It was easy to scoff at initial reports that University of Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh was considering a return to the NFL.
In the natural cause of action, it looked like a well-timed diversion (if obvious) in the wake of a successful season, as a college coach seeks to maximize his value, extract maximum bucks and impact his school.
Not so fast. At this point, Harbaugh’s return to the NFL looks like a fait accompli. He’s been linked to all of the major coaches’ openers coming out of the league this week, and there’s been no public denial that he’s looking to leave Ann Arbor.
In case you needed a quick refresher on Harbaugh’s time in Michigan: He’s back at his alma mater as an all-powerful, former Wolverines player-turned-one of the most successful coaches—in college and pro—of the 2010s; He was famous for going to smelly places and making them instantly cool; He’s already taken the 49ers inside a Super Bowl-winning game; Things worsened over the prospect of rebuilding the Niners; It was in high demand in the NFL; Rejection of interest in favor of returning to for him The school.
For the first two years back in school, Michigan was good but not good enough. Then stink. Then Harbaugh, who was at one time the highest-paid coach in the country, slightly lowered his salary. Then Michigan got really, really good, finally knocking out arch-rivals Ohio State and making it to their first college football playoff game – where they were raced on a boat by eventual champion Georgia.
In the abstract, a coach’s victory over the once indomitable opponent and making it into the post-season would signal the beginning of something. For Harbaugh and Michigan, it appears to be the end.
Harbaugh’s anticipated return to the NFL—whether it’s with the Bears, Raiders, Dolphins, Giants, or any of the open positions with coach interest—is about more than one coach, one college, and one NFL team. It is about a change in the training landscape at the highest level.
There was a time when college coaching jobs were the best in the country. Sure, college coaches will bounce back to the next level to test themselves, playing ego like nothing else – a chance to see if they can. really Coach against the best of the best. But expectations, short tenures, salary caps, and the project mean continued success has been challenging.
Parity was legalized in the NFL; It is equality by design. In college, the rich were always richer. You recruit well. until you win. So you can recruit better. So you earn more. On the coil session. The coaches were willing to stay where they could win victories and champions and amass increasing amounts of strength.
In the NFL, first-round teams are assigned to pick one per year. In Blueblood college programs, they consistently draw two or three future first-round selections annually in high school recruitment, with a combination of second and third-round selections filling the roster. In the old days, once the software was created, the thing could stay on the cruise control for nearly a decade; The season comes down to one or two games at the end.
But times have changed. College-level athletes have been awarded some agency. Now, the playing body has some power. Athletes are now free to move schools, at once, without penalty. They can put their name on the Transfer Portal, to let other schools know they are available and open for business.
It is already a business. The emergence of the Name and Similarity Image (NIL) in all its disorganized glory led to a recruitment arms race. What was once hidden is now public: Players get paid full time to play team football. The mechanics are stupid. Coaches can not explicitly enlistment player based on nothing. The booster must create an LLC and “license” a player image (or entire site groups).
However: the fallout was immediate and the appeal changed. Taking the payments out of the shadows is what has allowed Jackson State, HBCU’s Division II collegiate football, to attract the nation’s #1 overall recruit. Traditional forces continue to mobilize the majority of talent, but the playing field has become democratized. If your school has a wealthy backer willing to hand out dollars to college students, then you’re in the game.
These combined jigsaw pieces have completely changed the structure of the sport. Alabama built a program for the royal family on the premise that it was a “fourth and goal every day.” Now, it’s a free agency every day. The college coach no longer spends any free time he can muster texting teens or traveling across the country to check out the next biggest thing. He’s re-recruiting players who are already in his building.
There is no legislation that can prevent Heisman Cup winner Bryce Young from putting his name in the transfer gate tomorrow. It can offer its services to those who pay the highest price with the click of a button. This may be Alabama, and it may not. The power that the schools and coaches governing those schools had over players, and the NFL’s future prospects and earning power, eroded.
The players’ gain in too little strength loosened the grip of former dictatorial coaches. Every conversation, every decision is a recruiting attempt. Player seat to back him up, he’s gone. Unable to make a zero deal in proportion to the value of your line factor? He’ll see you at the class reunion. There’s a reason Nick Saban suddenly smiles. Talent will go where it is fun And they pay.
It will require a different approach from the coach to move forward, and a different mindset. When asked if he’s ever dreamed of taking on a Miami job, new coach Mario Cristobal, widely considered the best recruiter in the country, replied, “I don’t have time for dreams.” There was no joking in his voice. He was serious. Why take time for things like sleeping when there’s another deal to be struck with a three-star corner player at Boca Raton? While you’re dreaming, Cristobal is “croten”.
Once upon a time, with four-year scholarships and coaches able to block transfer requests from athletes, a college coach could build in the long run. The NFL was the place that demanded instant results. Now, college football has become a place of turmoil. The NFL is where the coach can find some slack.
Sure, since the NFL expanded the playoffs field, 11 teams failed to make the playoffs and 10 of those teams made changes in training (not strictly for stadium reasons). But – ah – guaranteed contracts; specified number of draft snapshots; Salary cap The opportunity to sign a quarterback to a deal means he can’t leave and leave for a bigger offer in eight months.
No coach goes into a job assuming he or she will fail. They think they will succeed. And if you think you’re going to strike — that you can beat your opponents and find the talent needed to win — the NFL now offers an edge over the college game. When you are done with work, you are done with work. Player movement doesn’t really start until the end of the season – and it’s regulated. Those TikTok dances you had to do at age 18? They are out. Do you sleep in a kicker house to fend off your enlisted foes? They’re gone too.
Team building is simplified. There are no backstage dealings with boosters.
There has always been an extreme between college and professional ranks. This is the reason why many college football coaches have been upset with the pros. Outline I was Same thing but nitty-gritty details require different skill sets.
This division is now increasing. Those who can stand the old way of doing things – they The way things are done – He’ll soon start running for the hills now that players have a say. One game requires a new skill set; The other is completely different.
Harbaugh will be the first to leapfrog from the new lifestyle as he has the pedigree to do so. And while college coaches have had rough records when jumping to the pros before, that won’t stop NFL owners from offering big deals to try to lure the next hot candidate away. Now more than ever, they will listen.