Harbaugh: Hopes and Dreams or Smoke and Mirrors

The Michigan Wolverines lost to the Ohio State Buckeyes again last Saturday. It marked the sixth straight win in this rivalry for the team from Columbus. They have also accrued 15 victories in 18 chances since the start of the new millennium.

While “The Game” has been lopsided for quite some time now, U of M was hoping that the man they brought in three years ago, Jim Harbaugh, was going to change that. So far, he has not.

He is now 0-3 against Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes and 1-2 against Michigan State and Mark Dantonio. While these guys are both some of the best coaches in the country, they aren’t making over $9 million at their alma mater. Harbaugh is the highest paid coach in all of college football but has yet to lead the maize and blue anywhere in three years besides some good seasons record wise.

Now while I am not saying Harbaugh’s three years in Ann Arbor haven’t been successful, as he has racked up back to back 10-3 records in his first two seasons with a chance to go 9-4 record this year, but that’s not what Michigan envisioned when he stepped on campus in 2015.

With all the highly ranked recruiting classes and 5-star after 5-star walking through the doors of the Big House, Michigan has had high expectations since Harbaugh took over the reins. But each season, seemingly, has started, and ended, the same way. Filled with optimism and then ending in disappointment.

2015 started off with a loss to the Utah Utes but then the Wolverines reeled off five straight wins before losing to the Spartans at home. They also lost to the Buckeyes at the Big House before beating the Florida Gators in the Citrus Bowl to go 10-3.

2016 started off even better as they ran off a 9-0 record with a win over MSU before stumbling at the end of the year. The Wolverines proceeded to lose 3 of their next 4 games, including a loss to OSU, to finish with another 10-3 record.

2017 began similarly with the Wolverines beating Florida at Jerry’s World in Arlington and starting off 4-0 before facing off against Michigan State. Harbaugh and his team once again lost to Sparty to drop to 4-1. They also lost to Penn State and Wisconsin on the way to “The Game” against Meyer’s Buckeyes. And while Michigan had a good chance to win this past Saturday with 14-0 and 20-14 leads, they ultimately couldn’t pull it out and lost 31-20.

So while Harbaugh has had a rough go and winning big games against his rivals, I believe he is still the right man for the job at the moment. After three years, a 28-10 record is not too shabby. I also believe he has brought a different mindset to the university.

While he hasn’t won anything yet, the expectations are there and they have had their chances at returning to Indy to play for the Big Ten title. Under the leadership of Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke, it felt like this team wasn’t going anywhere.

One last comparison/point I’d like to make about Harbaugh is his connection to Bo Schembechler. He played and learned under the tutelage of the Michigan great. But for all the glory that he receives, he never brought home a national championship to U of M in his 21 years as the head coach.

His teams won 13 Big Ten Conference titles, of course, but he could never win the big one. I think Harbaugh could, at the very least, bring a Big Ten title to Ann Arbor in the next few years, but will that appease anyone? Also, if they do make it to the playoffs, is that successful or is nothing short of a national championship constitute success?

So while some people’s patience may be running thin with Harbaugh, I think they need to give him a little more time. Sure, his “Signing with the Stars”, satellite camps and sleepovers may not be endearing to all, but that’s just who he is and I don’t think he is going to change. Harbaugh is an old-school, ground and pound type of coach who wants to shove it down your throat. If that style can/will work in todays college football landscape is yet to be seen.

I believe fans just need to relax and let his plan come to fruition. It hasn’t worked out completely in his first three years, but it’s still a work in progress. Of course there are things he can work on, but what coach doesn’t have room for improvement?

In a couple more years, if Michigan is still floating around at 8-4 or 9-3, or heck, even 10-2 with no Big Ten titles or playoff appearances, then this conversation needs to be revisited. But for now, U of M has the coach they want.

After all, what other option do the Wolverines have other than their “Michigan Man”?

 

 

 

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Honeymoon Over, Time to Win

In late December of 2014, Michigan fans had just suffered through, yet another, head coach’s tenure which consisted of mostly unwatchable, non bowl-eligible caliber football. The fan-base of the winningest program in college football history needed a change.

Bring in Jim Harbaugh: former Michigan quarterback, lengthy playing career in the NFL, the guy who resurrected the Stanford football program, the Super Bowl 47 runner-up, respected name in the coaching carousel.

Doesn’t get any better than Harbaugh, right? He’s been keeping Michigan in the headlines, he’s hysterically obnoxious on the sidelines, recruits in very unique ways, and he’s a Michigan man.

The head coach’s first two seasons with the program were simple: put UM back on the national relevance map, make waves on the recruiting trail, build a powerhouse program. 20-6 in the first two seasons, 1-1 bowl record, 1-4 in chief rivalry games (only win over a 3-9 MSU team), and back-to-back top ten recruiting classes.

You won’t find a head coaching job in America that expresses the importance of beating your rivals the way Michigan does.

Jim Harbaugh is 4-1 in early October for the 2017-18 season; after an ugly loss to in-state rival, MSU, some of the fan-base has officially began to give constructive criticism on their beloved head coach. Play-calling was a big issue in the eyes of many: the decision to throw the football as much as they did in a monsoon, failing to target Zach Gentry in the passing game, or giving Karan Higedon just 12 touches despite being the most productive back for Michigan (5.4 YPC).

On the defensive side of the ball, there really isn’t much you can ask for. When your offense turns the ball over five times and your defense only allows 14 points, that’s a championship defense.

In Jim Harbaugh’s third season, wouldn’t you think that Michigan should have, at the very least, a quarterback and an offense who can give enough ‘run support’ to win a football game if your defense shuts out a team in the 2nd half?

Michigan was out-coached, outplayed, and flat-out did not deserve to win this football game. Jim Harbaugh, and his staff get paid far too much money to lose a game like this one, there is no excuse to justify what happened in the Big House on Saturday.

For me, it wasn’t just that they lost, the way they lost is what really stung. Repeatedly shot themselves in the foot offensively, and could not capitalize on the opportunities given to them time after time. Michigan is a team that is evidently more talented that Michigan State — it’s obvious, look at the recruiting classes. Michigan isn’t a poorly coached team, but they were simply out coached by Mark Dantonio and his staff.

Michigan has everything needed to be a national powerhouse: a top-tier coaching staff with years of NFL experience, multiple top ten recruiting classes, endless hype and publicity that most programs strive to have. What is the missing recipe? Why can’t Michigan win these big games?

The seat isn’t hot for Jim Harbaugh, but how long before it starts getting warm? Beating Ohio State in November would change the picture, but a loss would mean Harbaugh’s rivalry game record falls to 1-5. When you’re paying a coach nine million annually, you expect them to win more than one rivalry game per every three seasons.

Maybe I’m part of the fan-base that’s overreacting, and maybe I just need to give Harbaugh’s program more time and have patience. Michigan fans demand a lot, they have very high expectations and standards; we’re all growing at least a little impatient after watching Michigan football from 2008-2014.

Bottom line is that pressure to win is more real than it’s ever been for Jim Harbaugh at Michigan. I won’t be able to stomach another off-season of Harbaugh making headlines for doing weird, quirky, recruiting tactics if he’s 0-3 against the Buckeyes. If you want to go to Rome, climb trees, sleep at recruit’s houses, jump off a diving board into a pool fully clothed, have a podcast, and to separate yourself from the other CFB coaches in the media…beat a rival, win a big game, win a Big Ten championship, make the playoffs.