Jim Harbaugh will stay at Michigan after all, ending his dalliance with a return to the NFL after interviewing with the Minnesota Vikings for their head coach vacancy Wednesday.
The Vikings have targeted Los Angeles Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell for the job instead, though they can’t formally make that move until after Rams play in the Super Bowl.
In the meantime, Harbaugh will be back at his alma mater for an eighth season.
“With an enthusiasm unknown to mankind!” Harbaugh said in a text message to The Associated Press.
According to a person with knowledge of the decision, no offer of the job was made to Harbaugh. The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because details of the process were not being made public by the university or the team. The Vikings also informed the two other finalists, Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris and New York Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, that they won’t be selected, the person said.
That leaves O’Connell, who was interviewed Monday by Vikings officials in Southern California before they met with Morris. Graham was in Minnesota on Tuesday for his in-person visit.
The Vikings fired Mike Zimmer after a second straight losing season. He made the playoffs three times in eight years. General manager Rick Spielman was fired, too, and replaced last week by Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, the former vice president of football operations of the Cleveland Browns.
Adofo-Mensah started his NFL career in research and development with the San Francisco 49ers, where he overlapped one year with O’Connell.
Harbaugh is 61-24 at Michigan, which went 46-42 in the seven seasons before he arrived. He guided the Wolverines to the College Football Playoff for the first time this season, winning the Big Ten for the first time since 2004 and snapping an eight-game losing streak to rival Ohio State.
His interview with the Vikings on the same day as the beginning of college football’s second signing period for high school recruits was curious timing, though, and he and his family haven’t been as happy in Michigan as everyone with the program was when he arrived in 2015.
The Wolverines will now do their best to put aside any ill will that might have risen from Harbaugh’s exploration of leaving and try to keep up their on-field momentum for the 2022 season.
“I’m very happy,” Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel said in a text message to AP.
Hailed as the coach who could restore national prominence for college football’s winningest school when he chose to return to his alma mater, the honeymoon faded so hard over the years that a little more than a year ago there were questions about whether he would keep his job.
Manuel didn’t want to fire a former teammate with one season left on his original contract. Nor did he want to give Harbaugh a new deal at the same rate of pay without incentives.
Manuel cut Harbaugh’s guaranteed compensation and gave him an opportunity to make up for the financial loss with performance bonuses. Harbaugh bounced back to produce his best season with 12 wins, and he donated bonuses to athletic department staffers who took pay cuts because to financial losses tied to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Harbaugh had an eventual four-year run as head coach of the 49ers from 2011-14, going 44-19 with a 5-3 record in the playoffs including three straight trips to the NFC championship game. They went to the Super Bowl in 2012. Harbaugh departed the 49ers after an 8-8 season in 2014 amid tension with the front office.
Now the 36-year-old O’Connell is on track to become the 10th head coach in the 62-season history of the Vikings, who have yet to win a Super Bowl despite ranking seventh in all-time winning percentage among the NFL’s active 32 clubs. The Vikings are the only team among the top 15 in winning percentage without a championship.
By hiring Adofo-Mensah, the Vikings took their front office in a vastly different direction with a former Wall Street trader with economics degrees from Princeton and Stanford to replace Spielman, the scout’s scout whose whole life has been in the game.
That makes O’Connell more of an obvious fit than Harbaugh. Vikings owners Zygi Wilf and Mark Wilf have long admired the model of family-run stability by franchises like the Pittsburgh Steelers, who hired Mike Tomlin as head coach in 2007 — after one year as defensive coordinator of the Vikings — and have kept him ever since.
Lage reported from China. AP College Football Writer Ralph D. Russo contributed to this report.