Schuttin' from the hip: Too much is being made of Jim Harbaugh's flirtation with the NFL
Each week, Saturday Tradition managing editor Dustin Schutte offers his spin on what matters most in the B1G.
No, Jim Harbaugh flirting with the NFL doesn’t doom Michigan
The timing was strange, wasn’t it? When Jim Harbaugh agreed to a second interview with the Minnesota Vikings on National Signing Day, it seemed inevitable that the “Michigan Man” would be packing his office in Ann Arbor and heading to the Twin Cities.
Most of us believed it was a done deal. Once the ink dried, an announcement would be made to confirm Harbaugh’s tenure at Michigan was ending after seven seasons — leaving the program on a high note.
In true Harbaugh fashion, the Michigan head coach “totally redeemed himself.”
On National Signing Day, Harbaugh committed to Michigan. He told an “elated” Warde Manuel that he’s sticking around Ann Arbor “for as long as they want him,” according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Harbaugh returning was the best-case scenario for Michigan. The Wolverines are coming off their best season of the era, finishing with a 12-2 record, defeating Ohio State, claiming a B1G title and earning a trip to the College Football Playoff. Regardless of what transpired over the last month, the program should be elated to its head coach back.
Yet there still exists this scalding hot take that Harbaugh’s flirtatious attitude with the NFL has damaged the program, as if his absence from National Signing Day was the wooden block that toppled the Jenga tower.
That’s not true. At all.
The timing of Harbaugh’s second interview with Minnesota wasn’t great, that much we can acknowledge. Even if most (or all) of the recruiting work is completed during the Early Signing Period, it’s probably best to at least give the appearance that you’re fully invested in your program. We can all agree with that.
SEC Network’s Paul Finebaum took it to another level, as he often does with Harbaugh. On ESPN’s Get Up on Thursday, the longtime radio host sounded off on the situation.
“Jim Harbaugh could screw up a one-car funeral and I think he did that (Wednesday),” Finebaum said. “He had everything going for him. He had the best season he’s had at Michigan. He goes to the (Playoff) and he has a good recruiting class and, in some ways, he throws it all away. … He held his school hostage for a month. I think it’s a very terrible look for Jim Harbaugh and Michigan.”
A few flaws lie within Finebaum’s argument.
First, Michigan still has a great recruiting class. The Wolverines rank No. 9 nationally and No. 3 in the B1G in the 2022 cycle, per 247Sports composite rankings. A total of 10 players with a 4- or 5-star ranking are heading to Ann Arbor.
As for holding the school hostage? Harbaugh was transparent during this entire process. He was honest with recruits regarding his interest in the NFL. Manuel reportedly gave the Vikings permission to speak with the head coach about the vacancy.
Deon Johnson, the father of Michigan commit and 5-star cornerback Will Johnson, told Angelique Chengelis of The Detroit News of a conversation between Harbaugh and his son.
“He told William he was definitely looking and if an opportunity came up, he was probably going to take it,” Deon said. “(Harbaugh) told him he felt the team was gonna be good, they’re gonna win a lot of ballgames, they’re gonna do a lot of good things. But he wants to chase a Super Bowl. That’s one of the things on his list is to be a Super Bowl-winning coach.”
By all accounts, Harbaugh was open about his interest in a return to the NFL. So why is he the one labeled untrustworthy? He’s certainly more dependable than Lincoln Riley or Brian Kelly.
Things could change in the coming weeks and months. Current players and incoming prospects could enter the transfer portal at a rapid pace, feeling betrayed by a head coach who repeated the phrase “This is only the beginning” after winning the B1G Championship Game. Then, maybe we’ll revisit the thought of Harbaugh’s absence on National Signing Day harming the progress of the program.
For now, though, it appears Harbaugh is happy to be at Michigan. Michigan is happy to have Harbaugh back. All the momentum the program carried into the offseason is still palpable in Ann Arbor.
Harbaugh has put his alma mater back on the map. A month-long dalliance with the NFL doesn’t undo all of the progress the program has made over the last seven years.
The Steele Trap
Mike Locksley had him. Kevin Steele, perceived as one of the top defensive coordinators in college football, was on the hook to join the staff at Maryland and take control of the defense. It would have been the most important hire in the B1G this offseason.
Then a hurricane crashed into College Park, tugging Steele away from Maryland and washing him onto the shore in Miami. Mario Cristobal’s offer one-upped what Locksley could provide.
Adding Steele to the staff might’ve have been the piece that elevated Maryland’s program. Sure, the Terrapins reached a bowl game in 2021 and ended the year over .500 (7-6), but in games against the B1G’s elite — Iowa, Ohio State, Michigan — Locksley’s bunch was still significantly overmatched. A lot of that was because of shortcomings on the defensive side.
Maryland ranked 13th in the B1G in scoring defense (30.7 points per game) and pass defense (248.8 yards per game). It finished 12th in yards allowed (403.5 yards per game) and 11th against the run (154.8 yards per game). The Terps surrendered 40 points or more in losses to Iowa, Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan.
Steele wasn’t on a sideline in 2021, but he did enjoy tremendous success while at Auburn from 2016-20. His defenses allowed fewer than 20 points per game in each of his first four seasons. In 2020, the Tigers allowed 24.7.
Any of those averages would’ve been welcomed with open arms in College Park.
Plus, Steele has experience working with some of the best coaches in the sport. He’s spent time with Tom Osborne (Nebraska), Bobby Bowden (Florida State), Dabo Swinney (Clemson), Nick Saban (Alabama) and Les Miles (LSU). All were winners of a national championship.
Last season, Maryland proved it had the offense to compete with most teams in the B1G. With Taulia Tagovailoa back under center and a plethora of talent in the wide receiver room — Dontay Demus Jr., Rakim Jarrett, Jeshaun Jones and Jacob Copeland — the Terrapins should be able to put points on the board.
If Maryland could’ve struck a deal with Steele there’d be a lot more faith in its ability to keep opponents out of the end zone. Now, it feels like the Terps might run into the same issues they had in 2020.
In just a few short days, Maryland went from making one of the best moves of the offseason to suffering one of the biggest losses.
Nebraska the only B1G winner of National Signing Day
On a day that has lost most of its appeal because of the creation of the Early Signing Period, Nebraska emerged as the B1G winner during National Signing Day.
The Huskers were able to flip two major recruits on Wednesday, helping bump the class out of the B1G’s last-placed spot in the recruiting rankings.
First, Nebraska flipped 3-star running back Ajay Allen from TCU. The Louisiana native and nation’s No. 40 running back in the 2022 class will add depth to a backfield that has struggled to establish itself recently.
The biggest move of the day came shortly after, when 4-star wide receiver Janiran Bonner flipped his commitment from Georgia Tech to Nebraska. The 6-foot-1, 195-pound pass catcher was listed as one of the Top 50 receivers of the cycle.
With those two pledges, Nebraska bumped up to the No. 10 class in the B1G and No. 41 nationally.
Nebraska enjoyed a nice bump on National Signing Day, giving fans a little bit more to be excited about. Scott Frost has done a lot of work since the conclusion of the 2021 season, reassembling his offensive staff and recruiting the transfer portal extremely well, landing commitments from ex-Texas quarterback Casey Thompson, former Texas A&M running back Deondre Jackson, Oklahoma State offensive lineman Hunter Anthony, Northern Iowa cornerback Omar Brown and LSU standout Trey Palmer.
Is it premature to say there’s some serious momentum heading into the 2022 season in Lincoln? Probably. After all, this isn’t the first time a lot of hype has hovered over Memorial Stadium before the start of spring ball. But with Nebraska’s two big pick-ups on National Signing Day, success in the portal and a new-and-improved offensive staff, it feels different than previous seasons.
Now it’s up to Frost and Co. to turn this offseason hype into wins on the field.