Edson: Is Harbaugh Worth His $9 Million Salary?

Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh is a lightning rod for controversy.

This time, it’s nothing he did. Instead, it’s something he didn’t do.

By the end of his third season as coach, Wolverine fans figured that Harbaugh would have their team in the thick of national championship contention.

After all, Harbaugh is being paid $9 million a year to bring the glory years back to the Maize and Blue. In contrast, Ohio State’s Urban Meyer and Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio make a combined $10.5 million.

Harbaugh has gone 1-5 against the Buckeyes and Spartans in those three years. And Michigan has not finished higher than third in the Big Ten East.

So while most Wolverine fans are still behind their head coach, some of them are starting to wonder if he is worth the huge price and how long he will stay with the Wolverines.

My answer? Give Harbaugh until the end of his fifth season to get things turned around.

Let’s face it, Harbaugh inherited a mess. It’s like a race car driver being handed a Pinto and asked to win the Indianapolis 500. He had a lot of major upgrades to make in the program.

He started with the defense. He hired Don Brown as his defensive coordinator and the results have been spectacular. The Wolverines have had one of the top defenses in the nation the last two years and he had three sensational sophomores this past season in Devin Bush, Rashan Gary and Khaleke Hudson.

The problem, as any Wolverine fan will tell you, is a woeful offense. That problem starts at quarterback, which is ironic since Harbaugh was a star quarterback at Michigan and finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting after his senior season.

Maybe Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson will be the answer. But that won’t help the young receiving corps who ran poor routes and dropped too many passes. Somehow, I think Harbaugh will begin to get his offense up to par with his defense.

The problem Michigan runs into next year is a brutal schedule, starting with a road game at Notre Dame. The Wolverines also are on the road at Michigan State and Ohio State.

But when you pay a coach $9 million a season, he is expected to win no matter what the obstacles are.

So give Harbaugh next year to get things in working order. Then expect big things in Year Five.

If that doesn’t happen, Michigan fans won’t have to worry about trying to get rid of Jim Harbaugh. He will leave for greener pastures.

But given his track record, I don’t expect that to happen. I look for the Wolverines to start on the road back to Big Ten and national title contention next season.

Nick Edson is a retired Hall of Fame columnist and sportswriter. He worked 25 years at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, 18 as sports editor. He is a two-time president of the Associated Press Sports Editors Association and a member of the Michigan Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame.