In late January, money that had been intended for Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh began showing up in the bank accounts of other Michigan athletics department employees.
Just less than $1,000 here. Between $2,000 and $4,500 there. More than 30 five-figure amounts, and one that reached six figures.
They all resulted from Harbaugh’s late-November pledge that incentive bonuses he would be owed for the football team’s success during the 2021 season would be redirected to members of the department who had taken pandemic-related pay cuts during an 11-month stretch of 2020 and 2021 and had remained on the payroll.
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.
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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. … 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.”
In the aftermath, Harbaugh said: “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.
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.
See salaries for college football coaches through the years
The size of the bonus was set under a 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 Manuel declined to comment.
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.
Michigan’s victory over Iowa in the Big Ten championship game meant Harbaugh was due a $1 million bonus, and the team being selected to play in the College Football Playoff resulted in him being owed $500,000 more.
Harbaugh said in the interview that when he went on the radio show: “I knew … what had been earned and what it could be.”
“I didn't know at the time how much would reimburse the whole athletic department,” he said later in the interview. “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%, 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% of the reimbursement payments were for amounts of less than $4,500. Men’s basketball coach Juwan Howard received the largest amount — nearly $133,000. Based on calculations by USA TODAY Sports in conjunction with its 2020-21 men’s basketball coaches’ pay survey that were confirmed by Michigan, Howard had been due to take a total reduction of nearly $195,000.
Svoboda said Howard declined to comment.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh gave bonus money to athletics employees