Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Homecoming for now

The voice was a nail-file rasp, the vocal chords shredded from one last sideline weekend in the NFL. But the words that floated into the air on that voice were pitch perfect.

Michigan, Jim Harbaugh swore in his introductory news conference today, was where he'd dreamed of coaching all his life. It was an "honor" now, he said, to "live it." Along the way, he invoked all the requisite Michigan stations of the cross: Bo and Lloyd Carr and Gary Moeller and, who knows, maybe even Fritz Crisler himself.

If you were a card-carrying member of Wolverine Nation, a sufferin' clan these bleak December days, it was everything you wanted to hear and more.

"Our guy came home," said Michigan's interim athletic director, Jim Hackett, catching the general tone of the day.

All that was missing was the dose-of-reality qualifier: Our guy came home ... for now.

That Harbaugh will raise Michigan back to its accustomed place in the national college football conversation, scarcely anyone doubts. Though he has only 12 scholarships next year, and so must make do with Brady Hoke's under-coached leavings for a season or two, he'll get Michigan back to being Michigan. He did it at San Diego, he did it at Stanford, he did it in the NFL in San Francisco.

And then, having done that, he'll do what he did in all three of those places: He'll move on.

It says here the Harbaugh Era in Ann Arbor lasts no more than five seasons, and then it'll be back to the NFL. The only reason he's in Ann Arbor now, frankly, is because Michigan's going to pay him $5 million a year to be there, and all of the NFL jobs currently available (Oakland, Chicago, Atlanta, the Jets) are dead ends.

So home he comes, for the time being. But never forget that he's a Super Bowl coach who didn't quite get it done in the ultimate football game America produces. That's a powerful incentive to go back and finish the job. Sooner or later -- probably sooner, if he gets Michigan back to being Michigan in the next three or four years -- the right NFL team is going to come after him. When it does, he'll be gone, if for no other reason than that's what his entire job history suggests.

So Michigan, love him while you've got him. But don't get too attached.


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