After four-plus seasons, this is what all of the hope and hype was about?
When Jim Harbaugh was introduced as Michigan’s new head football coach to great fanfare on Dec. 30, 2014, it was thought that the former Wolverines quarterback was the elixir for what ailed the storied program. Here comes the Michigan Man, riding in on his white horse to save the day and rescue the football damsel in distress.
Except, that hasn’t even remotely happened.
In the four year’s prior to Harbaugh’s arrival, all under Brady Hoke, the Wolverines went 31-20 overall and 18-14 in Big Ten play; under Harbaugh in his first four, it was 38-14 and 26-9. Seven more wins overall for a coach who, last season, was the third-highest paid head coach in college football at $7.5 million?
But, the deeper you dig into the numbers the more distressing the all-too-familiar big-game failures become if you’re a fan of the program.
In games vs. ranked teams, U-M is 8-10 under Harbaugh; take out his first season in Ann Arbor, and the record is 5-8. When his team is an underdog, Harbaugh is 0-7, including the Week 4 shellacking by Wisconsin. In the postseason, the Wolverines have lost three straight bowl games.
Most distressful? Harbaugh, the khaki-clad savior, is 2-6 when facing U-M’s biggest rivals, including going winless against archnemesis Ohio State.
And, again, U-M paid Harbaugh $7.5 million in 2018 and will likely cough up even more in 2019.
“I’m hurt. I’m hurtin’. I need some words of encouragement if you would. Somebody give me something,” current FOX Sports college football analyst and former U-M great Charles Woodson, seated next to a smirking Meyer on-set Saturday afternoon, lamented. “That [hurt] real.”
The murmuring surrounding Harbaugh and his inability to get the Wolverines back onto the national stage and into the College Football Playoff discussion on any type of regular basis has grown louder over the past year or so. Getting pushed around and embarrassed by Wisconsin Saturday, and was preceded by the near-defeat in double overtime at the hands of Army in Week 2, has only seen the drumbeat for change grow.
Certainly there’s time for Harbaugh & Company to right the listing ship, but, if that doesn’t happen, the university’s administration will have to look long and hard at season’s end at the nuclear option of pulling the plug on the Michigan Man’s tenure after five seasons. In order to get back on track and make that option moot, U-M will face a schedule that includes four games against teams currently ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 — No. 18 Iowa, No. 13 Penn State, No. 7 Notre Dame and No. 6 Ohio State — as well as one versus a Michigan State team that could very well get back into the rankings when Nov. 16 matchup rolls around.
If U-M does opt to move on from Harbaugh, it wouldn’t be as cost-prohibitive as one might think as the university would owe the coach a buyout somewhere in the neighborhood of $12 million if he’s fired without cause. Given the ATM that is the Big Ten Network as well as other conference revenue streams, coming up with the funds to shed themselves of Harbaugh and his staff — and pay his replacement as well — shouldn’t be an issue.
Even if U-M decides to stick with Harbaugh, there’s the fact that he has just two years remaining on a contract that runs through 2021. Knowing that will be used against him on the recruiting trail — and how that could adversely affect the program down the road — do university officials extend him, thus making it even more expensive to get out from under the coach?
One way or another, the University of Michigan will have a decision to make, one that will decide the football program’s course for several years to come.