The way things have gone over the past 4 years, let’s take a moment of reflection in Ann Arbor. Saturday’s game pitting two top 15 conference foes could put a number of scenarios in play. #11 Michigan visits Camp Randall Stadium to tussle with the #13 Wisconsin Badgers. Jim Harbaugh will try to do something he has not done in his 4 previous years with the Wolverines – beat a top 15 team as an underdog on the road. A win by the maize and blue on Saturday and it should quell some of the fan base looking for more out of Harbaugh. A Michigan loss and expect roads to lead to all out anarchy in the fan base.
December 29th, 2014
Us Michigan fans could see the writing on the wall as the 2014 NFL season ended and the way Harbaugh got pushed out the door in San Francisco. We knew he was heading home, and we were all optimistic. A moment of reflection in Ann Arbor…
If he can do what he did at Stanford and take the 49ers to the Super Bowl, we are on our way back on the grid, and a chance at being relevant again. Anything is better than Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke.
The University of Michigan laid out the red carpet for Harbaugh. He said all the right things, and was humble in leading the all-time winningest program in college football. He looked great with the block ‘M’ behind him. And, he sounded as if he knew he belonged at Schembechler Hall trying to restore a program built by his former coach. Harbaugh says this is his dream job. The coach had to get to work because signing day was about 6 weeks away.
Building his first team
Harbaugh laid the groundwork for his first team with several moves. First, he needed to get his recruits in line because the ‘Michigan Brand’ has been tarnished over the past decade. Several recruits were holdovers from the previous staff’s work. The only one’s that panned out of the 14 signees include RB Karan Higdon, S Tyree Kinnel, and OT Jon Runyan, Jr. Next, he put his staff together. Tim Drevno would run Harbaugh’s pro style offense. Drevno coached with Harbaugh during his stints with the University of San Diego, Stanford, and San Francisco 49ers. Harbaugh would then tab D.J. Durkin to call the defense. Cautious optimism ensued in April as the Wolverines suited for their spring game.
The boys ran out of the tunnel in Salt Lake City. Next, it was time to see where this team was at. The Utes drove down the field on the first drive, the result was only a field goal. Guys out of position and not making tackles. But, they held Utah to a field goal. This felt different. The past few teams would have given up the touchdown. During the course of the game mistakes ensued as QB Jake Rudock threw 3 interceptions. The Wolverines played until the end as the final score would be 24-17. Talk about getting kicked in the gut. Fans expected so much more from Harbaugh’s team, but played tough on the road. Harbaugh would go on to lead the team to a 10-3 record, which included a 41-7 drubbing of the Florida Gators in the Citrus Bowl.
Many college coaching jobs are secured or lost depending on the results of games versus your rivals. The Wolverines main rivals include Michigan State, Penn State, and Ohio (State). Harbaugh’s record in 4 years against these schools is 5-7. One glaring fact in this record is Harbaugh has not beat Ohio (State) in his Michigan coaching career. After last year’s flat out dumpster fire in Columbus, the fan base wants results. It’s beat the Buckeyes or bust this season. Again, this is in the eyes of the fan base. The boosters, regents, and alumni will need a lot more negative results for the school to make a change at coach.
Winds of change
Harbaugh is known to be a pretty stubborn guy. You can tell with his hires and philosophy. I mean for a while he used a full back, which harkened back to the game back in the 70s with “3 yards and a cloud of dust”. Today’s college game is more wide open and a chess match of getting guys open in space. First in 2018, he tabbed former Ohio (State) offensive coach Ed Warriner to head up the Offensive Line. The Warriner hire made me believe that Harbaugh was beginning to adapt to today’s game. Next, he handed over the keys to former Alabama assistant Josh Gattis to run the offense. Gattis coached with Alabama teams that are consistently at the top of the nation in offense, plus he helped lead the Crimson Tide to the National Title Game.
The Wolverines are two games deep in this season, and fans are already getting antsy. In the opener, Michigan stumble out of the gate but went on to route Middle Tennessee 40-21. The following week, the team escaped an upset from Army 24-21 in 2OT. Fans knew this game would be tough and many analysts put the Maize and Blue on ‘Upset Alert’. But, they survived.
The team has lacked execution on both offense and defense. There’s optimism to get the offense back on track, but the defense is a big question mark. And, if this same effort continues Harbaugh may need to make a drastic change on the defensive side of the ball.
Where do we go from here?
Saturday’s game at in Madison versus #14 Wisconsin is HUGE for the Wolverines. Win and you stay alive in the College Football Playoff. Lose and try to dig yourself out of a deep hole. If Michigan loses on Saturday, expect the fan base to call for someone’s head. A win and it could begin to silence some critics for now.
Does Athletic Director Warde Manuel make a change at the end of the season? Manuel was hired by the university in December of 2016, after Harbaugh was hired as coach. This is unchartered territory for Harbaugh; he has never coached more than 4 years at his last three stops. Right now, I see Harbaugh staying at Michigan — The job is his as long as he wants it. If the results are the same at the end of this season, Harbaugh and the fans will need a moment of reflection in Ann Arbor.