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Should Michigan Football Move on From Jim Harbaugh?

Michigan's football future

After the embarrassing loss to Ohio State last Saturday where the dreams to win a Big Ten Title and a chance at the College Football Playoff were shattered, some Michigan fans think Harbaugh should have been fired that Monday, while others think he is still the right man for the job in Ann Arbor.

Pending a bowl game to conclude the 2018 season, Jim Harbaugh holds a career record at Michigan of 38 wins and 13 losses, three 10-win seasons, 1-2 in bowl games, 2-2 against Mark Dantonio and the Michigan State Spartans and 0-4 against Urban Meyer and the Ohio State Buckeyes.

Is that a strong enough track record to keep him in Ann Arbor for the 2019 season?

Building a program

In Jim Harbaugh’s first season at Michigan back in 2015, he let everyone walk from the staff from previous head coach, Brady Hoke, except for Hoke’s defensive coordinator, Greg Mattison, who became Michigan’s defensive line coach when D.J. Durkin took over the defense.

Turnover rate is tough to deal with as a head coach. The Wolverines saw that when D.J. Durkin didn’t even finish his first year as the defensive coordinator before accepting the head coaching role at Maryland in 2014. Michigan recovered well, though, hiring in Don Brown to replace him from Boston College the following season. And since then, the defense has been the most consistent every season under Brown’s and Mattison’s leadership.

Michigan's Football Future
Image courtesy of 247sports

There has been a decent amount of turnover on the offensive side of the football, too. The biggest blow to the offense to date is losing passing game coordinator, Jedd Fisch, at the end of the 2016 season. He took an offensive coordinator job at UCLA, and is now an offensive assistant on arguably the most explosive offense in NFL history, the Los Angeles Rams. The passing game under his leadership was the best it has been in the Harbaugh era.

Then, after a rough 2017 season offensively, Harbaugh made the right move by parting ways with offensive coordinator Tim Drevno and bringing in current run game coordinator and offensive line coach, Ed Warinner, who was the offensive coordinator for Ohio State in their most recent National Championship back in 2015. The run game significantly improved this season under his teaching, but the passing game is still mediocre at best with Pep Hamilton as the passing game coordinator. He needs to go after this season. For Michigan to get over the hump offensively, They need to pay Jedd Fisch whatever he wants and get him to come back as Michigan’s true offensive coordinator. Jedd Fisch and Ed Warinner coaching the same offense would be a lethal combination.

Developing players

Jim Harbaugh coming into Michigan had the reputation as a “quarterback guru” coach. In college at Stanford, he made current quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts, Andrew Luck, what he is. He turned NFL quarterback Alex Smith’s, career around when he was Harbaugh’s quarterback in San Francisco who went on from there and has done great things for the Chiefs and Redskins before his most recent injury. The last time Colin Kaepernick was in an NFL uniform in San Fran, his best football was when Harbaugh was his coach.

With that track record, it was safe to assume the trend would continue when he got to Michigan. And for the most part, with the exception of John O’Korn, Jake Ruddock and Wilton Speight under him and Jedd  Fisch, and current quarterback, Shea Patterson, have had strong seasons. In Harbaugh’s philosophy offensively, he needs a quarterback to manage the game by taking care of the football and connecting on big play opportunities off of play-action with a strong run game to support them. He has that with both Patterson and McCaffery next season, assuming Patterson doesn’t leave for the NFL draft. This year was the first time Michigan’s offense lived up to the philosophy needed to be successful under Harbaugh.

Michigan's football future
Image coutresy of Detroit News

On the other side of the football, anyone thinking Don Brown needs to be fired is absolutely ludicrous. Don Brown coaching linebackers and Greg Mattison on the defensive line is arguably the best duo of position coaches in the country. They are masters at those position groups. This defense is the fastest and most aggressive front seven unit Michigan has had, as well as the deepest up front.  The group as a whole improved week-by-week, but just did not perform and execute their scheme well on the biggest stage in the Big Ten this year. The lack of adjustments falls on Don Brown’s shoulders by not finding answers within what they do to be successful. He will remember that game and make sure it doesn’t happen again.

The least deep on the defense is the secondary. After David Long and Lavert Hill at the number one and two corner spots, the talent level drops off significantly. It will be interesting to see how they recover by potentially losing all four of their secondary starters with two safeties graduating and Hill and Long contemplating the NFL.

Jim Harbaugh’s status at Michigan

Michigan fans are one the worst in college football when it comes to unrealistic expectations right off the bat. It’s understandable, though, because It has been since 2003 since Michigan has won an outright Big Ten Title and only one win against Ohio State in the past 10 years, with three wins since 2000. That is a tough pill to swallow in Ann Arbor. 

The media and fans in Ann Arbor contributed to arguably the biggest hype of a coach in the past 20 years when Jim Harbaugh agreed to come back home and coach at his alma matter after his stint with the 49ers. He is supposed to be the savior of Michigan football since Carr.

Having three 10 win seasons in four years is not easy to do, but at a school like Michigan that has rivalries like Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State, winning these games is the uttermost importance to do. If Michigan had a chance to play Notre Dame again, even after what happened to them in Columbus, they would beat Notre Dame.

Mark Dantonio has done a phenomenal job at Michigan State these past 10 years. Harbaugh being split 2-2 with him is fair and not something that should put him on the hot seat. Moving forward in that rivalry, do not be surprised if Michigan returns back to dominating that series once again.

A lot of people say Nick Saban is the best coach in college football. Urban Meyer is in my book. He has dominated wherever he has gone. He is the definition of a winner. When he announced he was coming out of retirement to head to Ohio State when he did back in 2011, at that moment, Ohio State was going to become great quickly. And they have. If Harbaugh beats Michigan State again but loses to Meyer and Ohio State for a fifth straight year, he will be fired from Michigan. Harbaugh is two rivalry wins away from a lifetime contract at Michigan with a win over MSU and OSU in the same year.

Featured image courtesy of USA TODAY FTW

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