Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Jim Harbaugh, Michigan's Prodigal Son, Has Returned Home to Mama, to Michigan: Hail to the Victors

Paul “Bear” Bryant is one of the greatest coaches in college football history. He won 6 national titles at Alabama in 25 years. He played for Alabama and then began a coaching career. He returned to Alabama after a successful 4 year stint at Texas A & M, noted for the “Junction Boys.” When asked why he left A & M, he famously replied “Mama called, and when Mama Calls, then you just have to come runnin’” Mama Michigan called the true “Michigan Man” home. The timing was right and the need is great. The once great Wolverines, the winningest college football team of all time has slipped into mediocrity. The Victors, even with the rise of John Beilein’s basketball team, sounds flat. Jim Harbaugh, as a pup, grew up in Ann Arbor when his dad jack was an assistant to Bo. He once sat in Bo’s chair as a 10 year old. He quarterbacked the team for three years, leading to a national number 2 finish in 1985, the highest end of season ranking for Bo’s teams. Harbaugh was to Bo what Bo was to Woody. Bo is up above smiling down on Jim Harbaugh, who has learnt well from Bo. Bo was followed by his protégés Gary Moeller and Lloyd Carr, and then Rich Rob and Brady Hoke. Lloyd’s 1997 team went undefeated and won the national title. History tells us what we didn’t recognize at the time. Michigan football peaked in 2006 when Michigan and Ohio State were ranked 1 and 2 going undefeated 11-0 into the season finale at Columbus. The Buckeyes won 42-37. Both lost in their bowl games. Michigan was ranked #5 preseason in 2007, but lost at home to Appalachian State 34-32 and Oregon 39-7 to start the season. Bloggers were calling for the dismissal of Coach Carr. Michigan won 8 straight and then lost the final regular season games to Wisconsin (37-21) and Ohio State (14-3). Then came the three years of Rich Rodrigues 3-9, 5-7. 7-6. He was fired. Brady Hoke came on the scene, exciting the Wolverine Nation. The team went 11-2, defeating a depleted Ohio State and then Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl in 2011. Michigan was back! No it wasn’t. The next three years were 8-5, 7-6, and 5-7. Instead of improving, the team sank. The Big House was no longer selling out. The fans were deflated. MDen sales were down. Merchants, bars, and restaurants were suffering. Here are the dismal stats. Michigan has been 46-42 in the past seven years, with three losing seasons. It is 1-7 against Mark Dandonio’s Michigan State and 1-8 against Jim Tressel’s Ohio State Buckeyes and 0-3 against Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes in the past. These are unacceptable records. Michigan needs a Bo or Harbaugh to restore the glory to Michigan football. Jim Haubaugh is high maintenance. He doesn’t always know when to keep his mouth shut, but he’s a winner, 29-6 at San Diego, 29-21 at Stanford with a team that was 1-11 before he came, and 44-19-1 with the San Francisco 49ers, winning three division titles in 4 years. Let’s not suffer though from “excessive exuberance.” Jim Harbaugh is currently 0-0 as Michigan head coach. Let’s not yet call him a “Messiah.” A successful program relies on recruiting, player development, and on-field coaching. Lloyd Carr’s recruiting slid in his final two years and Rich Rod was recruiting a different style of player. The offensive line has been a problem for 7 years. Brady Hoke proved to be an outstanding recruiter, but fell down in player development. By way of contract, Mark Dandonio took lesser recruits and molded them into a tough team at Michigan State. Brady Hoke is regarded as a nice person, and that turned out to be part of the problem. He could not get into the heads of the players and “will” them, if you will, what Jim Harbaugh refers to as “steel in our spines.” Visitors to the locker room noted the players were “soft.” They lacked the necessary toughness and drive. They also could not count, often having only ten players on the field. A lot of little things showed a lack of the necessary toughness to win at a high level. Harbaugh should be able to turn it around, as he did with Stanford, but it will not be overnight. Nick Saban needed 3 years at Alabama to win it a, and could never quite succeed all the way in his earlier years at Michigan. Saban’s Crimson Tide was 6-6 in his inaugural season, even losing to Louisiana Monroe and Auburn. Vince Lombardi took a 1-11 Green Bay Packers team to a 7-5 record and won a divisional title his second year, followed by 5 NFL titles in 7 years and the first two Super Bowls. Jim Harbaugh might be that successful, but let’s be patient. We do know he will “steel” the team and develop quarterbacks. We do know that he will play a pro style and smash mouth football. We do know his Wolverines will not quit on the field. We do know he will wear headsets at the games. Yesterday was a love fest at halftime of the Michigan-Illinois basketball game. The Maize Rage wore khakis to salute him. An irony of the game is that both Jim Harbaugh and Aubrey Dawkins, the freshman guard who scored 18 points for the Wolverines, are graduates of Palo Alto High School. Harbaugh was choked with emotion as he spoke to the crowd: “I pledge to you that we will do our very best to carry on the great tradition of Michigan excellence all across the board.” He told the crowd they knew how to make a guy feel at home. The Victors sounded great as he finished talking. Jim Tressel on January 18, 2001 at halftime of the Ohio State – Michigan basketball game in Columbus was introduced to the Ohio State fans: “I can assure you that you will be proud of your young people in he classroom, in the community, and most especially in 310 days in Ann Arbor, on the football field.” Both Harbaugh and Tressel said what they needed to say to their respective audiences. Earlier at the press conference, Harbaugh said: “I dreamed about this since I was a young lad.” He added: “There are very special words in the English language we all embrace. There’s family, there’s friends, there’s teammates, there’s victory. I was reminded of another very special word when I was driving into Ann Arbor this morning, and that word is homecoming.” Jim Harbaugh has come home to Michigan, to Mama. His father and mother were there on Tuesday with tears in their eyes. They are proud. He has to succeed. He will succeed. Merry Christmas Michigan State and Ohio State. Thanks to Michigan President Mark Schlissel, Athletic director Jim Hackett, and San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York.

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