Will Jim Harbaugh Return to Michigan in 2019?

In his head coaching career, current Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh has yet to exceed a four-season tenure.

Prior jobs at San Diego, Stanford, San Francisco, and now Michigan have all lasted just four or less seasons. Harbaugh is now going into his fourth season at his alma mater with a lot of weight on his and his team’s shoulders. The pressure to win is imminent.

One question that comes to mind for Michigan fans: is this job special to Jim? Is this any different from his previous stops? Does he see Ann Arbor as him and his family’s permanent home?

NFL teams have and will continue to offer head coaching positions to the former Michigan quarterback. The rumors spiral, the Twitter bloggers with “sources” claim it’s a done deal time and time again.

Harbaugh has addressed these rumors in the past. Following the 2016 regular season, the talk of his departure was atop many headlines. At Michigan’s annual football bust, he was blunt in his words.

“I can speak for myself,” Harbaugh said. “I’m not leaving Michigan, I’m not even considering it.”

Harbaugh continued to refer to the rumors as lies that were made up by their enemies.

At that point in time, Michigan had been coming off a 10-2 regular season getting ready to play Florida State in a NY6 bowl game. Since those comments, Michigan has gone 8-6, beating just one team with an above .500 record.

We can talk about how disastrous the 2017-18 football season was for Harbaugh and Michigan. However I believe that by now everyone, especially Michigan fans, have heard about it more than they want to. Time to win.

Which brings us to today, Harbaugh is 28-11, 1-2 in bowl games, 1-5 against chief rivals. Does a specific outcome for the 2018 season decide whether or not Harbaugh leaves?

Michigan has a tendency to run coaches out of town if they fail to win, Harbaugh should get no special treatment. If he loses to two or even all three of his rivals this season, does he survive the criticism and return with a potential 1-8 rivalry record? Or does he finally bite some onto of the NFL job offers?

What if the 2018-19 season is a major success for Michigan in every category? Beating their rivals, winning the Big Ten, and cracking the playoffs? Does Harbaugh dust his hands off, consider it a job well done and take off to his next head coaching stop?

Or has Harbaugh had his taste of the NFL and now prefers coaching at the college level? His situation with 49ers GM Jed York was likely a frustrating one for a head coach that resurrected a dead franchise.

At Michigan, Harbaugh has an opportunity to be worshiped if he is able to bring home a national championship. His salary is about as good as it gets, making nine million annually which makes him one of the highest paid coaches in all of football.

Harbaugh is something of a wildcard, no one really knows what he’ll do following the 2018-19 season. His relationship with the University of Michigan, his players, the community, and the fans for the most part is seemingly good.

Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel has recently said that he wants both Jim Harbaugh and basketball head coach John Beilein to coach in Ann Arbor until they both retire. Despite all of the criticism from the public eye, Manuel still believes that Harbaugh is a lifer.

The ex-49ers head coach turns 55 years old in December, still relatively young in the world of coaching. It’ll be interesting to see if his tenure at Michigan will become his longest one to date.

One last question is if results are still scarce by the end of the 2018-19 season, will NFL teams still be willing to pay an arm and a leg for Harbaugh? The bottom line is that no matter what his intentions beyond this season are, it is in the Michigan head coach’s best interest to win and win something meaningful this season.

Michigan fans would like to believe that this is a special place for Harbaugh, he is in control of his legacy at his alma mater.

 

 

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Jim Harbaugh: From God to National Punching Bag

The 2017-18 season was nothing short of a nightmare scenario for the Michigan Football program. In Jim Harbaugh’s third season with the program, the Wolverines went an unexpected 8-5 after a preseason top ten ranking, losing to both rivals. Michigan’s best win of the season was a 28-10 win against a 7-win Purdue team. Three different starting quarterbacks for Michigan strung together just 9 passing touchdowns on the season for an offense that struggled all season long.

Sitting at a 28-11 overall record, 1-5 in rivalry games, and 1-2 in bowl games, is Jim Harbaugh’s tenure going how anyone expected it to? Under Harbaugh, Michigan has finished 3rd, 3rd, and 4th in the Big Ten East Division. Looking at a big picture, the first three seasons of the Harbaugh era have been a disappointment.

When Jim Harbaugh arrived to Ann Arbor, one could compare it to the welcoming of the messiah. The Michigan fan base was kissing the ground that the former 49ers head coach had walked on, expectation for success was affirmative. This was considerably the home-run hire of the off-season in all of sports. It was a very popular opinion that Michigan would be back in the conversation for the playoffs very shortly because of Jim Harbaugh’s reputation to turnaround programs quickly much like he did at Stanford and in San Francisco.

Year One:

2015 came along, the first season under the “prodigal son” of Michigan Football, Jim Harbaugh’s, leadership. Expectations were high, but somewhat realistic in knowing that this was previously a 5-win ball club just a season prior.

The season started off with a disappointing Thursday night prime-time loss to Utah on the road. The tides took a turn several weeks later once Utah started emerging into a national contender, and it just so happened that Michigan was playing their best brand of football with three straight shutouts against BYU, Maryland, and Northwestern. To this day, that was arguably the best three-week stretch Harbaugh has had at Michigan.

After the trifecta of shutouts, Mark Dantonio and the Spartans come to the Big House on a two-game win streak over their in-state rival. Most of you know where this is going; Blake O’Neil happened, he fumbled the snap and yes the ball was free. Jalen Watts-Jackson was in the right place, at the right time for an MSU fluke, heart-breaker win in Ann Arbor.

Michigan still sat comfortably in the top 25 following the loss with a lot of hope for the remainder of the season going into the bye week. The Wolverines went on a four-game win streak and felt pretty good about their chances going into the rivalry matchup in Ann Arbor against the Buckeyes, who were coming off a loss to MSU. Let’s go ahead and say that the first meeting between Harbaugh and Urban Meyer was a lopsided one, OSU wins 42-13.

The Citrus Bowl had a different tale of the tape for Michigan, going up against Jim McElwain’s Florida Gators in a favorable matchup with a banged up Florida offense. Jake Rudock made his case for NFL teams on why he should be drafted; 20 for 31, 64.5 completion percentage, 278 yards, and 3 touchdowns against a top SEC secondary. Michigan won 41-7, finished 10-3 for the 2015-16 season.

Harbaugh’s first season was good not great, didn’t win the big games, the majority being content given it was his first season with the program. A lot returning talent coming back in 2016, Michigan was the favorite to win the Big Ten title, primed for a playoff run with the only question mark being the quarterback position. Another off-season of hype at the midst no doubt. The fan-base still praising Jim Harbaugh as if he were divine.

Year Two:

Through the first nine games, just two road games, Michigan looked like the playoff contender that the hype insisted on them being. At this point, Jim Harbaugh was being looked at like a Nick Saban, or an Urban Meyer. The resume was a pretty one, three wins over what were top ten teams, sitting at no. 2 in the nation.

November 12th featured a prime-time game against a non-ranked, below average Iowa Hawkeyes team in Iowa City at Kinnick Stadium, which in my opinion is one of the most underrated environments in college football. The 9-0 Michigan Wolverines were having the worst night of the season, nothing was going right for them offensively. In the final seconds, a late field-goal stunned Michigan and shattered perfection, 9-1.

The upset in Iowa City was a reality check for Michigan, but didn’t change the playoff picture much as Harbaugh still controlled his team’s own destiny by winning out. Two teams in front of them for the program’s first berth to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship Game for what would’ve been a rematch against Wisconsin, whom they bested at home 14-7 earlier in the season.

After handling Indiana at home, Michigan would move on to the big one in Columbus. This game lived up the its hype, and went down to two overtimes. 4th & 1 in 2 OT, Michigan up 27-24 after kicking a field goal, Ohio State will go for it.

J.T. got the first down, at least that’s what the call on the field was initially and even after further reviewing the spot, the Buckeyes converted. It was a close call, some are calling it a controversial one to this day. A play later, Curtis Samuel took it 15 yards to the house six, Ohio State wins it at home 30-27. Jim Harbaugh was fined about his rant regarding incompetent officiating following the overtime loss.

Finishing the regular season inside the top ten with a 10-2 record earned Michigan and Harbaugh a major bowl game bid in the Orange Bowl to take on Florida State. What was almost a comeback classic, ended up being a disappointment of a finish for Michigan. 33-32 Florida State win.

The biggest end of the season letdown for Michigan since 2006, from 9-0 just to finish the season 1-3. This team was talented, and experienced, had 11 players selected in the NFL draft. What did they have to show for the talent? Zero wins against the Buckeyes, zero divisional nor conference titles, this is an absolutely frustrating dose of reality if you’re a Michigan fan.

How do the fans feel about Harbaugh at this point? Some were calling for his head, but he still has the majority on his side insisting that we need to give him time. There were critics who said he was overrated and overpaid, people were really divided on their stance of the former Michigan quarterback.

Year Three:

A lot of fans, critics, and outside observers seemed to agree on that this was going to be a transitional season for Michigan. The program lost over 40 seniors to graduation, not to mention 11 drafted to the NFL. The Wolverines returned enough starters on offense and defense combined to count on just two hands, barely. There were people who expected a similar coaching job to what Urban Meyer did in 2016 after losing a similar amount of talent and taking his team to the playoffs.

The offense never established an identity in 2017 and struggled to score in the red-zone. Wilton Speight and John O’Korn were both put ahead of redshirt freshman Brandon Peters on the depth chart, and people questioned it from day one.

Michigan ended the regular season with an 8-4 record. Play-calling was a big criticism, and incompetent quarterback play seemed to be a trend despite Jim Harbaugh supposedly being a “quarterback guru”.

In Jim Harbaugh’s offense, quarterbacks aren’t asked to win games on their own, but in this team’s case, the quarterback play was so bad that it lost three out of the four regular season games. Youthful, inexperienced receivers struggled to create any separation and emerge into reliable targets. The tight ends were rarely utilized in the pass game. There was an evident switch-up in the passing game’s scheme when Jedd Fisch left Harbaugh’s staff and then added Pep Hamilton to the staff.

The run-game was inconsistent and didn’t have any noticeable presence against quality opponents, but Karan Higdon had a solid season for Michigan falling just short of a thousand yard season (164 attempts, 994 yards, 6.1 YPC, and 11 TDs).

Prior to the Outback Bowl, I was one of the people who thought that the missing piece for Michigan was simply a quarterback, considering that three out of the four regular season losses could have potentially been avoided with better quarterback play. I even thought Brandon Peters was about to make his case for the starting job in 2018.

People expected a similar result to the 2015-16 beat down over Florida in what felt like an easy match-up against a weak South Carolina team, Michigan was more than a touchdown favorite on New Year’s Day. This was arguably the worst performance for a Jim Harbaugh team at Michigan. Blowing a third quarter 19-3 lead, just to fall apart and lose 26-19 says it all. Three turnovers (two INTs, one fumble) from Brandon Peters on what was the furthest thing from an audition for the starting job for next season and another two fumbles from Karan Higdon and Donovan Peoples-Jones.

In what was supposed to be a statement bowl game, turned out to be an embarrassment game that has made Michigan a national joke with a perceived overrated head coach. I wouldn’t say Jim Harbaugh is on the hot seat just yet, but it’s definitely getting warm at the very least.

How do the fans feel about Jim Harbaugh now? They now, hopefully, realize that he’s human and has a lot to prove regarding if he’s anything special like people say he is. There’s no excuse for how the program was showcased in 2017-18. In year three, how do you not have one quarterback ready to perform? There was absolutely no reason for why a redshirt freshman like Brandon Peters wasn’t better prepared and ready to start in week one. There needs to be an immediate change in the coaching staff, both Tim Drevno and Pep Hamilton’s jobs should not be safe.

What’s Next for Michigan, Harbaugh?

Right now, a majority of fans are demanding results in 2018 or declaring it a bust for Harbaugh’s tenure. A losing record against rivals (Notre Dame, MSU, OSU) will not be stomached well in Ann Arbor. If Michigan goes 0-3 against rivals, and fails to win his division yet gain, Harbaugh’s seat will undoubtedly be hot, if not on fire.

Michigan is paying Harbaugh $9 million per year to win big games, rivalry games, conference and national championships. So far, he’s only beaten one rival (3-9 MSU), has an 0-3 against Ohio State, an 0-2 against Michigan State at home, hasn’t been able to finish better than 3rd place in his own division, and has gone 1-2 in bowl games.

2018 will be a big season for Jim Harbaugh because we’ll get to find out what he’s made of 100 percent. Year four is the golden opportunity to showcase how you’ve built your program, the recruiting has been great, the talent is there, transfer quarterback from Ole Miss Shea Patterson might be eligible to play immediately, inexperience is no longer a factor, it’s time for results and if Harbaugh can’t produce said results, then he’s just not a great coach. That’s about all there is to it, the results just aren’t there and if they aren’t there one year from now, then Jim Harbaugh is a fraud.

 

Playing for Bragging Rights; 10 Win Season on the Line for Michigan

8-3 Michigan’s prior narrow, division title hopes were officially crushed on Saturday as undefeated Wisconsin put away the Wolverines by two touchdowns in Madison. The game was 14-10 at the point of the Michigan offense losing their freshman quarterback, Brandon Peters, for the remainder of the game. After Peters was carted off the field, so was Michigan’s shot at offensive ball movement; the game took on a final score if 24-10 in favor of the home team.

Not many expected Michigan to win last Saturday, the game very well could have had a different outcome had Michigan been able to keep their quarterback, but to put it shortly: the better football team most definitely won.

Michigan’s expectations for this season were up in the air depending on your confidence in the coaching staff as some were predicting a playoff run, few were saying a 7-8 win season, and others were saying anything in between. When any college program loses over 40 seniors and returns 5 or less starters, it’s really a hit or miss season.

One thing Michigan has at least done so far in 2017, with the exception of the MSU game, they’ve beaten every team they were expected to beat. That doesn’t mean we can ignore the obvious shortcomings: something this program has struggled with in recent seasons primarily is winning the big games; Michigan is 0-16 in road games against ranked teams since 2006.

Michigan might not even crack top three in their own division to end the season, which isn’t a good look. In their slight defense, the Big Ten East is about as tough as a college football division can get. Nevertheless, the highest paid coach in the conference, Jim Harbaugh, should be able to finish better than third or fourth in a division in three seasons right? He’ll get just one more pass for a disappointing conference finish, but excuses are running thin come next season.

What’s next for Michigan? What is left for this nightmare of a season?

  • A chance to beat your rival, something this program and fan-base needs like none other.
  • Win a bowl game.
  • Opportunity to win 10 games for the third consecutive seasons.
  • Showcase what fans can expect come 2018-19.

Much like last Saturday, Michigan will be an Vegas underdog; Ohio State opened as a 13 point favorite in Ann Arbor.

Uncertain of who will be under center on Saturday, Harbaugh just announced today that Peters is in concussion protocol and could potentially be out of protocol by Wednesday or Thursday, or not at all, it’s up to the doctors. We will find out more information on Peters as the week progresses, chance to play is “hopeful”. Wilton Speight’s status is doubtful for Saturday, was cleared for non-contact last week. Harbaugh also said that Lavert Hill was cleared for practice this week.

The Buckeyes are coming off two blowout wins over a respected MSU team (48-3) and over Illinois (52-14). Michigan hasn’t scored more than 36 points in any game this season, they’ll look to their defense as an asset to keep them in the game on Saturday. A healthy Brandon Peters can potentially lower the line for the game, the freshman QB gives this Michigan offense a better chance to open up the passing game.

Despite having their primary goals out of reach yet again for the season, there’s still plenty motivation for this Michigan team to come out fired up this Saturday and for the bowl season. The confidence is scarce, but Jim Harbaugh has pulled off major, statistical upsets at prior coaching jobs.

A lot of this team still has fond memory and a bad taste in their mouths from what some players and many fans feel was an officiating wrong-doing in Columbus a season ago, rivalries can give teams a newfound motivation to up their play and execute.

 

 

Harbaugh, Michigan in Control of their Own Destiny

This one’s for all of the Michigan fans out there hanging onto, what seems to be, an unlikely scenario for their favorite football team.

Can Jim Harbaugh’s third Michigan Football team run the table and crack the playoffs? I wouldn’t put my money on it considering what we’ve seen on the offensive side of the ball this season (98th total offense, 101st passing offense, through 6 games for Michigan). The run game appears to be the only hope for Michigan at this point in the schedule, Karan Higdon broke out last Saturday with 25 touches, 200 yards, and 3 scores.

I’m not counting out the Wolverines yet, they have a great opportunity on Saturday night to make a statement as they’re headed to Happy Valley to play no. 2 Penn State on national television. The pressure for Harbaugh to win this one is as big as it gets; win tomorrow night, then they’re back in the playoff conversation, but if they lose, they’ll likely be unranked for the first time since the BYU game in 2015.

After the upset loss to MSU, lot of the fan-base has thrown in the towel for the season, and began focusing on what Michigan will do in 2018. This is wrong because the reality of the current state of the season is that they’re sitting at 5-1, coming off a conference road-win, and they’re about to play the no. 2 team in the nation.

Michigan’s recipe for a potential playoff berth is as simple as it gets: win out. If the no. 19 ranked Wolverines are capable of winning the games they’re supposed to win (Rutgers, Minnesota, Maryland), and pull off wins against currently ranked top ten teams (no. 2 Penn State, no. 5 Wisconsin, no. 6 Ohio State), then they’re in. This scenario would only work out under an assumption that MSU drops another game or two to fall short of the East division title.

I don’t realistically expect Michigan to pull off the unlikely run to crack the playoffs, I personally believe that they lack the offense competence to do so. Do I think it’s crazy to think that Harbaugh has enough tricks up his sleeve to sneak a win or two out of the three marquee games remaining this season? Absolutely not, Harbaugh is a wild-card and he’s managed to win games that his teams have had no business winning.

I hope I’m wrong, I hope the offense comes to life against Penn State, and a newfound momentum propels this young team to new heights. After all, this is college football, crazy things have happened and they’ll definitely continue to happen — anything is possible.  It’s up to them to do it, and it starts tomorrow night with all odds stacked against them, backs against the wall.

 

 

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.