As a Saginaw, Mich. native and someone who was accepted into that world-renowned university in Ann Arbor, I don’t remember a time in my life in which I wasn’t a fan of the University of Michigan’s football team.
And often in life, deep connections to things can grant insight that others may not see. This is why I’m here to tell you that Michigan, and its fanbase, are stuck with Jim Harbaugh for the long haul.
The tea leaves have always been there. You just have to know how to read them.
Tomorrow, the much-maligned Big Ten season will kick off amid a global pandemic when Illinois and Wisconsin meet in the first game of the conference’s shortened season in Madison.
On Saturday night, Minnesota will host Michigan in the marquee game of the week, as they’ve been assigned the highly-coveted 7:30 pm EST night game on ABC.
Once again, Harbaugh will be on a big stage. And that’s a place he’s had little success since he returned to coach at his alma mater. In his tenure, Michigan is 9-13 in games in which both teams were ranked, 10-14 against Top 25 teams, 2-11 against Top 10 teams, and winless against “that school down South,” Ohio State.
He’s also 1-4 in bowl games.
When Michigan takes the field on Saturday night for its 141st season, it will be year six for a man that signed a seven-year deal in 2015. Some are wondering if a man that is the fourth highest-paid coach in the country, that has the resume that was listed above, will see a contract extension.
The answer is yes.
But, the reasons have to do with everything that happened before Harbaugh ever showed up.
During the Lloyd Carr era, Michigan was Michigan. They won a national championship, won five Big Ten titles, had a Heisman Trophy winner, sent a ton of players — especially skill players — to the NFL, and were in the national championship hunt just about every season.
But then, fans got greedy. Carr’s 122-40 record, along with a national title on his resume, wasn’t enough. He was 2-5 in his last seven bowl games and people wanted “something new.”
“The chorus of critics has been so busy blaming him and beating the pulpit for his resignation that it hasn’t bothered to notice that the guy it wants out as Michigan’s football coach already appears to be gone,” read the opening of a 2007 ESPN story on Carr.
Up first to replace Carr, was the train wreck era of Rich Rodriguez. One of the innovators of the read-option scheme, Rich-Rod went 3-9 in his first season. He only lasted three seasons compiling a 15-22 record with one postseason appearance that ended in a 52-14 drubbing to Mississippi State in the 2011 Gator Bowl.
Then came the Brady Hoke era. It started so well but ended in mediocrity. Hoke went 11-2 in his first season, as the Wolverines beat Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl. But then things went downhill as Michigan would go 8-5, 7-6, and 5-7 over the next three years. Hoke finished 31-20 overall, with a 1-2 bowl record.
In the seven seasons that Rodriguez and Hoke were on the sidelines, Michigan lost a total of 42 games.
Compare that to the 40 they lost in the 13 years that Carr was in town.
Under Harbaugh, Michigan is averaging a 9-3 record every season. There wasn’t a win total that surpassed that in the seven years of Rodriguez and Hoke except for that first year of Hoke’s. year at 11-2. Carr won at least nine games 10 times in his 13-year tenure.
Starting to see where this is going?
Because despite the annual ass-kicking from Ohio State every November, it’s kind of hard to get rid of a guy that has won 72.3 percent of his games, along with already having the seventh-most wins in school history.
Besides, who else on God’s green Earth could show up in Ann Arbor tomorrow and turn things around?
Because if there was, he would already be there. And I say that as someone that never wanted Harbaugh to begin with.
However, more than anything, Harbaugh has just been unlucky. Because his entire career at Michigan, and the narrative around his tenure, would be different if what took place on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016, didn’t happen.
Armed with the best defense in the country, momentum, and a Heisman Trophy finalist in Jabrill Peppers, Harbaugh went into the Horseshoe looking for his first win over his biggest rival and a berth in the College Football Playoffs.
A controversial first down ruling on a fourth-and-1 possession in double overtime changed everything. Referees said that Buckeye quarterback J.T. Barrett made it. Michigan fans, along with myself, will tell you it’s one of the worst calls in sports history, in one of the worst officiated games of all time.
“That was not a first down,” said Harbaugh after the game. “I’m bitterly disappointed with the officiating today.”
Ohio State scored on the next play, won the game, and went on to the College Football Playoffs. Michigan has never been that close, or that good, since.
Sometimes a single play can define you.
If you check ESPN.com you will see that they’re predicting Michigan to go 4-4 in this shortened 8-game season. And from my view, it feels like spot-on analysis.
And as angry as that may make the Michigan fans who want Harbaugh gone, it doesn’t take away from the fact that he’s the best option we have.
Because nobody wants to go back to the days when Jim Harbaugh wasn’t our head coach.
Which is why we’re stuck with him.