For Jim Harbaugh, it’s more than a “start”
Sitting behind the podium following the Michigan soccer team’s victory over No.2 Ohio State on Saturday, Jim Harbaugh took a moment to look around.
Usually, his press conferences strike the same dark, frustrated and downcast strings after games against the Buckeyes. But when Harbaugh’s well-documented 0-5 record against his arch-rival changed in Saturday’s 42-27 win, Michigan’s No.5’s season outlook changed as well.
And Harbaugh’s tone followed suit.
âThe way it feels now is like the start,â Harbaugh said.
Asked to elaborate, Harbaugh highlighted the 2021 team formation days.
âJust everything about the team,â Harbaugh said. âEvery day, every week, every month. Going back to the start of this year, it’s still like the start. Reach a goal then move on to the next and the next and the next.
He’s not wrong. But he certainly underestimates the implications.
For the Wolverines, Saturday changed the schedule more than the season. In three hours, Michigan turned its national perception upside down with its first win over Ohio State since 2011. The Wolverines are no longer a stagnant old powerhouse. Harbaugh is no longer the epitome of a trainer who can’t get over the hump.
Long-term implications are sure to follow in the field and on the recruiting trail. More importantly, a new generation of Michigan football players has reached the top. In that sense, it is truly the rebirth of a program – and a goal that no longer seems hollow.
From an outsider’s perspective, it was difficult to take the Ohio state-focused allegations seriously given the recent results of the rivalry. But within Schembechler Hall, a “What are you doing to beat the state of Ohio today?” Â»Sign already hangs proudly. Since January, players have been asking themselves the question every day.
Now they know the answer.
âIn the long term, we’ve set expectations now,â said junior quarterback Cade McNamara. âIt’s been so long since we beat Ohio State, but we did today. For the guys who come back, now we have to do it every year. We know what it took.
Harbaugh spent the first six years of his tenure selling a plan to overtake the Buckeyes. But year after year, the Saturday after Thanksgiving has proven time and time again that it is nothing more than an empty sight. He’s walked through multiple coordinators on both sides of the ball and built teams rooted in nearly half a dozen different patterns.
That is, until he found himself last winter.
In the days and weeks after the Wolverines’ 2020 season ended, it looked like Harbaugh’s tenure could follow suit. But a school-friendly contract with a unique buyout structure and incentive salary kept him in his alma mater. Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel apparently dared Harbaugh to break through, to take the Wolverines to the top echelon of college football.
So Harbaugh looked at himself in the mirror. He overhauled the coaching staff and culture of the program, providing a much needed infusion of youth.
From an Xs and Os point of view, Harbaugh has rediscovered himself. In a time of quick, caucus-less offensives, he and offensive coordinator Josh Gattis went against the grain in 2021. They relied on football first and the fundamentals of the 20th century offensive line.
On the other side of the ball, the hiring of Mike Macdonald, 34, a first-time defensive coordinator, clearly marked a departure from Harbaugh’s previous philosophy of relying on coaching experience. But on Saturday, Macdonald’s defense knocked the Buckeyes off balance with a mix of covers and disguised passes.
Harbaugh has always been a maverick, but the 2021 Wolverines take that to the extreme.
And on Saturday, everything was validated.
âYou should have seen him in the locker room after the game,â said fifth-year offensive lineman Andrew Stueber. âI’ve never seen him happier, more excited. â¦ He’s been through tough times, he’s been through a lot of adversity since he’s been coaching here. Seeing him finally beat Ohio State, as a team, as a unit, we knew what this team was capable of, and it all started with him.
Saturday’s victory opens doors Michigan has yet to know as Harbaugh. For the first time, the Wolverines will play for a spot in the Big Ten Championship and College Football Playoff in Indianapolis.
However, this indication is pale compared to the fact that it could be permanent. In its biggest game of the season, in a year full of testing, Michigan has finally created its own narrative. Led by an eccentric and unabashedly authentic coach, the Wolverines hosted their own coming out party on Saturday.
âIt’s a (celebration) that will last a long time into the night,â Harbaugh said.
On the other hand, the implications for the shaping of the program will last much longer.