Give Jim Harbaugh a chance. “He’s matured.”


Jim Harbaugh is a changed maniac. That Yosemite Sam rap? So 2015, Chris Howard says.

“He understands that ‘Some things I got away with, I wouldn’t get away with anymore,’” the former Broncos running back told me earlier this week when I asked one Michigan man to break down another.

“And he understands that in the NFL, he’s dealing with grown men. They have wives, they have kids, they have bills, they have mortgages, they have contracts. So you’re not going to be able to handle them the same way you would college (players).

“Going back to college made him look at these things. He’s been more collaborative. He had (multiple) offensive coordinators, where everyone had a chance to (have) a collaborative voice in the game plan. So I think there’s some maturity that’s come in there.”

Some humility, too. Which is why Howard, who was drafted by the Broncos in the spring of 1998 after helping to anchor the Wolverines’ co-national champs in 1997, thinks Captain Khakis wouldn’t just kick tail in Dove Valley.

He’d take names. Names like “Reid” and “Mahomes,” for starters.

“You know what you’re getting,” laughed Howard, who these days produces films with the Georgia-based Mosaic Entertainment Group in addition to co-hosting the “Plugged In” podcast. “You’re not going to be blindsided by his quirkiness, his penchant for rubbing people the wrong way or for running a tight ship. But if you’re (the Broncos), that might be just what you need, right?

“Because, at the end of the day, you look at what he’s done at different programs — the man gets results. He might not stay long. He may wear out his welcome. But at the least, what he’s been able to do is right the ship, to course-correct, and get you going in the right direction. Now whether that tenure (goes) beyond five years, who knows? But his track record speaks for itself. If you’re Denver, maybe that’s what you need. You need a guy in there who can kick some (backsides) a little bit. But at the same time, Jim has matured. He understands that stigma that has followed him throughout his career.”

Self-awareness came late, granted. But eight losses, combined, over two collegiate seasons (2019 and ’20) will humble a man. Even a Michigan one.

“When he had success immediately at Michigan, people figured that was going to be the norm,” Howard said of Harbaugh, who interviewed with the Broncos earlier this week for their vacant head-coaching slot.

“When it didn’t happen, Michigan fans turned on him. Even some of his former teammates turned on him. And then in the ’21 and ’22 seasons, when everything turned around, now everyone’s (like), ‘Please don’t go. Bo needs you.’ They’re trying to throw the whole ‘(Do it for) Bo Schembechler’ thing at him. At the same time, that was a humbling experience for him. He came home a conquering hero. And they wanted to throw the conquering hero out on his keister.”

They also wanted him to take a pay cut, as the Wolverines requested slashing his $8 million base salary to $4 million before the start of ’21 season.

Harbaugh agreed. The man put a brave face on it. But even as Michigan president Santa Ono came out Thursday to say that contract discussions with Harbaugh have been “constructive” and that he “wants” to see his coach return, Howard’s pretty certain that even if Captain Comeback forgave his alma mater, he won’t ever forget that slight.

“I think (his NFL pursuit) is serious,” the former Wolverines standout said. “I think last year (with the Vikings) was serious. Jim is a very competitive guy. I think everybody knows that. I think him coming close to winning a Super Bowl (with the 49ers) has left some unfinished business on his resume.”

Meanwhile, the college side of the business is buckling at the knees after the 1-2 punch of the transfer portal and Name, Image & Likeness (NIL) bidding wars. The more academically “prestigious” the university, in many cases, the more uncomfortable the conversations from the top down. Especially in Ann Arbor, given reports that the NCAA’s been dusting for prints around the Michigan football offices.

“If you’re Jim Harbaugh, you’re in trouble for allegedly buying a recruit a hamburger,” Howard laughed, “whereas there are kids at Texas doing NIL deals with Lamborghini.”


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