Skip to main content

Inside Slant: Michigan's offer to Jim Harbaugh a sign of the times

The University of Michigan is prepared to do more than merely pay San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh $48 million over six years to revive the Wolverines' struggling program.

With that very deal, it's prepared to:

1) Make him the highest-paid coach in the college game;

2) Match his salary with that of the NFL's highest-paid coaches;

And 3) Blow a lot more air into the college football's ever-expanding money balloon.

And why not? It shows no signs of popping.

Not with the inaugural College Football Playoff expected to pile up over $300 million in revenue. Not with the Power Five conferences each lapping up a $50 million slice of that pie. And certainly not without the maize and blue opening its wallet for a "Michigan Man" to build a winner.

Make no mistake, the offer reported by NFL Media's Ian Rapoport Wednesday would represent a seismic shift in the market for college football coaching salaries, and in a marketplace that has gotten all too used to seismic shifts. It was only eight years ago that Alabama made Nick Saban college football's highest-paid coach with half the money ($4 million per year) that Michigan is dangling today. The Crimson Tide's return on that investment has been impressive enough, both in football revenues and in the form of three national championships, to keep Saban at the top of the salary list with frequent contract extensions that now pay him above the $7 million mark. Not to mention buying out the mortgage on his $3 million home.

To Alabama, it's been worth every nickel and more.

And if Harbaugh takes the job and puts Michigan back on top of the Big Ten, he'll be worth every nickel to the Wolverines, too. An Ohio State-Michigan rivalry pitting a more competitive Harbaugh-led team against Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer -- two guys who couldn't be any more different -- would make for instant-classic theater.

Of course, with college football's elite programs rich enough to light cigars with $100 bills, signs of a skyrocketing salary structure aren't just at the top. An $8 million coach like Harbaugh would almost certainly come with a pair of million-dollar coordinators. That's a $10 million investment in the coaching staff before the first check is stroked to any of seven position coaches. Former Florida coach Will Muschamp, dumped by the Gators for a buyout of $6 million, was made college football's highest-paid coordinator by Auburn at $1.6 million. It was only five years ago that Tennessee made Monte Kiffin the first college coordinator to break into $1 million territory. Muschamp's new deal begs the question: how long before a coordinator gets $2 million?

Texas coach Charlie Strong and Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin combined for a dismal record of 13-11, and will take home $5 million each for it. Kentucky, a basketball school by any measure, pushed Mark Stoops over $3 million per year during a 5-7 season.

Don't blame Michigan.

And don't hate the system.

*Follow Chase Goodbread on Twitter **@ChaseGoodbread.*

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content