In a press conference dedicated primarily to the cancelation of the Ohio State game, Jim Harbaugh and athletic director Warde Manuel declined to speak on rumors of a potential contract extension for Harbaugh.

Harbaugh’s original deal expires in 2021, and with a dismal 2-4 season so far, Michigan is at a crossroads on deciding whether to extend him or move on. On Monday, author John U. Bacon reported that Manuel and Harbaugh had discussed a new incentive-laden contract worth less money than his current deal, with a smaller buyout. Tuesday, though, Manuel seemingly refuted that.

This is a time where we’re gonna focus on this pandemic,” Manuel said. “Jim and I will meet, as we have said, at the end of the year to discuss the program and where we’re gonna go and all those different things. How rumors get started about things before Jim and I sit down and have a conversation, I’m not gonna get into. That’s not for me to track down. But that’s where that is and that’s where we’ll be at the end of the season.”

Harbaugh added: “Warde and I have, for months, long agreed that we’ll talk about the extension at the end of the season.”

When asked to clarify what was meant by the end of the season, Manuel said, “We have one last game … that we are scheduled to play,” referring to the Championship Weekend crossover matchup on Dec. 19. 

While it is not a guarantee the Wolverines will be able to play that weekend given their current COVID-19 outbreak, Michigan indicated that it is still preparing as if it will play that game. He also clarified that he has always held contract talks at the end of the season and that is not a new development in 2020.

There would be complications from waiting until then to further discuss an extension. National Signing Day is Dec. 16, and if there is uncertainty over who will coach the Wolverines next year, it could lead to losses on the recruiting trail.

When asked if he was afraid other teams would use the uncertainty around Michigan’s coaching situation against it in recruiting, Manuel stated simply that, “negative recruiting occurs all the time.”

Nick Baumgardner of The Athletic reported Tuesday that Harbaugh and Manuel have discussed an extension in the last week and that the program prefers to have a resolution by Signing Day, a date that is in conflict with what Manuel said in the press conference. Bacon and Baumgardner also both indicated that Harbaugh has received interest from at least five NFL teams, though it is unclear whether there have been any formal job offers. According to Baumgardner, the decision is now up to Harbaugh to accept the new terms or walk away.

Tuesday’s press conference didn’t clear anything up on the contract front — in fact, it made things seem even more uncertain. Whatever happens, though, it’s likely that a decision will come in the next few weeks, whether that’s before Signing Day or after Championship Weekend. We just likely won’t know what’s coming until it happens.

“I don’t wanna make anybody feel or think that Jim and I have been just sitting around, not talking to each other about this,” Manuel said. “We have had a lot to talk about … and Jim has been a leader and phenomenal with his efforts on his team. … He’s committed to this team, he’s committed to this department, he’s committed to this university. 

“So from my standpoint, he has been doing everything at a high level, including his efforts with the team, so from that perspective I just don’t want people to get the sense that we’re just sitting around and nobody’s talking to each other and we’re waiting and waiting. That is the furthest thing from the truth. We’ve had a lot to do and a lot of other things to talk about.”

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