Michigan’s interim athletics director Jim Hackett made a point of saying he had a desire to move away from the whole “Michigan man” philosophy as the program moved forward with a coaching search after letting go of Brady Hoke. Naturally, Michigan hired the most “Michigan man” available on the market with Jim Harbaugh, nevermind the fact Harbaugh was born in Ohio. It just so happens this could be the best possible fit for all parties involved.
I will not go so far as to suggest Michigan needed to hire Harbaugh, who was let go by the San Francisco 49ers immediately following their 2014 season finale against the Arizona Cardinals Sunday afternoon with a Michigan plane waiting for him. I will say, however, the hiring of Harbaugh brings great expectations and a hefty price tag and it might be worth it for the Wolverines.
Michigan hiring Harbaugh is as close to a homerun hire as any. The only question that remains to be answered is whether or not this turns out to be a midseason home run from Bobby Abreu or a Joe Carter World Series winning walkoff homerun hire. The reality is it probably falls somewhere in between (perhaps Aaron Boone ALCS?), but there is no question this hire is significant for Michigan and helps raise the bar around the Big Ten.
The Big Ten is often judged by the strength of Ohio State and Michigan. This might be an unfair way for those outside the Big Ten to weigh the conference, but that has been the way it has been done for years, or decades, and despite expansion over the course of the conference’s lifespan, that does not appear to be changing anytime too soon as much as fans of Michigan State or even Wisconsin might want to take issue. The Buckeyes have more than carried their weight and the weight of the Big Ten on their shoulders for some time now. For years now, Michigan has been dragging through the process and the Wolverines have been unable to help raise the bar for the Big Ten.
Maybe now will be different. Maybe Harbaugh is just what Michigan needed to get back on track. That is what everyone says at least Harbaugh is going to resurrect the Wolverines and have them competing for a spot in the College Football Playoff within the next three years, some say. The rivalry between Ohio State and Michigan will be its hottest since the days of Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler, some say. Maybe the hiring of Harbaugh will lead to that level of success for the Wolverines, but nothing is guaranteed and nothing should be assumed.
There is plenty to like about Harbaugh being the new head coach at Michigan. For starters, Harbaugh should be an excellent recruiter. Keep in mind how well he managed to do at Stanford, a school and football program operating under a different set of academic standards than he will be working with at Michigan (mind you, not a slight on the academic integrity of Michigan).
In 2010, Stanford pulled the nation’s 26th ranked class according to Rivals. That was the fifth best class in the Pac-10 at the time. The Stanford Class of 2009 was ranked 20th, ranking third in the Pac-10 and ahead of Oregon. This was a class that turned out Zach Ertz, Shayne Skov and Stepfan Taylor. That was a pretty nice haul right there. In 2008 Harbaugh signed the nation’s 50th ranked class with his first full recruiting cycle, but that included quarterback Andrew Luck and that turned out to be pretty significant.
Over that same time period, Michigan signed the nation’s 10th best class in 2008, the eighth-best class in 2009, and the 20th best class in 2010. That was with Rich Rodriguez as the head coach. Brady Hoke recruited well too, pulling the nation’s 21st (2011), 7th (2012), and 5th (2013) best class before slumping to the nation’s 31st best class in 2014. Recruiting the talent has never really been the issue at Michigan. It is developing the talent to its full potential or plugging the right players into the right schemes that has held the Wolverines back.
This is where Harbaugh will be expected to thrive in his attempt to restore the pride in the Michigan football program.