Harbaugh’s Day Has Arrived, But Michigan’s Has Not
Just 36 hours separated from a new year, the University of Michigan football program celebrated a new era. Jim Harbaugh was announced to be the 19th head coach of the maize and blue on December 30, 2014 and 247 days of mass hysteria have ensued since. He has been the story at the center of the college football universe, a political message, a rap star promoter, and love him or hate him, everyone has an opinion.
Yes today is Harbaugh’s day, and it is likely one that he has been dreaming about. But lost in the hype, Messiah-like praise and hopes of bringing back Michigan to its glory days is that he will not be wearing pads tonight against Utah. He will not be throwing passes or making tackles, that still remains in the hands of the 72 young men suited up to play. Harbaugh is a perfectionist and a great tactician, but he cannot physically execute the plays on the field. He inherits a team that went 5-7 in 2014 and was under .500 for the third time since 2009, prior to which the team hadn’t done since 1967. The Michigan offense was ranked No. 115 out of 128 FBS teams in total yards and yards per game in 2014 and a glaring -16 turnover margin, ahead of only Washington State, Eastern Michigan, and Georgia State.
But that isn’t to say the cupboard is barren for Harbaugh, as the Wolverines return a veteran offensive line and, oh by the way, the country’s seventh-best defense. Despite losing first team All Big Ten linebacker Jake Ryan, the Wolverines return eight seniors to start on defense, and sophomore Jabrill Peppers, who could one day be the country’s most electrifying player. But football is about 22 players, not the 11 playing on one side of the ball or the other, and uniting them as one unit is the key to success, something that does not come easily.
Harbaugh went 7-4 in his first season with the San Diego Toreros before back-to-back 11-1 seasons. Stanford was 1-11 when Harbaugh arrived, and that season they went 4-8, then 5-7, then 8-5 before reaching the pinnacle of their success with the 12-1 season and an Orange Bowl victory. Michigan fans expect immediate success, regardless of the past few years, but they likely will not see it this season. So though today is indubitably a huge step for Michigan, it is not the apex.