbaugh will be back as a heavy favorite in the Big Ten Championship Game. Whether it’s Iowa or someone else from the conference’s West division, that’ll be a mere formality of a precursor to the College Football Playoff.
Not to downplay Ohio State. It’s just that this looks like easily the best team Harbaugh has had in Ann Arbor. Plus, quarterback JJ McCarthy has another full season of development, and gives the Wolverines an advantage at the most important position on the field over his Buckeye counterpart Kyle McCord.
McCarthy and his teammates have rallied around Harbaugh’s absence all season long. Frankly, this sign-stealing story has gotten a little tiresome. The QB got to clap back at some of the criticism following a TD last week:
So we have all this drama, right? When really, the bottom line is, Harbaugh has created such a juggernaut for 2023 that it shouldn’t make a ton of difference whether or not he’s on the sideline for a couple more games.
Evidently, this team has figured out a way to operate without him, between the win over the Nittany Lions and the first few contests Harbaugh missed to begin the season due to a separate suspension for recruiting infractions.
“Harbaugh is among those expected to receive consideration in the next hiring cycle, according to a league source who has been briefed on discussions high-ranking NFL officials have had about potential head coach candidates.
And two other league sources who regularly talk with teams about hiring and firing decisions said at least two teams — the Chicago Bears and Las Vegas Raiders — are believed to be among those that would appeal to Harbaugh.”
It’d be awesome if Antonio Pierce parlays his interim spot into Las Vegas’ full-time coaching gig. I just don’t know if Mark Davis could resist landing a big name like Harbaugh, who has literally been a raging success everywhere he’s been, college or pro.
Whether Harbaugh would wind up with the Raiders or Bears, there’s also the possibility of a package deal. Depending on how the pre-draft process shakes out and how each team finishes the season, Las Vegas or Chicago could be in range to draft McCarthy in the first round. Another fascinating layer to ponder.
I just wonder if Harbaugh would want to leave his alma mater amid so much chaos. Part of him might have pride enough to stick around and see through a clean, suspension-free 2024 season.
Much likely depends on whether Michigan wins the natty this time around. Failing to do so would leave Harbaugh with some unfinished business in Ann Arbor. If he delivers a national championship, though, I’d think it makes bolting to the NFL a lot easier.
Give me more Harbaugh in the NFL, please. I need it.