NCAA Football

Hiring Jim Harbaugh was a smart move for Michigan, but keeping him turned out to be genius

Hiring Jim Harbaugh was a smart move for Michigan, but keeping him turned out to be genius

INDIANAPOLIS – The NFL is undeniably America’s favorite sport. It’s everything America loves. In entertainment, there’s the National Football League, superheroes, and hip-hop, and everything else is wrestling for a minute or two on stage. That’s how big he is.

America’s second favorite sport isn’t what you might think. This isn’t major league baseball, the NBA, or, more accurately this evening, college football. No, America’s second favorite sport is firing coaches.

Jim Harbaugh no doubt knows this. It happened to him once when he was the manager of the San Francisco 49ers, until management unilaterally decided that he would leave by “mutual decision.” It almost happened to him a second time when his Wolverines posted a 2-4 record in the shortened 2020 season and he was asked to take a pay cut to stay on the job.

And here he is, for the second season in a row, reminding everyone why firing coaches can be a really dumb game.

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Michigan is your Big Ten champion again with a 43-22 victory over Purdue on Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium. Michigan is assured of the No. 2 seed in the College Football Playoff field when it is announced on Sunday. Michigan has won 25 of its last 27 games. All because Michigan chose to stick with a coach who once led an NFL team to the Super Bowl and reached double-digit wins three times in the six years since arriving in Ann Arbor.

“I don’t think I’ve changed a bit. I am the same as I was before. When you get to that age, you don’t change,” Harbaugh, 58, told The Sporting News. “I really think it’s about the players; I think the players also appreciated that no changes were made. We made it about getting the guys on the team to play good football.

“These guys love football, love practice, enjoy each other’s company … I’m not going to speak for them, but I think they love the direction of the program. They like the program. They like the opportunity in the program. And I like them. A lot.”

MORE: Michigan wrests control of the Ohio State rivalry

We already know how expensive shooting can get. Just a month into the season, major conference programs have spent more than $55 million buying out coaches they decided to bring back this season and fired after a few games. Auburn’s Brian Harsin has since joined the club, with more to come in the next few weeks.

That’s not to say it was a bad idea to fire any or all of these coaches. This means that there are too many cases where it is too widely seen as a solution to the problem rather than several others, which is often the case because restarting a program can be a longer process than rescuing one. This means that if there is a talented coach in place, there is a good chance that there will be less turnover. That said, the most overlooked tactic in all sports is working with a capable coach to address what may be ineffective or inefficient in a program, regardless of whether adjusting the personnel or approach may produce the desired results.

Obviously, there needs to be a new direction after the 2020 season. Harbaugh replaced the defensive coordinator after that debacle, along with several other staff positions, and the result was a rebuilt program that snapped a losing streak against rival Ohio State, won the Big Ten Championship and made its first ever College Football Playoff appearance.

Harbaugh had to replace him as OC and DC this year after Josh Gattis left to lead the Miami Hurricanes offense and Mike McDonald left for the Baltimore Ravens job. The Wolverines maintained their top-25 ranking in total offense under co-coordinators Sharon Moore and Matt Weiss. Under Jesse Minter, their defense improved from #9 to #2.

Jim Harbaugh at Michigan
year Big Ten record In general
2022 year 9-0 13-0
2021 year 8-1 12-2
2020 year 2-4 2-4
2019 year 6-3 9-4
2018 year 8-1 10-3
2017 year 5-4 8-5
2016 year 7-2 10-3
2015 year 6-2 10-3

“He’s a great coach,” running back Donovan Edwards, who had 185 yards, told reporters. “Every day he comes in the same person. I have never seen him change since I was hired. He shows extreme loyalty. When he speaks so highly of us, you want to play for him.”

“There are a lot of college football coaches who see their players as numbers,” quarterback JJ McCarthy said. “He sees us as the people we are. You couldn’t ask for anything better.”

There was no vintage performance on Saturday. It was actually a transaction. Michigan actually won the Big Ten title a week earlier, storming into the Horseshoe in Columbus and dominating the second half in a three-touchdown victory over Ohio State. It was like a presidential candidate campaigning in a state after he had already won the nomination. It is what is done because it is expected.

After the Wolverines led just 14-13 at halftime on two big plays — a 60-yard run by Donovan Edwards on UM’s first play of the second half, later a 40-yard pass from JJ McCarthy to tight end Luke Schoonmaker — that set to third quarter touchdowns.

It was then 28-13 and there was no way Purdue was going to make a full comeback against that D, as evidenced by UM cornerback Will Johnson’s stunning interception of Aidan O’Connell out of the end zone in the third quarter and then repeated with another at the Purdue 16. The second set up a McCarthy to Ronnie Bell touchdown to stretch the lead out of reach.

Well, it came after Michigan decided to run a 2-point conversion with 9 minutes left to make it a three-point game, which was successful and led to a chorus of boos from many Purdue fans.

If opponents are mocking your coach, you probably have the right guy.

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