Jim Harbaugh tells Michigan he will return; Rams OC Kevin O’Connell emerges as Vikings favorite

Jim Harbaugh called Michigan to inform the school that, despite interviewing with the Minnesota Vikings on Wednesday, he will be returning to the school for the 2022 season, sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Michigan was, in the words of one source, “elated” to get Harbaugh’s decision.

Los Angeles Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell has emerged as the favorite to become the head coach in Minnesota, sources told Schefter and ESPN’s Dan Graziano.

Harbaugh, 58, interviewed with the Vikings in Eagan, Minnesota, on college football’s national signing day. Michigan has the No. 8-ranked recruiting class, featuring seven ESPN 300 commits, many of whom had already signed their national letters of intent with the Wolverines during December’s early signing period.

Sources previously told ESPN that Harbaugh had been planning for his interview with Minnesota as if he was going to be hired by the Vikings and prepared his exit from the Wolverines football program by speaking with recruits about the possibility of his return to the NFL.

Harbaugh went 44-19-1 in four seasons (2011-14) with the San Francisco 49ers and holds the fifth-best winning percentage in NFL history, ahead of any active coach in the league. Harbaugh led San Francisco to the NFC Championship Game in three of his four seasons and took the 49ers to the Super Bowl in his second year, but he was fired after going 8-8 in 2014.

Following his time with San Francisco, Harbaugh was hired by Michigan, his alma mater, in 2015. In seven seasons, Harbaugh has led the Wolverines to a 61-24 record with a 42-17 mark in the Big Ten play.

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Coming off a 2-4 season in 2020, Harbaugh took a pay cut and reduced his base salary from $ 8 million to $ 4 million annually. During the 2021 campaign, he led Michigan to its first outright Big Ten championship since 2003 and the first Big Ten title game. Harbaugh also led the Wolverines to their first victory over Ohio State during his tenure and to the College Football Playoff as the No. 3 seed. Michigan played Georgia in the Orange Bowl in the semifinals and lost 34-11.

The Vikings reached out to Michigan last Saturday and received permission to speak with Harbaugh in an informal capacity. Harbaugh’s ties to new Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, who worked in San Francisco with the former Niners coach from 2013 to ’14, carried considerable weight in Harbaugh becoming a candidate just days after the team hired its new GM. Multiple sources previously told ESPN that Harbaugh was Adofo-Mensah’s top choice for the job.

Before Adofo-Mensah was hired last week, Minnesota conducted eight first-round interviews for its head-coach vacancy. O’Connell and Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris were both part of those initial interviews and met with the Vikings in person on Monday in Los Angeles.

New York Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham interviewed with the Vikings for the first time three days after Adofo-Mensah was hired. Graham’s second interview took place in person on Tuesday.

The Vikings fired coach Mike Zimmer, along with general manager Rick Spielman, on Jan. 10 after the team finished the 2021 season with an 8-9 record and did not qualify for the playoffs in back-to-back years.

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ESPN’s Courtney Cronin contributed to this report.

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