Jim Harbaugh was brought to Michigan to restore the winning ways in Ann Arbor, but so far what has followed him is a three-ring circus with little regard for sportsmanship. Saturday was just the latest example of the baggage the Michigan brass may have to continue to deal with.
“Those that stay will be … bitterly disappointed.”
Okay, that’s not how exactly the famous words Bo Schembechler used when he first snarled and glared at a Michigan program in Ohio State’s shadow back in 1969, but it might be time to take the champions out of the iconic words that still adorn the Michigan locker room today.
Because of Jim Harbaugh.
Look, I get it Jim. You were upset, and truth be known, there were some questionable calls that did indeed go against the Maize and Blue on Saturday. But still, to offer up a six-minute tirade on how deplorable the officiating was in The Game feels more like sour grapes than defense of the team.
Frankly, it can begin to erode away at what Michigan stands for.
Bo Knows Respect
I know, I know, you thought you were channeling your inner-Bo by using the same “bitterly disappointed” statement he once used after the infamous vote of Big Ten athletic directors in 1973 that sent Ohio State to the Rose Bowl over Michigan. The controversy of that 13-13 tie and subsequent actions by the conference are still reverberating today.
Bo had his team’s back for good reason on that day. It was outside of competition rather than a blustery tap-dance around accountability.
Anyone that know’s Bo can guarantee you that he would have never thought about stooping so low in reverence for the backdrop of what was, what is, and what will be within the confines of The Game. If Schembechler showed us anything, it was that he could bite somebody’s head off in one moment, but he had respect.
Respect for the game of college football. Respect for the opponent. Respect for taking ownership of his own team’s performance and the molding of young men.
Harbaugh’s ill-directed focus
Instead, what we get from Mr. Khakis is not one single shred of credit given to the opponent. Not one single mention of the three turnovers quarterback Wilton Speight coughed up. And certainly not any accountability for a temper tantrum on the sidelines that resulted in an unsportsmanlike penalty.
A penalty that led directly to the touchdown that got the Buckeyes back in the game and served as the firecracker that lit a whole bucket of fireworks.
Fireworks that likely burned and fried any legitimate shot at the College Football Playoff.
No, instead you taught your young men that losing has to always be someone else’s fault. When things don’t go your way, deflect, wine, and then rinse and repeat. Ad nauseum.
Where is Michigan the institution?
Is this what winning has come to in Ann Arbor? Does Michigan really care so bad about getting the victory snowball rolling down hill so much that it’s willing to look the other way when it comes to the antics of Mr. Harbaugh?
In fact, where is the statement from Michigan on the matter? The Big Ten has come out and levied a public reprimand of the coach’s actions and a $10,000 fine to the Institution. Yeah, it’s a drop in the bucket, but it’s not very often that the Big Ten has to play big brother and tell one of its own to stand in the corner.
Yet Michigan remains silent.
So silent that the usual Harbaugh Monday press conference was hastily canceled, and players took his place on his normal Monday call-in show. Nobody has heard from Harbaugh on Twitter. Heck, it’s unlikely that he’s even stopped by the local Gap to wrangle his way into some new khakis.
Taking the good with the very, very bad
Appearing in a rap videos and tweeting nonsense to celebrities is one thing. That type of stuff might all be a little weird, but it’s entertaining and in some ways cutting edge. But it’s also on the edge.
At what point is one of his stunts going to result in some serious public embarrassment for a proud Michigan program? Worse yet, at what point is all the pushing of the envelope going to result in a push over the line? A push that results in NCAA investigation and sanctions?
But we are here to cross the line on sportsmanship. We can live with the crazy stumbling and bumbling press conferences. We can live with the quirky and the bizarre at times. But what is hard to tolerate is the total disregard for acting like a decent competitor.
And that’s the seat Harbaugh seems to be sitting squarely on. And if a team is an extension of its head coach, then how long will it be before the Wolverine players begins to shrug off the same competitive spirit?
The trickle-down effect
We are already seeing signs of it today. Jabrill Peppers is one whale of player, but he had no problem spitting on and kicking at the Ohio State O at midfield before the game:
And, then there was the shove/punch of an OSU fan after the loss. Say what you will about fans being on the field, and we certainly don’t know what kind of verbal exchange was there, but reacting the way Peppers did is uncalled for:
Maybe these things are addressed behind the scenes by Harbaugh or one of his assistants. We have no way to know. However, the fact that Peppers feels the freedom and liberty to act this way could be a flare in the sky above a mangled ship that’s taking on water.
We should give credit for some of the players that have come out recently in the media to take the high road about blaming officials, and actually taking ownership of failures on the field. But they do it in spite of the example that Harbaugh is setting.
And that’s the point.
You can’t teach an old dog new tricks
Harbaugh has burned bridges wherever he has been, and you just hoped for all the world that he’d learned a lesson and would be a better citizen in college.
Sad to say, so far that’s not happening, and it’s hard to really see the guy changing what his character is.
And can we quit giving the guy credit for what he’s not? No, not every single move Harbuagh pulls is calculated like a genius that somehow has secrets provided to him by life beyond this planet of ours. No, instead, Harbaugh is an emotional and impulsive guy that gets a lot right with creativity, but that far too often let’s the heat of the moment get in the way of the big picture.
Despite it all, Michigan is standing by its guy. Silently, but sternly. That probably says more than any statement or memo that could ever be released.
Yes, sportsmanship will die a slow and painful death in Ann Arbor as long as Jim Harbaugh continues to wear ball-caps with suits as the weird mad-scientist cooking up snake-oil in the lab. Unless something drastic happens to change the course of inertia.
Those that stay …
Phil Harrison is the lead Big Ten writer for CollegeFootballNews.com. Catch his analysis and opinion all-season long.