Jim Harbaugh’s Year On The Brink
Jim Harbaugh was tabbed as the savior of the Michigan program when he was hired at the end of the 2014 season. What has followed has been a lot of promise, but largely unfulfilled expectations of grandeur. As 2017 beckons, it’s time to start winning big.
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Look, I am not here to say that Harbaugh is on the hot seat. In fact, it couldn’t be the farthest thing from the truth. However, what I am saying is that you might start hearing whispers of dread if there isn’t at least something on which to hang that Michigan ball cap of his that even seems to go with a suit and a tie. There needs to be either a Big Ten championship, a division title, or at least a god-forsaken win over the dreaded Scarlet and Gray.
And if not? Well, then you start to tread into Brady Hoke territory. Yes, it would be time to compare Jimmy Harbaugh with Brady Hoke. In fact, the trajectory of the two coaches are eerily similar. Hoke’s record at Michigan was 19-7 (12-4 in Big Ten play). His teams finished second in the Legends Division both years. Included in those 19 wins was a victory over Ohio State and a BCS Bowl win against Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl.
And what about Harbaugh’s first two years? He has what amounts to one more win with an overall record of 20-6 (13-4 in Big Ten play). The Wolverines have finished third in the East Division in both years, and as mentioned before, no win over OSU, and no New Year’s Six bowl win to compare against Hoke’s BCS bowl win.
No, it would not be a stretch to make the argument that Hoke’s first two years had more substance than what we’ve seen from Harbaugh’s efforts. At least from a sheer numbers and accomplishments standpoint.
Reality Check Time
But let’s pump the brakes just a bit here. Numbers, trophies, and accolades don’t tell the entire story. Anyone that has two sets of eyes and a cell phone ringtone not originating from Columbus or East Lansing would have to agree that Harbaugh has momentum building in the program. We all remember the slow decline Hoke had in years three and four, ultimately missing out on the postseason with a 5-7 record in 2014.
Jim Harbaugh has brought pride and toughness back to the way things are done at Michigan. Recruits are flocking to Ann Arbor and the fans are excited again. They were after a year with Hoke at the helm as well, but it looks and feels different this time. And it is. It truly is.
That does not change the fact of where things stand heading into a legacy-building type of year, though. 2017 could define how quickly championships are brought back to town on a more routine basis.
And that’s because last year was supposed to be that year. The team was an upperclassmen-laden team with a suffocating defense. It had been through the fires and played like one of the four best teams in the country until that fateful night in Iowa City, and then Columbus. In the end, the team seemed to run out of gas, sputtering to the finish line despite having the talent to break through and do really big things.
Coulda, woulda, shoulda.
2017 Won’t be Easy for Harbaugh
This year doesn’t look as promising, meaning Harbaugh is going to have to coach his tail off. Ten of Eleven starters from defense are gone, and only four return on the offensive side. Quarterback Wilton Speight is back, but there are wholesale changes across the board. The thought is that plenty of talented guys who got some decent playing time should be able to soldier on, but you don’t lose that many starters and not feel the effects.
It could be an uphill climb both ways to the Big House. In snow. With no socks.
But that’s why we play the games. Despite a season perhaps set up for adversity, this could be the year where Harbaugh shows why the Brinks truck was set on a course to his house on the West Coast.
If this Michigan team can pull it all together and gel early on in the season, then maybe it can win the games its supposed to while finding a way to slay the Ohio State dragon at home. Maybe then we can start preparing the blue-prints of those statues that have at least been resurrected in the minds of the Wolverine faithful.
A statue that will no doubt be wearing khakis.
Phil Harrison is the lead Big Ten Writer for College Football News. Follow his opinion and analysis all year, and find him on Twitter @PhilHarrisonCFB