football Edit

Tuesdays with Gorney: Michigan's sign-stealing scandal won't end well

Jim Harbaugh
Jim Harbaugh (© Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK)

My question for today is: How can this possibly end well for Michigan?

I guess there is still a fraction of a percent chance that coach Jim Harbaugh is completely cleared of all wrongdoing, that Connor Stalions was some rogue actor that from the Michigan Manifesto to the sign-stealing operation and maybe beyond, who knows, was acting completely by himself with no inside assistance at all.

Let’s call that the Lone Gunman Theory.


RUMOR MILL: Signing Day inches closer for 2024 standouts

FINAL 2023 TEAM RANKINGS: Comprehensive (overall) ranking | High school/JUCO ranking | Transfer portal ranking

CLASS OF 2024 RANKINGS: Rivals250 | Team | Position | State

CLASS OF 2025 RANKINGS: Rivals250 | Team | Position | State

CLASS OF 2026 RANKINGS: Rivals100

TRANSFER PORTAL: Latest news | Transfer portal player ranking | Transfer portal team ranking | Transfer Tracker | Message board



But if Stalions was just this massive Michigan football nerd who had visions of grandeur of how he would one day take over the program and the coaching staff just sort of let him do his own thing and ignored him inside the building, “yeah, yeah, OK Connor” - then why was he allowed in defensive coordinator Jesse Minter’s ear in all those games, in all those important Ohio State games?

The Washington Post report that an outside firm’s investigation – who paid for that, one wonders – found that Michigan coaches had access to and maintained computer drives with the sign-stealing video on it is pretty damning but only if it can be proven that any of those coaches actually watched the footage.

Was Stalions totally lying to friends that he had gotten close with Jay Harbaugh, Jim’s son, and Chris Partridge?

That’s possible given his quirky behavior and actions but there’s no question he was on the sidelines of multiple games holding laminated sheets of stolen signals – whether obtained through fair means or not – and that coaches were listening to him and then calling plays based off it, whether those calls were successful or not.

Things got even more interesting this weekend when the Wall Street Journal reported that Michigan rescinded Harbaugh’s new contract offer that would have made him the highest-paid coach in the Big Ten. Harbaugh said at Monday’s news conference that the WSJ report is not accurate. Maybe it’s just all semantics since the university has a policy that it doesn’t talk about contracts until they’re finished and executed.

NCAA investigators were expected in Ann Arbor late last week seemingly to gather information and interview coaches. Who knows when any kind of findings or report will be granted as the NCAA usually moves at a snail’s pace but the body could put high priority on this considering the seriousness of the allegations.

On Monday, Harbaugh was asked about how these allegations could affect his legacy as Michigan’s coach.

“The team is refreshed, I’m refreshed, opportunity to spend time with the families after a pretty good week of practice last week, got some things done and we’re in onward mode so to answer your question specifically it’s a one-track mind that I’m modeling and I see it throughout the program,” Harbaugh said.

The next question: Is it a head coach’s responsibility to know everything that’s going on within the program?

“That question probably answers itself,” Harbaugh said. “I was forthright with the statement right away but you’re asking, I’ll just leave it at that.”

Next question: There was a report last week that there was an outside investigative firm that may have accessed some videos and files … Do you know anything about that and are you guys investigating how that came about?

“I have a one-track mind,” Harbaugh said. “I’m not going to be speculating. I’m going to let others speculate that, the various speculation that’s out there. Would be unfair to the team to not just be coaching the team.”

Question: Do you believe anything was illegally obtained?

That’s when an annoyed Harbaugh slapped the podium and looked over at Associate AD for football communications Dave Ablauf, who responded: “Just so you guys know, there are only certain things we can comment on so you got to move forward or this won’t be very long.”

That’s when Harbaugh smiled out of seeming frustration.

Next question: I heard from some Michigan alums this week that are not happy and are embarrassed to see their school get negative headlines. What would you say to them about what they’re reading and seeing lately?

“That’s speculation,” Harbaugh said. “Everyone is entitled to their opinion.”

I understand Harbaugh can’t lay everything out – or that he might not want to. But he’s not getting this, the out-of-touch, quirky Harbaugh persona isn’t going to play here.

Well-heeled donors are embarrassed by this. There are legitimate integrity-of-the-game issues at play here. Coaches across the country intentionally schemed differently because they knew something was up with the Michigan operation.

Harbaugh wants to talk about Purdue. Nobody else cares. This is about whether Michigan cheated to gain competitive advantage in pursuit of a Big Ten and national championship.

The Michigan coach can stand up at the podium and be frustrated all he wants. The real question is whether he’ll be standing up there much longer.

Maybe soon we will find out what Harbaugh knew or didn’t know. But will all this end, really, with Harbaugh getting his lucrative contract and pacing the Michigan sidelines for the rest of his career?

As Harbaugh said Monday to another reporter’s query: That question probably answers itself.