Harbaugh’s future at Michigan is subplot to CFP title game as UW tries to lock up DeBoer

Jan 6, 2024, 5:55 PM | Updated: 5:57 pm

UW Huskies Kalen DeBoer...

UW Huskies coach Kalen DeBoer high fives fans before a 2023 game against Arizona State. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

HOUSTON (AP) — Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh had barely settled into his seat on a riser at College Football Playoff media day when he received the question that is seemingly always hanging over him at this time of year.

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With NFL franchises apparently intrigued again, could the national championship game Monday night between the top-ranked Wolverines (14-0) and No. 2 Washington (14-0) be Harbaugh’s last as coach of his alma mater?

“I have no idea about that. I couldn’t be more happy to be here,” said Harbaugh, who was 44-19 with a Super Bowl appearance in four seasons with the San Francisco 49ers before taking over at Michigan in 2015.

What makes this latest round of will-he-or-won’t-he with Harbaugh and the NFL unique is how it has reverberated all the way out to Seattle, where Washington has been working on a new contract for Kalen DeBoer since November.

“A lot of it is I just didn’t want the distraction, don’t want the distraction during this time of the year,” DeBoer said Saturday. “I think before the season, after the season is where they really like to iron out details.”

If Harbaugh’s future is the main subplot to the national title game, the subplot to the subplot is whether DeBoer would be a candidate to replace him?

It seems unlikely. Michigan appears to already have its next man in offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore, who went 4-0 with victories over Penn State and Ohio State while Harbaugh was serving three-game suspensions to start and finish the regular season.

“You’ve already got a glimpse of the shining star that he is. He’s just phenomenal, so smart, works so hard at it,” Harbaugh said.

And DeBoer, 49, seems thrilled with the prospect of settling down in Seattle for a few years after a decade of bouncing around the country while working his way up the career ladder. The former NAIA coach from South Dakota is 25-2 in his two seasons leading Washington and his daughter, high school senior Alexis, recently committed to play softball for the Huskies.

At the Sugar Bowl last week in New Orleans, DeBoer talked about looking forward to being able to walk from his office to the softball field to watch her play.

Here’s the catch: Michigan is one of the few jobs in the country that just about any coach would have to at least consider taking if available.

From Michigan’s standpoint, as good as the 37-year-old Moore has been, DeBoer right now qualifies as one of the very few coaches who — if interested — the administration would have to at least consider.

Hence, the underlying angst among Huskies fans that new athletic director Troy Dannen has tried his best to ease.

Dannen, who moved from Tulane to Washington in early October, said Saturday he approached DeBoer’s representatives about a new contract his second week on the job. DeBoer became a client of Jimmy Sexton, the high-powered agent who represents Alabama coach Nick Saban and Georgia’s Kirby Smart, last year.

“I would have loved to have had it done and behind me and worried about whether we’re going to renegotiate the renegotiation,” Dannen said. “But you know, the priority is his wants, his needs and what he thought was best for the program and he wants to wait, so we’ll play the game Monday night and Tuesday, we’ll be talking again.”

No matter the result, DeBoer is in line for a huge raise. He received a contract extension after last season, when the Huskies went 11-2, that bumped his salary to $4.2 million and runs through 2028. That salary places DeBoer 44th in the country this season among major college football coaches at public universities and seventh in the Pac-12, according to USA Today’s database.

Saban, with seven national championships, is the highest paid coach in college football, at more than $11 million this past season. Clemson’s Dabo Swinney and Georgia’s Kirby Smart, the other active coaches who have recently won national titles, are both over $10 million per year. LSU’s Brian Kelly and Ohio State’s Ryan Day, both with multiple playoff appearances, have salaries that surpass $9 million.

Dannen said with Washington moving from the Pac-12 to the Big Ten for 2024, his goal is to slot DeBoer in among comparable coaches in the Huskies’ new conference.

Harbaugh came into the season as the fourth-highest paid coach in the Big Ten at $8.2 million, behind Day, Penn State’s James Franklin and since-fired Michigan State coach Mel Tucker.

Like Washington, Michigan has been working on a new deal for Harbaugh, despite the NCAA investigation into an alleged in-person scouting and sign-stealing scheme that led to his late-season suspension by the Big Ten. Michigan is prepared to make Harbaugh the highest paid coach in the Big Ten.

“Believe me. I’ve been working on it,” Michigan AD Warde Manuel told Fox Sports last week.

Dannen said the uncertainty at Michigan isn’t a factor in getting a deal done with DeBoer.

“Now if the Dallas Cowboys call, that’s another story,” Dannen said.

For now, everybody involved is focused on Monday night and winning a national championship.

“I’ll gladly talk about the future next week,” Harbaugh said. “And I hope to have one, how about that? A future, I hope to have one, yes.”

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Harbaugh’s future at Michigan is subplot to CFP title game as UW tries to lock up DeBoer