Michigan football: What the hell happened to Jim Harbaugh in the past 4 years?
Remember Signing of the Stars? How about the rap video where he was whipping around in a bright-yellow exotic sports car in The Big House?
“Who’s got it better than us?”
Remember the Jordan Brand unveiling Aug. 2, 2016 that clogged a few city blocks of Ann Arbor? People clamored to buy $80 block-M pullovers; it was insane (I was there).
Ring, ring … it’s MJ calling, Jim!
Climbing trees to land cannon-legged kickers? Sleepovers with the same recruit? Wrestling match with 2017 DT Phillip Paea? Oh, how about engaging in a foot race on pavement with former DB Keith Washington during a recruiting visit? That story was always pretty entertaining.
There was so much hype and hoopla surrounding the beginning of the Jim Harbaugh era at Michigan. On Dec. 30, 2014, Michigan introduced him as the successor to Brady Hoke, who replaced Rich Rodriguez — who was hired because, like Hoke, he won at his previous stop. Like Hoke, he was fired because he couldn’t get the job done for a program that thirsts for the golden years.
Harbaugh is 3-3 against Michigan State, which he lost to this year — 27-23 — as a 3-TD favorite.
He’s never beaten Ohio State, and he probably never will. The gap between UM and OSU couldn’t be wider. Michigan fans like to rehash distant memories about beating the Buckeyes, but the fact of the matter is that the Wolverines have won just thrice vs. OSU since the turn of the century.
Harbaugh’s past two losses to the Buckeyes were two of the most lopsided in the 116-game rivalry. In 2019, the Buckeyes won 56-27. The year prior, they lambasted UM to the tune of 62-39. This year, if they play — because UM is under a momentary COVID-19 pause — it’s likely that OSU will run away with some gaudy win, padded by 600 yards-plus of total offense.
Justin Fields, the Buckeyes’ star QB, might just go nuts again — like he did one year ago, passing for 302 yards and 4 TDs — and ring-up the biggest victory for OSU in series history.
This is the Michigan that gets talked about. The one that Paul Finebaum takes shots at as often as possible. The same Michigan that analysts just can’t seem to completely understand. Guys like Joel Klatt of Fox Sports will praise Harbaugh one day but suggest he’ll run off in an RV the next day.
- The same Michigan that gets talked about as a contender prior to the season but somehow seems to remove itself from contention by the fourth or fifth week of the season.
- The same one that can’t beat a top-15 ranked team on the road (0-8) or win a bowl game.
UM is a mystery. So is Harbaugh.
UM is 1-4 in bowl games under Harbaugh, who’s been run off the field during his past two postseason appearances, losing 35-16 to Alabama during the 2020 Citrus Bowl and 41-15 to Florida during the 2018 Peach Bowl.
He hasn’t won a bowl game since slaughtering Florida, 41-7, in the 2016 Citrus Bowl.
It’s been 4 years since Michigan fielded a team that looked like an actual force — the 2016 Wolverines, who were a bad loss at Iowa and mere inches short of toppling Ohio State from a College Football Playoff berth. That was Harbaugh’s second year. He still had some players from Brady Hoke’s recruiting class.
That is his best UM team to date.
Harbaugh saw 11 players — a program-record — be selected in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Now we’re talking about losing to first-year Michigan State coaches, barely beating Rutgers in a 4-hour, triple-OT fiasco and losing to a previously winless Penn State — all in the same season.
This is the Harbaugh era at Michigan.
Satellite camps, thumbing his finger at the establishment. Changing the game. Hanging out with the Migos and getting recognized as some sort of new cultural icon. Even Ric Flair, former WWF superstar, was getting all geeked up about Harbaugh at the recruit-signing event.
It was a lot of window dressing and gassing-up of a fanbase.
Harbaugh has been bashed by former WR Braylon Edwards, a program legend. Desmond Howard, the 1991 Heisman winner, picked against the Wolverines this season, taking Wisconsin over his alma mater.
Even former QB Brian Griese has publicly expressed his frustration.
Did Michigan hire Harbaugh for $8 million per year to beat a pair of top-10 teams in 14 tries? What about win 11 of 27 games against ranked teams? He’s never been to a Big Ten title game, nor has he even really competed for such distinction — outside of 2016.
Enough is enough! pic.twitter.com/5DHEmmwLPm
— Brian Griese (@briangriese) November 29, 2020
Michigan hired the right guy at the right time. It was lightning in a bottle, and the 2016 season was that one shot at something extraordinary. Harbaugh’s known for those types of seasons at previous stops.
The rest is just filler, but that year or two of something really special has been enough to keep Harbaugh’s name in conversation. He has one year remaining on his contract with Michigan. As always, his name is being tossed around for potential NFL coaching vacancies. It’s the same old cycle.
This is what has become of Harbaugh’s Michigan. It was never supposed to be this way, but his tenure has turned into a punchline. He’s now known for doing less with more. He’s known for not taking his beloved alma mater to new heights. That one year, though … well, that was enough to make a believer out of anyone.
But that one year was four years ago — back when he talked about “enthusiasm unknown to mankind.” Today, he’s deflecting questions about “culture issues” within his program.
He appears mentally checked-out, over it and ready to move on to to something else.
The passionate marriage between Harbaugh and Michigan might end up the same way as a lot of hot-and-heavy relationships do … with an emphatic thud.