Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh and athletic director Warde Manuel shoot down NFL rumors on Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018, at Crisler Center.
Nick Baumgardner, Freep
Jamie Samuelsen, co-host of the “Jamie and Stoney” show at 6 a.m. weekdays on WXYT-FM (97.1), blogs for freep.com. His opinions do not necessarily reflect those of the Detroit Free Press nor its writers. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @jamiesamuelsen.
After 4 seasons, how would you assess Jim Harbaugh’s tenure with Michigan football?
By almost any rational measure, Jim Harbaugh has been a success in his four seasons at Michigan.
He has won at a 74 percent clip. He has twice entered the final regular season game in the top 4 of the College Football Playoff, with a chance at a national championship.
He has put together good, sometimes great recruiting classes. Michigan is a nationally prominent football program once again and it’s rise from the ashes (ashes of course being a loss to Rutgers) can be directly attributed to Harbaugh.
But this is Michigan. And he’s Jim Harbaugh. So of course, the standards are different.
Instead of focusing on what Harbaugh has done, critics will fairly point at what he has not done.
He is the first Michigan coach to start 0-4 against Ohio State. He hasn’t won a division title or even played for a Big Ten title. He’s 1-2 in bowl games. He’s 2-2 against Michigan State. He has won one road game against a ranked team and that was this season against the Spartans, who entered ranked No. 24. For most coaches, these would be negatives. For Harbaugh and Michigan — it’s deemed unacceptable.
I can’t speak for all Michigan fans but I am surprised by the level of Harbaugh fatigue that’s out there. Following the 62-39 debacle against Ohio State, we did a simple thumbs up/thumbs down exercise on the radio, where we asked Michigan fans if they approved of the job Harbaugh is doing. Much like the omnipresent presidential approval polls, it’s a simple yes or no and doesn’t have to reflect a passionate feeling on either side. I expected to hear some grumbling, but expected an overwhelming majority of fans to approve the job Harbaugh was doing and the direction the program is heading.
I was wrong. The poll was split 50-50, at best, and the passion against Harbaugh was far harsher than any reasonable person could have expected. The Ohio State dominance is the biggest factor. The lack of a division title is right up there as well.
But the overwhelming feeling from fans was Harbaugh simply hasn’t delivered on what was expected, which quite simply was to be on par with Urban Meyer and put Michigan on a tier with Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma and the other superpowers of college football.
Which brings us back to the original question: Has Harbaugh lived up to expectations?
Of course not. But the expectations were preposterous to start with. And most of those expectations came from the very people who are now blaming Harbaugh for not reaching those lofty heights — the fans and the media.
You never heard Harbaugh, his staff or players guarantee a title. They’ve all said the same things about preparing for a season, an opponent or a bowl. Sure, he has used his Twitter account to spar with Meyer, Mark Dantonio and others. But there have been no talk about return to glory or multiple national championships.
Harbaugh seemed like the perfect coach for Michigan — a top recruiter, motivator and tactician coming home to his alma mater. The story essentially wrote itself. The problem of course is great coaches were waiting for him in the Big 10 and around the country, and none of them liked the idea of someone rolling into town and just taking over.
So they’ve battled back, recruited back and game-planned back. Nothing motivates highly motivated people quite like the notion that their spot in the pecking order is going to be pushed down one peg by the mere presence of a new coach.
If you’re concerned about the Harbaugh era at Michigan, you’re not alone. I thought there would be more signature wins. I never thought Meyer would “retire” with an undefeated record against Harbaugh. And I certainly thought Michigan would be producing NFL caliber quarterbacks that elicited a little more emotion than Jake Rudock. That hasn’t happened. But that’s not to say that it can’t.
Try, if you can, to put aside the money, put aside the expectations and put aside the aura that surrounds Harbaugh. If that’s even possible, ask yourself if the program is healthier now than it has been in more than a decade.
The answer is yes. It’s not where you want it to be. It’s not where Harbaugh wants it to be. But it’s a lot closer now than it was when Harbaugh arrived after the 2014 season.
I know how things work. I know the response to this will be along the lines of: “How can you defend a guy that gave up 62 to Ohio State?”
True. Fair. But this isn’t a defense of where Michigan is right now. It’s an observation of where the program was, where it is now and where it can still get.
And by that measure, Harbaugh remains the right coach for this job.