Michigan football, one of the most storied programs in all of college football, has been in a down period since the departure of Lloyd Carr in 2008. Before Jim Harbaugh came in to take over the Wolverines this past offseason, the Wolverines suffered through some bleak years with Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke at the helm. Now, hope and belief in a renewed winning culture are at an all-time high in Ann Arbor with the former NFL quarterback coming in. With that hope, though, Michigan fans will have to be patient, as Harbaugh does not have too much to work with, which was evident by the Wolverines’ loss at Utah on his debut as Michigan head coach.
Harbaugh has been a head coaching success everywhere he has been, even as an assistant coach. While still in the NFL as a quarterback he was an assistant coach under his father Jack Harbaugh at Western Kentucky. While his commitments his various NFL employers kept him from being real hands-on as a coach, he has said to be a major contributor to WKU’s recruiting efforts during this time. Since this time his commitment to coaching has never wavered and he has continued his success wherever he has landed.
His first NFL coaching job was for the Oakland Raiders as a quarterback’s coach, during the 2002 and 2003 seasons. This was the Rich Gannon era and during Harbaugh’s two seasons coaching Gannon he was a two-time pro bowler and won NFL MVP in 2002, along with taking the Raiders to the Super Bowl that same year. This led to his first head-coaching job at the University of San Diego. In only three short years, Harbaugh compiled a 29-6 record winning the Pioneer Football League in his last two seasons.
His success at San Diego landed Harbaugh the coaching job where he really made a name for himself at Stanford. The Cardinal were in a really bad spot prior to the Michigan alum taking over and he turned them into a national power in only four seasons. He started out with two losing years but by his fourth, and final season, Stanford went 12-1 with an Orange Bowl victory. This amazing track record of quick success grabbed the NFL’s attention and Harbaugh’s next job was with the San Francisco 49ers.
There is perhaps no better example of immediate success in NFL coaching than Harbaugh with the 49ers. He quickly made the 49ers into a powerhouse that had not been since probably the early 2000’s. Alex Smith looked like a Super Bowl winning quarterback under his tutelage and they nearly made it there in his first season, losing to the Giants in the NFC Championship. In his four years in San Francisco, he made it to three NFC Championships and a Super Bowl appearance. Although an 8-8 record and a rift with the 49ers front office forced him out in his fourth and final year, there is no doubt he was a true NFL success.
This all leads to now with Harbaugh being the savior, in the eyes of Wolverine fans, of a program that has seen better days. He is a Michigan alum so he understands the expectations that will be set on him to win and do it quickly, especially considering the job that Urban Meyer is currently doing with Michigan’s most hated rival Ohio State. After the dismal Brady Hoke era, Harbaugh was not left with much to work with in terms of talent, but that has never stopped him before. While fans will understand a slow start to this season by next year he will need to show he can carry this team to a championship for the fans to truly be happy.
Now that Harbaugh has lost his Michigan debut to the PAC 12’s Utah in Salt Lake City, Wolverine fans will have to show their patience. It was a close 24-17 loss against a Utah team that has some returning talent and is one of many very tough PAC 12 South teams. Utah’s defense under Kyle Wittingham is always stout, especially against the run, so it is understandable that Michigan QB Jake Rudock threw the ball 43 times. What needs to change, however, is the three interceptions and the 32 overall QBR that Rudock displayed. Harbaugh will likely coach this out of him very quickly, as he has a proven track record of working extremely well-developing quarterbacks.
After a debut loss at Utah, Harbaugh and the Michigan Wolverines will be looking to get a win on their record as soon as possible. Next up, they will face another PAC 12 opponent in Oregon State in the big house. Before they open BIG 10 play at Maryland, they will also face UNLV and BYU at home to round out their non-conference schedule. Michigan fans will be very eager to see how Harbaugh navigates these rather tame next few matchups before the grind of the BIG 10 play starts hoping their new coach can show some early improvement on the way to victories.
Commentary By Max Petkevicius
Edited By Leigh Haugh
ESPN: Michigan vs. Utah
USA Today: Jim Harbaugh Knows He Has to Be Patient, and So Do Michigan Fans
SB Nation: Jim Harbaugh’s Debut Showed Promise, But Michigan Still Have 2 Major Issues
Image by Eric Upchurch Courtesy of WikiMedia – Creative Commons License