Even as Jim Harbaugh meets with NFL teams about coaching opportunities, specifically the Los Angeles Chargers early this week, he remains engaged in discussions with Michigan about a contract extension that includes unusual termination clauses should he choose to stay in Ann Arbor, according to industry sources.
Specifically, sources said Harbaugh is seeking language that would grant him immunity from termination from any finding or sanction that could arise from multiple current NCAA investigations into the football program.
Harbaugh is also seeking a delay in the start date of the new contract to maintain a lower buyout that NFL teams would have to pay Michigan to hire him away. The buyout in his current contract dropped from $2.25 million to $1.5 million on Jan. 11. Michigan is seeking that to increase to about $4 million in a new deal. Harbaugh has sought to have the new deal not start until Feb. 15, thus maintaining the lower and more favorable buyout number until after the NFL hiring cycle has concluded.
Harbaugh is seeking a matrix of fines be spelled out if there are any future NCAA violations as well as prohibiting the school’s athletic director from firing him “for cause” and instead having that decision, should it ever arise, rest in a three-member arbitration panel, sources said.
Harbaugh led Michigan to a 15-0, national championship season just over a week ago. He is a hot coaching commodity in the NFL, where he spent 14 seasons as a player and four as a coach (2011-14), leading San Francisco to a 44-19-1 record and a Super Bowl appearance.
Michigan has already offered to make Harbaugh the highest-paid coach in college football via a guaranteed six-year deal worth $11.5 million annually. There would be additional performance-based bonuses.
While the financial terms between the coach and the school are either fully or mostly ironed out, the termination language remains a sticking point.
Harbaugh and the football program are currently the subject of multiple NCAA infractions cases.
In December, the NCAA charged Harbaugh with a Level I violation for allegedly being less than forthcoming with investigators when questioned about a series of Level II violations incurred in 2020 and 2021. Additionally, the NCAA continues to investigate allegations of advanced scouting for the purpose of sign stealing that involves former staffer Connor Stalions.
Harbaugh served a school-issued three-game suspension to start the 2023 season for the first case. Meanwhile, the Big Ten suspended Harbaugh for the final three games of the regular season for the latter. More sanctions and suspensions are possible in both situations from the NCAA.
Harbaugh has sought to have his contract grant him immunity from termination for any violation stemming from those cases. It additionally spells out any penalty he might face should the NCAA rule him responsible in any future case. That would include specific fine amounts for any Level I or Level II violation.
He is also seeking to have any decision involving “for cause” termination — whether for NCAA violations or anything else — determined by a three-member arbitration panel, rather than the school’s athletic director, a role currently held by Warde Manuel. Traditionally, for-cause termination of a coach would be determined by his direct supervisor. The athletic director would still be able to fire him for performance-related issues.
The arbitration panel is a system used by the university's president. It is common in university executive contracts, but not with coaches, according to numerous college administrators.
Harbaugh, 60, has spent nine years at his alma mater. Michigan has gone 86-25 during that stretch, including 40-3 the past three seasons, when it won three Big Ten titles and made three College Football Playoff appearances. It defeated Washington last week for the school’s first national title since 1997.
The Chargers stated that they interviewed Harbaugh for their head-coaching position on Monday. Talks might continue into Tuesday, per industry sources. Seven NFL jobs are currently open, with speculation about potential openings still coming in Dallas and Philadelphia.