When it comes to beating Ohio State, winning B1G titles, Jim Harbaugh refuses to back down
The word “surrender” isn’t found in Jim Harbaugh’s dictionary. He has no intention of waving the white flag.
It’s become somewhat of a tradition at B1G Media Days for Harbaugh to field questions about the two bagels in his pantry: 0 wins vs. Ohio State; 0 B1G championships. That was the case again on Thursday in Indianapolis when the Michigan head coach was asked about the program’s shortcomings in those two categories.
Harbaugh’s response was as fiery as one could imagine.
“Well, I’m here before you and I’m as excited as I always am — even more. To win the championship, to beat Ohio (State). (Beat) our rival Michigan State. Everybody,” Harbaugh said. “That’s what we want to do.
“And we’re gonna do it or die trying.”
"That's what we want to do. And we're gonna do it, or die trying."
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) July 22, 2021
Michigan is coming off its worst season of the Harbaugh era, finishing 2-4 in 2020. Meanwhile, Ohio State went 7-1, winning a fourth consecutive B1G title and earning a trip to the College Football Playoff National Championship Game.
“The Game” wasn’t played last season because of COVID-19 issues, but it’s been all scarlet and gray. Ohio State has defeated Michigan by double digits in each of the last three meetings. In 2018, the Buckeyes posted a 62-39 victory and clobbered the Wolverines again in 2019 by a score of 56-27.
The gap between the Wolverines and Buckeyes has never seemed wider.
So wide, in fact, that there was plenty of speculation in the offseason that last season was going to be Harbaugh’s last in Ann Arbor. Though he signed a new four-year deal to stay at Michigan, there’s still a belief that if he can’t beat Ohio State — or at least produce a more competitive result — athletic director Warde Manuel might run that contract through the shredder.
None of it bothers Harbaugh or discourages him from pursuing the goals he set out to achieve when he was hired at Michigan in 2015.
“People are trying to discourage you. It’s like propaganda, like let’s discourage him,” Harbaugh said. “Almost like World War II propaganda machines. ‘Stop. Quit. There’s no need to try. You have no chance.’
“We don’t subscribe to that at all. We’re trying to get to the top.”
Harbaugh’s words are matched by some of the recent changes within Michigan’s football facility.
In the weight room, there’s a new sign that reads, “What are you doing to beat Ohio State today?” It’s an in-your-face reminder to current Wolverines that the team has dropped eight straight to the Buckeyes and has fewer wins over OSU in the 2000s than Purdue.
Michigan also outlawed the color red from being worn or seen in the football facility. It was a policy so extreme that even red sports drinks were barred from the building.
Neither of those changes immediately translate to wins. But it’s further evidence that Harbaugh isn’t content with the way things have gone in his six years in Ann Arbor. It’s proof he’s not waving the white flag, at least not yet.
Harbaugh said it’s in his DNA to keep fighting.
“I saw my daughter this summer — Sarah, Addie and I were climbing up this mountain. I don’t know how high it was, but it was pretty high,” Harbaugh said. “We were getting up close to the top and she said, ‘We got to apex, Dad. We got to get to the top.’ You’re darn right we do.
“You know, that’s what we’ve got to do. We’ve got to apex this. She’s got that gene in her and I was darn glad to see it. I can tell you I got that gene in me…We get that gene in us. We got to get to the top.”
Little is said about Harbaugh’s accomplishments in Ann Arbor. Over his six seasons, the Wolverines have posted three 10-win seasons, have appeared in bowl games five times and have finished with just a losing record just one time. Michigan is 49-22 under his guidance.
There’s no question he’s restored some level of consistency with the program.
But Harbaugh will always be judged by his performance against Ohio State and the number of B1G titles in the trophy case. He understands that better than anyone.
Harbaugh is known for saying he “attacks each day with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind.” That’s still how he’s approaching the rivalry with Ohio State, too.