Hiring of Jim Harbaugh Breathes Life Into Wolverine Program
On Tuesday, the University of Michigan finally secured its “man.”
Two days after departing from his position as coach of the San Francisco 49ers, the school introduced former Wolverine quarterback Jim Harbaugh as its new head football coach.
Michigan’s fan base has endured some dismal seasons recently. In 2014, the Wolverines ended the season with a losing record for the third time since 2008.
There is a considerable amount of optimism in Ann Arbor, but the impact of Harbaugh’s hiring goes beyond just “that school up North.”
Growing up in Columbus, Ohio, I was raised to dislike the University of Michigan strongly.
I lived a mere 20 minutes from Ohio State’s campus, so it was only natural to support the Buckeyes and cheer against “that school up North.”
Eventually, my sentiments evolved into admiration. I witnessed the excellence displayed by the school as it consistently defeated top-ranked OSU teams each year.
In the first 18 years of my life (1984-2002), Ohio State won only six times, and two of those victories were under coach Jim Tressel in 2001-02.
As I started playing high school football and received letters from Michigan, I realized that its combination of academics and athletics was hard to match… except perhaps by Notre Dame, of course.
As fate would have it, I spent my college years in South Bend (2003-6), and we faced Michigan every season, splitting the series 2-2.
Yet, my admiration for Michigan continued to grow.
Following Lloyd Carr’s departure as head coach of the Wolverines in 2007, the program began to decline.
In the search for the next “Michigan Man,” they brought in Rich Rodriguez (2008-10), followed by Brady Hoke.
Although Rich Rod’s teams demonstrated improvement each season, success didn’t come quickly enough for the Michigan leadership.
Hoke’s tenure started off promisingly, but the gap between the Wolverines and their traditional rivals soon became evident.
A 31-0 defeat to Notre Dame early in the season and a 42-28 loss to the Buckeyes, who were playing with their second and third-string quarterbacks, sealed his fate.
Athletic Director Dave Brandon was the first to depart, followed by Hoke. With so much turmoil and only six commitments for this year’s recruiting class, Michigan recognized that they needed a home run and a grand slam to reverse their steep decline.
Interim AD Jim Hackett accomplished precisely that. Hackett, in collaboration with Michigan’s Board of Trustees, pinpointed their desired candidate, and the timing couldn’t have been better.
Harbaugh was navigating a lackluster season with the 49ers and contending with a strained working relationship with General Manager Trent Baalke.
Speculation had been circulating in various media outlets for almost a year about Harbaugh potentially joining several teams.
This only exacerbated further the discord between the two, leading Harbaugh and Baalke to amicably part ways.
Michigan stood poised and eager to secure Harbaugh, now 51, with a lucrative seven-year, $5 million per year contract and a $2 million signing bonus, catapulting him into the ranks of the five highest-paid coaches in college football.
During his press conference on Tuesday, Harbaugh cited several reasons for accepting the job, but one held particular significance: it was a return to his roots. Harbaugh had his formative years in the area, spending a portion of his high school days in Ann Arbor.
Moreover, his father, Jack, had coached alongside the Michigan legend Bo Schembechler.
After high school, Harbaugh committed to Michigan, where he quarterbacked for Schembechler from 1983 to 1986 before embarking on a 14-season career in the NFL.
Harbaugh’s coaching journey commenced at the University of San Diego in 2004.
Over three years, he guided the Toreros to two impressive 11-1 seasons and clinched their inaugural I-AA Mid-Major Championship.
In 2007, he took the helm at Stanford, where he displayed a memorable 2010 season, culminating in the Cardinal’s first-ever 11-win season and a triumphant Orange Bowl victory against Virginia Tech – the school’s first bowl win since 1996.
Just four days after this Orange Bowl triumph, Harbaugh signed a five-year deal to lead the 49ers.
Under his stewardship, San Francisco advanced to three consecutive NFC Championship games, an unprecedented feat in NFL history.
He also led them to Super Bowl XLVII, where they faced the Baltimore Ravens, coached by his brother, John.
Regrettably, the 49ers narrowly lost in a heart-wrenching 34-31 contest.
It was at this juncture that murmurs about Baalke’s challenges in collaborating with Harbaugh began to circulate.
Although the rumors momentarily quieted, they resurfaced this year as the 49ers struggled to finish the season at 8-8.
This ultimately led Harbaugh to Ann Arbor and prompted San Francisco to embark on the search for a new coach.
Harbaugh’s appointment marks not only a triumph for Michigan but also for the Big Ten Conference at large.
He was on everyone’s radar as a top candidate for the head coaching role – be it in the NFL or NCAA.
His track record of success at multiple levels attests to his prowess as a winner.
Additionally, his experience as a player in both realms makes him relatable to student-athletes, a quality often rare in the head coaching profession.
Harbaugh has shown a remarkable ability to swiftly elevate teams, turning San Diego, Stanford, and San Francisco into conference contenders in his inaugural seasons.
His expertise mentoring young quarterbacks is a highly sought-after quality for Wolverine fans, who have witnessed the quarterback position face continuous challenges.
There is no doubt that the most promising high school quarterbacks across the nation will now be eager to join Michigan.
Harbaugh will not only prepare these signal-callers for the NFL but will also be able to offer insights from his own four-year playing experience in Ann Arbor.
This capacity to sit in a recruit’s living room and help parents grasp what their child will experience at UM is truly invaluable.
The Big Ten will eagerly anticipate the showdown with Ohio State on November 28, 2015, expecting Harbaugh to make a significant impact.
While he refrained from making any outright promises of victory, unlike in 1986 when he guided the Wolverines to a road triumph in Columbus, it’s important not to underestimate his dedication.
Harbaugh’s groundwork to outplay the Buckeyes commences now, and securing a win in this matchup would undoubtedly be a defining moment.
The historic rivalry in college football has recently tilted heavily in favor of Ohio State, who have clinched 10 of the last 11 meetings.
Harbaugh’s arrival not only means a renewal for the Big Ten in terms of visibility but should also elevate competitiveness on a national scale.
Beyond Ohio State, it’s challenging to argue for consistent success among other Big Ten teams in the modern era.
The conference’s standing is often considered weaker than other Power 5 conferences, having gone 5-9 against Power 5 competition last season.
Therefore, the league could greatly benefit from revitalizing one of its flagship programs.
This doesn’t even account for the additional advantages, such as increased ticket sales, a surge in enrollment applications, and other ancillary benefits.
Harbaugh’s emphasis on preparing players for the NFL will send more polished athletes to the next level.
This, undoubtedly, benefits the NFL as they’ll see draft prospects who are more ready for the rigors of professional football. It’s a mutually advantageous situation.
While I may not personally align with Michigan as a fan, I’m pleased to witness one of the most esteemed football institutions reinstating one of their own to lead them back to glory.
It’s not only a boon for Michigan but also for football at all tiers.