This isn’t about whether that will happen – what is true today may change in 48 hours, especially in the volatile world of football coaching – but rather about behind-the-scenes factors that can influence not only a decision, but a timetable for something happening.
So let’s start with the premise Harbaugh’s future with the 49ers will be known in a week, a few days after the NFL regular ends, which is what is being reported.
So, if Harbaugh is fired by next Tuesday (Dec. 30), how long will it take him to be Michigan’s coach? That is what people want to know, correct?
Well, it is tough to say because periphery circumstances could slow things down because when dealing with terminated contracts, there is usually more than meets the eye when trying to finalize it.
Harbaugh has one year and $5 million left on his contract with San Francisco, and if he is fired, Michigan would not have to get involved with a buyout, but it could have to wait through a settlement.
What does that mean?
On a much lower scale, when I covered UCLA for the Los Angeles Daily News, new Bruins coach Rick Neuheisel wanted to hire Norm Chow as his offensive coordinator. Chow was fired by the Tennessee Titans, so it looked like he was on the open market and easily gettable.
However, he was owed approximately $2 million by the Titans over two years, and any money he was going to be paid by UCLA was to be subtracted from the amount the Titans had to pay. Complicating it was the contract being paid by UCLA had to be market value, preventing a low-ball offer.
If UCLA was going to pay Chow $100,000, the Titans could fight it and say market value was $500,000, and thus not have to pay the $400,000 different. So if Chow took the job at the $100,000 salary, he could actually lose money he was guaranteed. The Bruins wound up agreeing to a three-year deal worth just under $1 million, and both sides were satisfied it was fair market value, but it took six months after Chow was announced as the offensive coordinator to get the deal signed.
In another instance, a defensive coach I know at a Power 5 school was fired from an NFL job, and any money he received while coaching elsewhere would be subtracted from the total he was owed by the NFL club. But his agent worked out a deal for a settlement, so instead of getting the full amount of money he was owed from the NFL team, he took roughly 50 percent in a settlement and then returned to college, and what he is being paid now does not count against what the NFL team owed.
Why bring this up?
In the case of Harbaugh, it may look cut and dry if he is fired next week, but there are other considerations, depending on how his contract with the 49ers is structured.
If he is owed $5 million by the 49ers and Michigan is paying $6 million in the first year of a deal, he could theoretically get nothing from San Francisco. So rather than jump at Michigan quickly, it could take time for a settlement to be worked out with the 49ers before he gets his next coaching job.
Sometimes such negotiations move quickly, but it could also be contentious.
In the case of Harbaugh and the price Michigan is reportedly set to pay, I don’t see Harbaugh giving up $40-plus million over a $5 million battle with the 49ers, but it is clear neither side likes the other, so each could decide to try and stick it to the other one and delay anything from happening for a short frame of time.