Michigan football: Historic run for Jim Harbaugh proves he was right choice
In the not-so-distant past, Michigan fans and (some) media were calling for Jim Harbaugh’s job at Michigan. The cries were comical, illogical and petty — but they were also nagging and persistent, so much so that the idea became a joke.
“Fire Harbaugh” if Michigan lost.
“Fire Harbaugh” if another team dared to score.
“Fire Harbaugh” if the Wolverines didn’t land every 5-star recruit known to mankind.
“Fire Harbaugh” for just about anything, really.
Then things changed. Now, Michigan fans are singing the praises of Ann Arbor’s favorite son. Today, they’re proclaiming Harbaugh as the greatest thing to happen to Wolverines football since the construction of the Big House.
Following 2021’s win over Ohio State, Big Ten championship and College Football Playoff appearance, the “fire Harbaugh” chirping pretty much disappeared. However, entering the season, Harbaugh was doubted — particularly his commitment to Michigan, due to NFL flirtation — and had a rabid fanbase looking for any excuse to discredit his effort.
Fast-forward to today, and Harbaugh is on the verge of making major history in Ann Arbor. He’s had first-round and early draft picks, Heisman finalists and other major award-winning talent since taking over for Brady Hoke in 2015. He’s routinely been ranked in the top 10, something that was a rarity for the better part of the decade prior to Harbaugh’s acceptance of the homecoming ticket.
Harbaugh has returned Michigan to national relevance. The Wolverines are No. 3 in the most recent College Football Playoff rankings and a favorite to make another run at a conference title.
Since Jim Harbaugh took over as head coach in 2015, Michigan has spent 55 weeks ranked in the AP top 10. The Wolverines have spent 31 weeks ranked in the top 5 and 10 weeks ranked in the top 3.
For reference, Michigan spent one total week ranked in the AP top 10 from 2008-2014.
— Scott Bell (@sbell021) November 6, 2022
So, just how good has he been since 2015? Damn good — so good, in fact, that there is a growing list of “firsts/firsts in some time” that could come to fruition this season.
Should Michigan beat Nebraska, Harbaugh will notch his fifth 10-win season with the Wolverines, becoming just the second UM coach to win 10 or more games in his first 7 full seasons (first in modern era). At 9-0, it’s all but certain that Michigan will win at least 10 games this year, possibly running the table. In 2015 and 2016, his first 2 seasons, Harbaugh won 10 games at Michigan — and that was the first time UM had back-to-back 10-win seasons since 2002-2003.
Last year, Michigan won 12 games. What if that happened again this year? It’d be the first time in program history. There have been three consecutive 10-win seasons (10, 10, 12), but never back-to-back 11- or 12-win seasons. Should that happen, Harbaugh would stand alone in the Michigan record books.
Running back Blake Corum has been on a historic tear this year, prompting Harbaugh to publicly declare that Corum would be worthy of an invite to New York City for the Heisman ceremony. Should that happen, Harbaugh would be the first Michigan coach to have three top-5 Heisman finalists within his first 7 years: ATH/DB Jabrill Peppers was 5th in 2016 and DE Aidan Hutchinson was runner-up in 2021.
Former coach Lloyd Carr had one Heisman winner (Charles Woodson, 1997) and three top-10 finalists: RB Mike Hart was 5th in 2006, WR Braylon Edwards was 10th in 2004 and RB Chris Perry was 4th in 2003.
Bo Schembechler had 9 legitimate Heisman candidates from 1969-89 but only 4 finished in the top 5, one being Jim Harbaugh (3rd in 1986). So yeah, there is some major Heisman history on the line this season for Harbaugh, who, by any measure, has done more in his first 7 years than any UM coach during the modern era.
Other notable possibilities
With a win this season, Harbaugh would be the first UM coach to beat Ohio State back-to-back years since Lloyd Carr did it in 1999-2000. In 2021, the Wolverines smacked the Buckeyes, 42-27, and apples-to-apples comparisons suggest that UM could knock off OSU once again this season. For the first time in nearly 15 years, Michigan could end up being the favorite — if not a favorite, odds-wise, certainly viewed as capable of winning.
Since 2000, Ohio State wins have become a yearly assumption. This year could change that perspective.
Of course, beating Ohio State comes with spoils, namely a Big Ten title. If Michigan tops the B1G this season, Harbaugh would be the first Wolverines coach to win outright, back-to-back league titles since Gary Moeller in 1991-1992.
Finally, and most obvious, a win over Ohio State would guarantee a spot in the CFP (assuming UM wins its 2 games prior to OSU). Should that happen, Harbaugh would be the first Michigan coach to have back-to-back CFP appearances. Yeah, the CFP has only been around since 2014, but it’d still be an achievement. Harbaugh would be in an exclusive club of coaches, as a whole, if he were to qualify for the Playoff.
History gets written by the winners. Harbaugh is winning and writing his own story in Ann Arbor, a triumphant tale of defying odds and reaching the pinnacle of the game.