Michigan's Harbaugh Gave Bonus Money to Athletics Staff

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University of Michigan head football coach Jim Harbaugh has made good on his late-November pledge that incentive bonuses he received for the football team’s 2021 success would be redirected to athletic department staff who had taken pandemic-related pay cuts.

Altogether, 210 employees received a combined total of just over $1.5 million, according to information USA TODAY Sports obtained from the university under an open-records request. Those employees had remained on the UM payroll as they accepted pay cuts over an 11-month period ending in 2021.

Some received less than $1,000 in their bank accounts, while others received between $2,000 and $4,500. More than 30 were gifted five-figure amounts, and one got an amount reaching six figures.

Harbaugh told USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday he was inspired to take action by two of his players’ charitable use of money they had received from deals for the use of their name, image and likeness. 

“I think one of the things that really kind of made me think about it — kind of motivated me to do it — was our running back Blake Corum, over Thanksgiving, took some of his NIL money and did a really neat thing, buying turkeys and food for folks over in Ypsilanti and went and handed them out on Thanksgiving,” Harbaugh said. “J.J. McCarthy, our young quarterback, he did something similar in giving some of his NIL money.

“And [wife] Sarah and I talked about it and [it was] something that we felt inspired to do. â€¦ When there were pay reductions during the pandemic, I knew that … it was hard on people. ... I mean my dad worked for Michigan in the athletic department [as a football assistant coach]. And I just thought it would be something that would be a very good, positive thing.

"I got some really nice thank-you letters, thank-you texts, calls. People even stopped by in person to say thank you.”

Michigan athletics spokesman Kurt Svoboda indicated by email Wednesday that the payments to department employees fully covered those who wanted their pay restored. “I am confident in our calculations that the figures provided in your recent FOIA request accurately reflect the names of individuals who took pay reductions, were eligible to receive and who did not object to receiving reimbursements,” Svoboda wrote.

In total, Harbaugh was set to receive $2.075 million, not including any bonus based on the team’s NCAA Academic Progress Rate figures, and, according to a separate open-records request, actually has been paid $575,000, Steve Berkowitz of USA TODAY Sports reported. 

Harbaugh made his pledge during his appearance on Michigan’s weekly football radio show Nov. 29, the Monday evening after the Wolverines defeated Ohio State to win the Big Ten Conference East Division and a place in the Big Ten championship game. That triggered the first $500,000.

The size of the bonus was set under contract terms that took effect in January 2021 and cut Harbaugh’s basic annual compensation from a scheduled $8.05 million to $4 million. As part of the pandemic-related reductions, Harbaugh gave up nearly $265,000.

On the show, Harbaugh said, “Sarah and I were talking about it last night, and we decided any bonus money that I am to receive through this season will be redirected to reimburse U of M athletic department employees who have stayed while taking a voluntary or mandatory pay reduction during the last 18 months during the pandemic.”

Harbaugh told USA TODAY Sports that he made the announcement “before I discussed [it] with Warde” Manuel, the school’s athletics director.

Svoboda said Harbaugh was paid the $75,000 bonus called for under Harbaugh’s contract if he wins the Associated Press national coach of the year award — an honor that was announced about 10 days after Harbaugh’s comments.

“I didn't know at the time how much would reimburse the whole athletic department,” Habaugh said. “And I was really happy that we ended up — our team ended up — earning enough to cover, to make it make it a total reimbursement.”

In February, Harbaugh and the university signed another new contract,  one that restored his basic annual compensation to $8.05 million for the 2022 season, set up scheduled increases and maintained the same bonus structure that was put in place for the 2021 season.

Michigan’s athletics department had salary reductions in place from Aug. 1, 2020 through June 30, 2021. Employees making less than $50,000 and union employees were exempt, Svoboda said, and the participation of employees under contract was voluntary. For others, the cuts were 5, 7.5 or 10 percent, depending on salary and/or job status. To be eligible for reimbursement, an employee who took a pay cut still had to be working for Michigan's athletics department as of Jan. 14, 2022, Svoboda said.

Almost 70 percent of the reimbursement payments were for amounts of less than $4,500, according to USA TODAY Sports. Men’s basketball coach Juwan Howard received the largest amount — nearly $133,000.

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