Taking A Critical Look at Jim Harbaugh

-Alex Fry (‘19)


When Jim Harbaugh was hired by Michigan in the winter of 2014, fans rejoiced as if it were The Second Coming. After seven years of mediocrity and disappointment under Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke, expectations were high for the former NFL coach, and his resume definitely supported his cause.

Harbaugh had a storied career as a quarterback in both college and in the NFL. Over his three seasons with Michigan, Harbaugh finished seventh all-time in passing yards for the Wolverines, eighth in completions and had a 25-5-1 record. During his 10-year stay with the Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears, Harbaugh was voted to a Pro Bowl and as the AFC Player of the Year in 1995. His successes on the football field followed him as a head coach as well. He had a solid record of 51-23 with San Diego State University and Stanford University, including memorable wins such as his victory against the #2 ranked USC Trojans in 2007 as a 41 point underdog, statistically one of the greatest upsets in college football history. As a head coach in the NFL, Harbaugh led the San Francisco 49ers to a surprising Super Bowl appearance in 2013. He also gained a reputation as being a quarterback guru, developing players like Andrew Luck, the first pick of 2012 NFL draft, and Colin Kaepernick, an undervalued player who flourished under Harbaugh’s system.

Harbaugh took over a Michigan roster that previously went a disappointing 5-7 in 2014, but he was also inheriting Brady Hoke’s magnificent 2013 recruiting class that was fourth in the nation. Harbaugh’s first year at Michigan was meant to be a year to regroup. Instead, he went a step above, going 10-3 on the season with impressive wins over the #13 ranked Northwestern Wildcats and the #19 ranked Florida Gators in the Citrus Bowl. He finished his next season 10-3 as well with an appearance in the Orange Bowl. Currently, Harbaugh is 5-1 this season in 2017 and with his team sitting as the #19 ranked team in the nation.

On the surface, it seems as though Harbaugh has done a fine job during his tenure with the Wolverines. But if you dig deeper into the analytics, you’ll realize that his numbers are quite deceiving. Here are some of reasons why Harbaugh has been underperforming thus far:


Harbaugh’s Eerily Similar Record To Brady Hoke

As recently pointed out by Paul Finebaum of ESPN, through 31 games both Jim Harbaugh and Brady Hoke have the same record of 24-7. It begs to question whether or not Jim Harbaugh has been much of an improvement considering that he has the same record as his predecessor with arguably more talented players given to him.


Consistently Poor Performances Against Rivals

One of the most important factors when judging a head coach’s performance is how they do against their rival teams. If you ask any hardcore college football fan whether they want a decent record or a win against their biggest rival, they will most likely pick the single victory against their rival. Harbaugh so far has been extremely disappointing in his performances against Michigan’s big-time enemies Michigan State and Ohio State, going 1-4 against them thus far. After coming off an abysmal loss to an unranked Michigan State team at home, Harbaugh is definitely going to need some positive results in this area soon.


His Off-Field Antics

Another aspect that Harbaugh seems to keep consistent is the attention he gets when he is not on the football field. He seems to crave the spotlight, constantly doing stunts to get national attention. Whether it’s been taking his team overseas to Rome, sleeping over at a recruits house, hanging out with Judge Judy, getting in Twitter fights with opposing teams or even hosting his own radio show, Jim Harbaugh is eventually going to have to have some wins go viral or his antics will start to wear thin.


His Undeserved Contract

In a shocking move, the Michigan Wolverines decided to extend Harbaugh’s contract to nine millions dollars in 2016, making him the highest paid coach in college football by more than two million dollars. His contract exceeds those of coaches such as Nick Saban and Urban Meyer, two coaches who have been much more successful in their careers. If Harbaugh is going to be the highest paid coach in college football, then he better coach like one too.


Michigan’s Disturbing Quarterback Situation

As mentioned earlier in the article, one reason why Jim Harbaugh was brought into Michigan was because of his ability to develop quarterbacks. Michigan was consistently weak at the position with Devin Gardner in 2013 to 2014, while Denard Robinson, the starting QB from 2010 to 2012, was more known for ability to run the ball. Jake Rudock ended up being the starter during Harbaugh’s first season and actually played pretty well, but he was only eligible to play for one year. Since then, the quarterback position has been one of Michigan’s gaping holes. Wilton Speight was selected to be the starter in the 2016 season, but only seemed to get worse as the season progressed, often missing wide open receivers and costing the Wolverines a game against Ohio State with a pick six and poor play. Speight started out the 2017 season right where left off in 2016, throwing two pick sixes against Florida and playing three more unimpressive games against bad teams. John O’Korn replaced him against Michigan State and has been horrendous thus far, throwing for 256 yards and 3 interceptions in two games. The quarterback position, Harbaugh’s supposedly strongest suite, has been Michigan’s most frustrating spot under Harbaugh.

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