The Michigan Wolverines football program has a few weeks before its bowl game. With the regular season all wrapped up, it’s time to grade Jim Harbaugh for his first season as head coach of his alma mater.
Big things were expected of Harbaugh in his first season as Michigan’s head coach. I’m talking ridiculously high expectations. Harbaugh was seen as the perfect, perhaps only, man for the job of restoring the glory of Michigan football. In other words, many saw Harbaugh as a savior.
Off the field, he was expected to change the culture of Michigan football and restore the perception of the program (from a mediocre one in recent years, to a national powerhouse).
That culture change began the minute Harbaugh accepted the job, from his very first press conference. Harbaugh showed himself to be a coach with the resume, smarts, expertise, and confidence, that an entire program could buy into. Fans, players, and (and even plenty of national media) alike couldn’t help but be excited by Harbaugh’s plan for reconstruction.
That quick transformation of culture also aided last year’s final stretch of recruiting, as Harbaugh’s hiring attracted talented recruits. His larger-than-life stature and passion for Michigan football, appeared contagious to many of the nations best high school football players.
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Quarterback Jake Rudock was not one of those high school prospects – he had just graduated from the University of Iowa. But he too became (with the help of Harbaugh’s quarterback-whispering skills) an important name to join the program (as a graduate transfer).
Harbaugh proved even more successful on the recruiting trail, with big-time recruits pledging their commitment, and others (uncommitted) still showing serious interest in Michigan football. That type of interest, especially from the likes of five-star recruits like Rashan Gary, had waned significantly under former coach Brady Hoke.
Onfield expectations for Harbaugh were simple: win. Win immediately. Win often. Win against other winning programs. Win more than his recent predecessors, Hoke and Rich Rodriguez. Culture change, perception restoration, and five-star recruits are all important elements to rehabbing the Michigan football program under Harbaugh. But ultimately it’s about the numbers.
The numbers say the Wolverines finished the regular season at 9-3. The numbers say they were 6-2 in their conference. Their record against their two biggest rivals (MSU and OSU) was 0-2.
So what does it all mean? Harbaugh has ultimately lived up to the lofty expectations. He has put Michigan squarely back on the fast-track to national prominence. And he has done it all in his style – with toughness, bravado, a pretty good defense, quarterback-whispering, and lots of winning. Michigan often dominated the teams they were supposed to beat (Oregon State, BYU, Northwestern, Maryland). And, for the most part (ahem, Blake O’Neill), they found ways to win the close contests (Minnesota, Indiana) as well.
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There are improvements to be made, and more work to do. Winning your biggest rivalry games (or at least one of them) would have earned Harbaugh an A grade of some sort. But a solid B (or a B + with a bowl victory over Florida) is a good place to start for the rebirth of Michigan football. Hail to the man in the khaki pants, because the future of maize & blue football is in good hands (or legs).