Jim Harbaugh has presided over quick turnarounds at each of his previous two jobs. Now he hopes to do the same at his alma mater.
Harbaugh was officially introduced as Michigan's new coach Tuesday, two days after he coached his final game with the San Francisco 49ers. Michigan interim athletic director Jim Hackett, himself a former Wolverines football player, said "our guy came home."
Harbaugh, who turned 51 on Dec. 23, takes over a stumbling program that has lost at least five games in six of the past seven seasons and at least four games eight times in the past 10 seasons. In addition, Michigan was 5-7 this season and missed the postseason, the third time in seven seasons the Wolverines were bowl-less. Before the current seven-season stretch, Michigan hadn't missed a bowl since 1975.
Hackett said Harbaugh signed a seven-year deal with "the same salary he had with the 49ers," reportedly $5 million per season. There also is a $2 million signing bonus. Harbaugh also has some incentive bonuses he can earn: $125,000 for an appearance in the Big Ten title game; $250,000 for a Big Ten title; $300,000 for being in the College Football Playoff final four; and $500,000 for a national championship. Hackett said that next year, he would work out an "appropriate" deferred compensation arrangement for Harbaugh.
Harbaugh seemed at ease during a 38-minute introductory news conference. While he stayed away from making any guarantees, he did joke about slightly stumbling on his way into the room, saying, "A lesser athlete would've gone down."
He called being the coach at Michigan a dream come true: "I thought about it, dreamed about it -- now it's time to live it."
Asked about how comfortable he was being considered the "savior" of the program, Harbaugh smiled and said, "Not comfortable with that at all," drawing big laughs from the assembled media and school officials. But he also said he had "great expectations" for the program.
Harbaugh said he said he didn't make a "pros and cons" list regarding staying in the NFL or going to Michigan, and also said the decision to take the job came "from the heart." He described his discussions with Hackett about taking the job as "a very quick process."
Harbaugh now has to go about assembling a staff and hitting the recruiting trail. He said it would not be hard for him to return to recruiting: "You're selling something you believe in to your core. ... That will not be a hard job."
Harbaugh's first major college job was at Stanford. He was hired in December 2006 after three seasons at FCS program San Diego and took over a Cardinal program that had won just 16 games in the previous five seasons combined. Stanford went 4-8 in '07, then 5-7 in '08 before improving to 8-5 in '09 and 12-1 in '10. The 12 wins were a school record and just the fourth time to that point that Stanford had won double-digit games. The other three coaches who had led the Cardinal to 10 wins were legendary: Glenn "Pop" Warner, Clark Shaughnessy and Bill Walsh.
Harbaugh then left to coach the 49ers, who were coming off eight consecutive non-winning seasons, a stretch that included just one .500 finish. Harbaugh promptly guided the 49ers to a 13-3 mark in 2011 and a spot in the NFC championship game. San Francisco went 11-4-1 in '12 and lost in the Super Bowl to the Baltimore Ravens, coached by Jim's brother John. The 49ers went 12-4 last season and again lost in the NFC championship game. They stumbled to an 8-8 mark this season, and he parted ways with the team shortly after Sunday's regular-season finale.
Harbaugh played at Michigan from 1983-86; he shared starting quarterback duties in '84, then was a fulltime starter in '85 and '86. Michigan won a combined 21 games in '85-86, finishing second in the nation in '85 and eighth in '86. He was a first-round pick of the Chicago Bears in 1987 and played 15 seasons in the NFL.
Harbaugh's roots at Michigan are deep. His father, Jack, was a Michigan assistant for seven seasons, and while the family moved during Harbaugh's time in high school, he returned to Ann Arbor to go to college. He spoke to NFL Media's Albert Breer before Super Bowl XLVIII about his ties to Ann Arbor and how that shaped him as a coach.
Michigan isn't as extensive a rebuilding job as Harbaugh faced with Stanford and the 49ers; think of it as a renovation rather than a rebuild. The talent level on offense is an issue, but the defense was solid this season. Quarterback play has been a problem for the past two seasons, and improving at that position will be a priority for Harbaugh.
His hiring obviously helps Michigan but it also will help the national perception of the Big Ten. And it's hard to talk about the Big Ten without talking about the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry. Actually, it hasn't been much of one of late, as the Buckeyes have won 10 of the past 11 meetings. But current Ohio State players and coaches know it's going to be more interesting going forward.
Speaking at a Sugar Bowl news conference Monday, Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said Michigan's hiring of Harbaugh is "going to create that 365-days-a-year competition and challenge." And speaking at the same event, Buckeyes star sophomore defensive end Joey Bosa spoke of Harbaugh and Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer going head-to-head: "In the greatest rivalry in sports, you need something like that."
And the hiring resonates outside of the Big Ten, too, with Alabama coach Nick Saban saying Tuesday at the Tide's Sugar Bowl news conference that he was "excited that someone of the quality and character of Jim Harbaugh is coming back to college football."
Saban has followed a similar career path as Harbaugh: successful college coach who went to the NFL, then returned to college. And Saban had quick success at Alabama, winning the national title in 2009 in his third season with the Tide. Current Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll was an NFL coach who returned to college, with USC, and, he, too, won a national title in his third season (in '03).
Suffice to say, that kind of timeline also is expected of Harbaugh.