Athletic director Warde Manuel’s goal for the football program is the same as every other fan who watched this past season with frustration: win.
“Every time we hit the field, our goal is to win,” Manuel said. “I want for (Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh) and I want for our student athletes to win championships in football, win every sport that we compete in and win championships.”
In January, Manuel inked an extension with Harbaugh through the 2025 season, cutting his salary in half and lowering his buyout to $4 million this coming season. That followed a 2-4 season which cast doubt on Harbaugh’s future as the Michigan coach.
Meeting with assembled media for the first time since announcing that extension, Manuel said he didn’t lay down a marker in terms of a number of wins Harbaugh needs to hit in the future. He noted that strong academics and doing things the right way are a baseline expectations for all of Michigan’s program — one Harbaugh has hit easily. The bottom line, though, is that Harbaugh will be judged on his record.
“Given the contract, obviously, I am willing to be patient, but he and I understand that we need to win,” Manuel said. “This is Michigan. Nobody wants to win more than Jim in football and me overall. We want success.”
Following the season, Manuel said he and Harbaugh had a similar conversation as every year, regarding how the program can improve and move forward. Manuel said there was no backup plan if talks with Harbaugh fell through — he wanted to go into talks with an open mind.
Thus far, the most obvious shift has been on Harbaugh’s staff, where six of the 10 assistant coaches are new, including all but one of the coaches on defense.
Defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald didn’t give many details on what to expect from his scheme in talking to media last week, saying he wanted the Wolverines to be multiple.
“Really excited about seeing some of the changes on our defensive scheme and what Mike is bringing to the table with his defensive staff,” Manuel said. “And (co-defensive coordinator) Mo Linguist, and all the things that they’re doing to coordinate this defense, I’m really looking forward to that as well.”
Manuel gave Harbaugh credit for the staff hirings, saying that although he gave input, he wanted Harbaugh to bring in his preferred staff. He sees space for success in recruiting and on the field.
“This is something that I want to work, he wants to work and so there’s no minimum numbers or maximum numbers (of wins),” Manuel said. “I have not, and I don’t with my coaches, interact with them that way.”
But despite the lack of a benchmark, the expectation is clear. A record of 2-4 — or the 12-game equivalent — won’t cut it. Manuel knows that. So does Harbaugh.
“I don’t need to say, ‘Hey Jim, you know what, our number one goal is to win.’ I don’t need to tell him that,” Manuel said. “He understands that and is committed to it and the student-athletes are, the staff, everybody is working really hard to do that. And so I look forward to this fall for many reasons, like I said at the beginning, getting back to some normalcy for our lives, but I also look forward to watching the outcome of this team and what they’re doing now, that they’ve been doing in the weight room and all that culminating this season.”