Let me preface this entire article by saying that I believe Jim Harbaugh is an excellent coach and a great fit for Michigan. Between his scheme, personality, obsessed devotion to the game, and commitment to recruiting I would say he’s the 5th best college coach behind Saban, Urban, Jimbo, and Dabo. Personally, I also really enjoy the man.
However, in saying that, is Harbaugh possibly a bit overrated at this point in his Michigan career? Now keep in mind that I say this relative to the way he’s perceived, which is a sure fire winner. Yes, he’s won 20 games in two years at Michigan but what else has he accomplished?
Harbaugh is yet to win a BIG Ten Conference Championship or even make the title game in Indianapolis. He’s 1-3 against his rivals, with that one win coming over a 3-9 Michigan State team last year and he lost every single game with the exception of Rutgers outside the state of Michigan. (Iowa, Ohio State, Florida State)
So was last year unsuccessful for Michigan? Record wise no, but I think it was mediocre based on the roster that they had. I compare Michigan’s 2016 season to the season Notre Dame had in 2015. Notre Dame finished the year 10-4 and while that looks good on the surface, they ultimately failed based on their ceiling and talent. Notre Dame should have been better. They had 7 players drafted in 2016 which ranked 3rd in the country behind Alabama and Ohio State, and they also had a QB (Kizer) that’s expected to be a 1st round NFL draft pick this season. The 2015 ND team should have been in the playoffs and the same can be said for Michigan in 2016.
Similarly, Michigan could have 10 players drafted! They also had the oldest team in college football that bolstered 43 seniors. Hell, 17 of their 23 starters against Florida State geared up for the final time. You can hate Brady Hoke for many things but the man could recruit. Not to mention Michigan’s schedule in 2016 didn’t have them leave the Big House until October 8th and in total leave the state of Michigan 4 times.
So what does this all mean? For me it means that the expectations with Harbaugh must be higher now that he’s going into his 3rd season. Again, I believe him to be the 5th best coach in the country but at some point the big wins must come and the honeymoon is now over. It’s also not an indictment on Michigan. Expectations should be extremely high because in college football you get small windows of opportunity to win. Moments when schedule, roster, veteran leadership, and coaching all come together. In 2016 Michigan had all the ingredients and fell short despite having arguably the best roster in the country and in 2015 Notre Dame conversely failed in a similar situation.
With this in mind, should Harbaugh win 9 games next season I think the narrative on him will start to shift… and if Brian Kelly wins 9 games next season he better be fired! That’s just the way it should be at schools like Michigan and Notre Dame.