January 1, 2015
SAN FRANCISCO–You can all relax now. After a maddening couple of months, the Jim Harbaugh coaching rumors have finally come to a close as of Tuesday, December 30th, 2014, when he was hired as Michigan’s 20th head football coach. A Michigan Man. Throughout the season there was much speculation on whether he could co-exist with the 49ers’ front office, as it’s hard for two smarts minds to do so. Rumors throughout the season had him going to the Raiders, the Jets, to Michigan, you name it–everyone wanted Harbaugh. And for good reason, the man can build programs (or in Michigan’s case, rebuild). At FCS school San Diego he went 27-6 in three years. Upon his arrival to Stanford, the Cardinal were just 14-31 in the previous four years, but under Harbaugh’s watch Stanford improved to 29-21, improving their record every year, their best season under Harbaugh was going 12-1 and smashing Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl. This might sound familiar: In the 49ers’ previous four seasons before Harbaugh arrived, they went 26-38. 44-19-1 after, including three straight NFC championship game appearances, a feat unmatched by any NFL head coach in their first three seasons ever.
Now that he has returned to the college game, he figures to return Michigan to their past glory–the team with the most wins in NCAA football history (915). While the Michigan athletic department will give Harbaugh time to shape Michigan in his image, the bar is set high. Brady Hoke’s tenure was regarded as a failure after he obtained a winning percentage of .608 in four seasons. To put that in perspective, only 22 programs in NCAA football have an all-time winning percentage above .608. Lloyd Carr, Michigan’s coach from 1995-2007, compiled a record of 122-40 but was forced out because many thought Michigan was becoming mediocre. However, Harbaugh is possibly Michigan’s most celebrated hire ever, evident by his $48M contract, and one slip up won’t mean his job.
Harbaugh’s hire has a huge impact on recruiting. Last season under Hoke, Michigan’s class ranked 18th in the nation. Not bad, but not Michigan. Harbaugh’s last recruiting class at Stanford also ranked 18th in the nation. which, ironically, was a rousing success. It most definitely was, considering how tough it is to recruit to Stanford. Despite the amazing location, campus, and education, the high academic standards are what restrict the Cardinal and significantly restricts their recruiting.
According to ESPN’s Mitch Sherman, ESPN top 100 recruits CB Iman Marshall and WR Cordell Broadus are considering Michigan solely on the Michigan hire. TE Chris Clark could follow in their footsteps as well. With Harbaugh, recruits will get some of the best coaching offered, as he mixes NFL experience with college. With Stanford, he got his 2 and 3-star recruits to play above their potential, and the 4’s and rare 5-star player to maximize theirs. With the 49ers, there was talent when Harbaugh arrived, but it wasn’t the general manager or magic that took the 49ers from 2 Pro Bowlers to 9 in Harbaugh’s first season.
Harbaugh has had some issues in the past, problems with the 49ers’ head management, and he reportedly lost the locker room, but those problems should not follow him to Ann Arbor. In college, a coach has much more freedom to do what he wants compared to the NFL. In San Francisco, Harbaugh, the Yorks, and Trent Baalke all had to work together to keep the team successful, while in Michigan he will have almost full power to do whatever he wants. As for any locker room problems, Harbaugh’s shtick will work at the college game as he’ll have 3-4 years to work with his players and then they’ll be gone.
The next couple of years should be very interesting. It’s an exciting time in Ann Arbor, and for good reason. This hire changes the entire college football landscape, and Michigan could very well become a playoff contender in the next couple of years. The battles between Urban Meyer (Ohio State) and Harbaugh (Michigan) have the potential to be a storied rivalry between some of the game’s best minds. There hasn’t been such an anticipated hire since Nick Saban at Alabama in 2007. If this hire is anything close to that one, college football beware—Michigan is back.