Football The Rivalry

The-Ozone Rewind: Michigan On Right Track With Hiring Of Harbaugh, 2015

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh

[Editor’s Note: From now until Big Ten Media Days, we’ll be reaching into The-Ozone’s 23 years worth of archives and each day we will be posting a story from yesteryear. Big moments, small moments, big games, bigger games, and the random recruiting updates about guys you haven’t thought about in a decade or two.]

January 26, 2015 | When Michigan hired Jim Harbaugh prior to the 2015 season, an obvious step in the right direction had been made. Harbaugh was seen as one of the top head coaches in pro or college football, and there was little doubt he would prove that once again with the Wolverines. This column from Tony Gerdeman regarding the hire is also a home run trot regarding his thoughts on Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke, but how right or wrong was he about Harbaugh? — TG

Michigan Monday: UM is Finally on the Right Track with Jim Harbaugh

Now that things have slowed down a bit around the Ohio State community I finally have some time to address the Maize and Blue elephant in the room up north — namely Michigan’s hiring of Jim Harbaugh.

First, I have to address the fact that it is impossible to write about the tremendously positive impact that Jim Harbaugh is going to bring to Michigan without having a few Ohio State fans chime in with a, “Oh, so we should just crawl into a fetal position and give up?”

No, you shouldn’t. And I’m already tired of hearing it, reading it and seeing it on my Twitter feed.

Stay out of the fetal position. You are no longer a fetus.

You may not believe this, but two programs from the same conference can actually have a great deal of success at the same time. The SEC has proven this time and again.

Actually, the Big Ten has proven this as well with Ohio State and Michigan State the last two seasons.

History has displayed it as well. Over the last 20 years, Michigan has been ranked in the Top 10 eight times. Ohio State, meanwhile, was ranked in the Top 10 in six of those eight years, with the two years they weren’t ranked in the Top 10 being the two seasons that got John Cooper fired (1999, 2000).

You see, Michigan doesn’t control Ohio State’s fortunes. Ohio State controls Ohio State’s fortunes. And vice versa.

As much as it may pain you, it is possible to have Michigan headed for heights they haven’t seen in nearly a decade, while at the same time Ohio State maintains their current levels of success.

It’s just that moving forward, the Wolverines will be in a better position to limit Ohio State’s ultimate success more than they have been at any time since Jim Tressel took over in Columbus back in 2001.

Again, that doesn’t mean they will limit Ohio State’s successes, it just means they will be better equipped. It’s quite possible that nothing changes in OSU’s current reign of superiority, though you probably shouldn’t expect that.

This is the third head coaching hire for Michigan that I have had the privilege of writing about. When Rich Rodriguez was hired, I said that if he continued to recruit like he was at West Virginia, then he would not succeed. He proved me right.

When Brady Hoke was hired, I wrote that he would get Michigan back to being where it was before Rodriguez arrived — which was seven to nine wins per season, and he did that.

Now, it’s time to take Michigan to places that fans and alums think they’ve always been, and I absolutely believe that Jim Harbaugh is going to make that happen.

Buckeye fans can try to downplay this hire all they want, but like Urban Meyer, Harbaugh is a rock star head coach, and there are only a handful of those guys in college football.

Some are looking at the 2015 Michigan recruiting class and laughing off Harbaugh’s recruiting abilities, but they shouldn’t. This recruiting class is essentially meaningless for Harbaugh and Michigan. It’s a lost cause. It was going to be small anyway.

Ohio State fans will point to Meyer bringing in a top five class in just a little over two months on the job back in late 2011 and early 2012, but of that 25-person 2012 class, only 14 players were still on the team for this year’s bowl games, and only 10 or 11 actually played.

Clearly, there is something to be said for sitting back and taking stock, especially when you return more starters than anybody else in the Big Ten, like Michigan does in 2015.

Harbaugh is eventually going to kill it in recruiting, so what happens in the next two weeks is irrelevant to what will happen in the future. I expect Michigan’s recruiting to be every bit as good as it was under Brady Hoke — and it was very good — but the difference will be in the player development, which hasn’t been happening at necessary levels for Michigan since the early 2000s.

It is player development where I expect Michigan to finally approach their own expectations. Players have gotten better here and there at Michigan over the last decade, but it has been rare for actual teams to continue to improve. I think that’s what will be happening in Ann Arbor moving forward.

Sure, there will always be the random team that is hit hard by graduation, but under Jim Harbaugh in a few years, the Wolverines will be better able to withstand those hits than they have been in over a decade.

We are finally going to see a Michigan football program that doesn’t result in fans looking forward to basketball season by mid-November.

I expect Jim Harbaugh to be almost everything Michigan fans think he is. He has put together a very well-regarded coaching staff in Ann Arbor, and more importantly has gotten rid of UM coaches that have overstayed their welcomes.

We are going to get a pretty fair idea of how good this coaching staff is right away because there isn’t much returning on the Michigan roster that would put fear in most teams, but there is definitely some potential.

That potential needs to be turned into production, and I’m looking forward to seeing where it comes from. Despite having so many starters returning, with an entirely new staff, you can go ahead and consider every job open. Plus, there were only a couple of players from the 2014 season who could consider themselves near-locks to start moving forward.

It will not surprise me to see a surge in improvement simply from players believing they have an opportunity to have a major impact on the 2015 season. Combine that with improved coaching — because how could it be worse — and I would expect a much better product on the field next year.

They won’t be close to a finished product, but I can see them being one of those teams that pops up now and again next season with games that give a glimpse of what they will become.

With Jim Harbaugh, this Michigan program is only going to get better, which is great for The Rivalry.

That doesn’t mean Ohio State is on the way out, because Ohio State will never be on the way out.

But it does mean that Michigan is on the way back, and eventually something is going to have to give between the two of them, and that is why we love this rivalry.

I don’t know how good the Wolverines are going to be next season, but I do know that they have a pretty favorable schedule, so they’ll be able to find some wins. And then more wins the next year, and then more the next.

For the first time in a very long time Michigan’s future is moving in the right direction, and finally so is its past.