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The Jim Harbaugh Era At Michigan Should Be Remembered As A Disappointment

This again comes from Chris Balas of "The Wolverine"

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh is headed to Minnesota for a Wednesday interview, but multiple sources say it’s a formality. Harbaugh heads there planning to sign a deal to become the NFL Vikings’ head coach.

Harbaugh was not in his office at Schembechler Hall today. Other sources told TheWolverine.com that while he didn’t address the team, he did say some “goodbyes” and “thank yous” yesterday.

2021 was a magical year for Michigan Wolverines football. I am one of those people who believe that it was one of the great years in the program's history. Michigan finished the year #3 in the country, their highest ranking since they won a share of the National Championship back in 1997. They had the Heisman runner-up in Aidan Hutchinson and the AP coach of the year in Jim Harbaugh. Well, now, he's gone, and Jim Harbaugh has elected to become the head coach for the Minnesota Vikings. I'm sure we'll find out the true story of this entire ordeal over time. It seemed for a long time like Harbaugh was intent on coming back to Michigan, hoping that Warde Manuel would give him a significant raise following last year's phenomenal run. That never happened, and now he's bolted to the NFL. As I said, 2021 was a great year, but when you take a step back, I think in large part it's only fair that we view the Jim Harbaugh era at Michigan as a disappointment. 

I'm not saying that Jim Harbaugh at Michigan will go down as a failure because it shouldn't. Any tenure where a coach wins a program its first conference championship in 17 years can't be considered a disaster. Jim Harbaugh did many things right while he was at U of M. He developed a remarkable amount of NFL players, mainly on the defensive end. He stabilized a program that had fallen entirely apart under Brady Hoke. His players, for the most part, stayed out of trouble. And of course, in his final year at Michigan, he beat Ohio State and won the Big Ten Championship. I'm not going to sit here and say that the Harbaugh era was a massive failure, but you could spend hours telling people about all the things Harbaugh did, but you could spend way more time talking about what he didn't do.

In seven years at Michigan, Jim Harbaugh underachieved pretty much every season. A ten-win season in year one in 2015 was considered a success. However, they lost to their two biggest rivals in Michigan State and Ohio State. Michigan then underachieved in the next five years until finally breaking through in 2021. In seven years, he was 1-5 against Ohio State (would've been 1-6 if not for the Covid cancellation in 2020), including a pair of pathetic losses in 2018 and 2019 in which his defenses gave up 62 and 56 points. In seven years, Jim Harbaugh, the supposed "QB whisperer," put one quarterback in the NFL, and I'm being very generous by even giving him one. Jake Rudock, a one-year grad transfer out of Iowa, was a third-string quarterback for the Detroit Lions for two years, where he held a clipboard before being waived in 2018. Wilton Speight, John O'Korn, and Shea Patterson not only never played in the NFL but never got drafted. Harbaugh didn't win a game as an underdog until year seven. He was 3-4 against Michigan State, with three losses as a favorite. He underutilized the talents of several tremendous skill position players like Nico Collins, Donovan Peoples-Jones, and Chris Evans, three guys who have since gotten relatively consistent reps in the NFL (though Evans was mainly used on special teams.) He never had a 1,000-yard receiver. Amara Darboh, who wasn't even a Harbaugh recruit, came the closest with only 864 yards in 2016. Harbaugh was 1-5 in bowl games, with his last 3 bowl losses coming by 19 points or more.

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He was National Coach Of The Year in 2021 after exceeding expectations. Those expectations were low mainly because, in the previous year, Harbaugh was the architect of one of the five worst seasons in Michigan football history in 2020. Covid year be damned. That team made Rocky Lombardi and Michael Penix look like Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen in back-to-back weeks. It's also worth pointing out that the 2021 season in which Michigan got over the hump was in large part because of a tremendous defense featuring a coordinator that Jim Harbaugh's brother decided to lend to Michigan after six years of coming up short. That coordinator (Mike McDonald) has since gone back to the Ravens, where he'll be a defensive coordinator likely for a long time. And to any Michigan fan that is fuming reading this blog, feeling as though I'm a little bit too mean, let me ask you this question. When Jim Harbaugh took over in December 2014, would you have been happy knowing he would go 1-5 against the Buckeyes and 3-4 against the Spartans with one Big Ten title in seven years? I don't think so. We need to rid ourselves of the notion that Harbaugh is absolved of his sins simply because they had one great season. People with selective memories seem to forget how consistently Jim Harbaugh would get outcoached in big games. On separate occasions, Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin, Florida, and Indiana beat Michigan by three scores or more. Yes, last year was incredible, but last year didn't erase six years' worth of painful losses. It just made them hurt a lot less.

I believe Harbaugh will do an outstanding job in Minnesota. He will do a good job because Jim Harbaugh is a good football coach. He stabilized Michigan's football program, but Michigan didn't hire Jim Harbaugh to be stable or good. They hired them to be great. And the second he had a great team, he left. You can blame him for that, or you can blame AD Warde Manuel. I would've loved to have seen Harbaugh on the sidelines at The Big House next year. It would've made things a lot less complicated, but that won't be the case—best of luck in Minnesota.