This comes as quite the shock! Okay, not really, but what a Friday news dump for the ages this really is. ESPN's Pete Thamel reported late Friday afternoon that "The Big Ten is expected [to] discipline Michigan for the in-person scouting and ongoing sign-stealing investigation and will prohibit Jim Harbaugh from being on the sideline until the conclusion of the regular season. He will be allowed to coach during the week." There were a lot of grammatical errors in Thamel's Friday tweet, but damn...
So Michigan is going to be without Harbaugh on the sidelines for Saturday's huge road game at No. 9 Penn State, at Maryland next week, and at home vs. the Wolverines' arch-rival in the No. 1 Ohio State Buckeyes for The Game over Thanksgiving Weekend. Michigan is both talented enough on the field and savvy enough on the coaching staff to potentially to be able to navigate the loss of Harbaugh.
However, we are talking about an elite head coach who has been suspended twice for three games in the same season. No, the NCAA is not going to give Michigan the death penalty because that is cruel and unusual punishment. Unfortunately, I think this latest suspension could bring an end to the Harbaugh era in Ann Arbor. I do not know if he can return to the Big Ten, but what about in the NFL?
If Harbaugh serves his second three-game suspension and then resigns from his Michigan post, that may suffice what is required by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to let him work right away in 2024.
Harbaugh could theoretically serve on his older brother John Harbaugh's Baltimore Ravens staff for a year to let the dust settle. Then again, he will be a sought-after candidate to lead his own team now.
The big question here is if any NFL team can take the PR hit of hiring Harbaugh. Who wants the smoke?
Can an NFL team hire Jim Harbaugh in the wake of the Michigan scandal?
There are two NFL teams Harbaugh is connected to that would make sense as hypothetical landing spots for him: The Chicago Bears, who drafted him out of Michigan, and the Las Vegas Raiders, who he got his start in coaching as Bill Callahan's quarterbacks coach from 2002 to 2003 when the franchise was located in Oakland. Chicago may not happen anymore, but what about the Raiders?
I think the Bears are just good enough under Matt Eberflus right now to give him a third year, especially since they are playing pretty competitive football with Tyson Bagent filling in for the injured Justin Fields at quarterback. Although the thought of pairing Harbaugh with native Chicagoan quarterback and Michigan star J.J. McCarthy sounds good on paper, there is too much red tape here.
So even if the Bears are now increasingly unlikely to hire him, I think the combination of the Raiders' rebel brand and their pure desperation as a franchise plays to their advantage. Mark Davis is not his father, but he loves this team and it would be such an Al Davis fever dream to just hire Harbaugh anyway. Even if McCarthy is not a true villain, I think he and Harbaugh could have great success there.
Ultimately, I do not know if any of the NFL franchises are going to touch the third rail willingly in this great Harbaugh debate right now. If they do, they will do it when no one is looking. Of course, Harbaugh's camp will probably claw and scratch and fight tooth and nail to stop this suspension from happening. All we know is Harbaugh is going to do what he does: Power through the awkwardness.
Things may cool off between now and Black Monday, but the Harbaugh train has gone off the rails.