Redemption Safari

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You can say one thing about watching struggling football program, it really makes you think about what it was like to be great.

Michigan Football used to be great.

It was some time ago, 17 years to be exact, but it happened. I was 17 when Michigan went 12-0 and won the Rose Bowl and the AP National Championship in 1997. Odd how looking back at that happening at exactly the midpoint of my life can really make things snap into focus.

After watching Michigan's latest attempt at playing actual football last weekend against Northwestern, and then immediately watching Michigan State vs Ohio State and LSU vs Alabama, it was overwhelmingly obvious that 4 years into this thing, and we're nowhere closer being a great football program than we were in year 3 of Rich Rod.


For the second time in my life, I know before the season is over that the current football coach is (in all probability) about to get canned. And just like the last time Michigan went through this song and dance, there is only one obvious choice to replace him.

All roads to redemption lead directly through Jim Harbaugh. For better or worse, there's no other option if you're looking for an absolute home run hire that will almost surely win right away on the highest of levels. I say for better or worse because very few programs have a Jim Harbaugh from their past that seemingly fits every criteria you'd like a new coach to fit…but may not even want the job for any number of perfectly legitimate reasons.

The combination of Dave Brandon and the lure of the NFL was too much to bring Harbaugh to Michigan in 2011. But with Brandon gone and an interim AD in place for at least the short-term future, that creates a unique situation where Jim could be very influential in who's signing his checks one day. I realize this is a tail wagging the dog situation, but that's the power the football coach at Michigan has – even a potential coach.

Even men's basketball coach John Beilein would like to weigh in on who the new AD would be. And frankly, given the rise of the hoops program since his arrival, he should have a say.
"Whether it's me or someone else, I think it will be a wise decision to include some coaches," Beilein said. "This will be Red Berenson's eighth athletic director. Every place I've been, most places, I've had two athletic directors even though I was there five years. It would be very wise to have input from the coaches and I have no doubt president Schlissel and Jim will go in that direction.

"If I'm asked, I'd be happy to be involved, but I have to be asked first."
Pretty sure that's Beilein asking to be asked.

The other factor what kept Harbaugh out of Ann Arbor 4 years ago was the National Football League. In 3 and a half seasons, Jim is 41-15 in San Francisco with 3 straight NFC title game appearances and 1 Super Bowl appearance. Even with all that success, his future with the 49ers is murky at best. But what he's done in SF has risen his stock dramatically, making him a prime target for every job opening in the league at the end of this season.

If Michigan is truly going to compete for Harbaugh, it's going to be a very crowded pool. Jim would really have to want to come back to college ball to take the Michigan job. It's not a long shot, though. The reason he's not going to be coaching the 49ers next season is because of the way he treats his players…he coaches like he's still in college.
Jerry Rice, doing the rounds for a charity event Tuesday in New York, told Newsday that Harbaugh's college-style coaching has started to rub the team the wrong way.

"I have heard some complaints from some players that he likes to try to coach with the collegiate mentality, and that's just not going to work in the NFL"


Seven years ago, Bill Martin packed Lloyd Carr up and shipped him into forced retirement. In his final game, as Rich Rod watched from the sidelines, Carr led Michigan to one of it's last true upset victories when they defeated Urban Meyer, his prodigy Tim Tebow and the Florida Gators in the Capital One Bowl. Since then it's been a comedy of errors for the face of the university and the department's primary source of revenue.

Carr emptying the cupboards, Bill Martin's sailboat,  Stretchgate, Josh Groban, hirings and firings, department miscommunications, loss after loss after loss.

Whether new UM president Mark Schlissel knows it or not, Michigan has used up their mulligans. They've struck out on two coaches in a row, and it's costs them not only the money spent on Rich Rod and Hoke, but precious national respect. Michigan is still Michigan™, but not for long if this keeps going. Slumping ticket sales and a grumpy student section is nothing compared to what happens next. Strike out on a 3rd coach and it will cost them everything.

When Jim Tressel resigned at Ohio State for lying about free tattoos, Ohio State was sanctioned by the NCAA. They had to pay a fine, vacate their 2010 season, not go to a bowl in 2012 and they lost a few scholarships. After a miserable 6-7 season under Luke Fickell, Ohio State hired Urban Meyer in what can only be considered a perfect hire. Three years into this tenure, Ohio State has not lost a regular season league game going 21-0 in the Big Ten and 32-3 overall.

Ohio State replaced a legend with a legend.

When Terrell Pryor left after the tattoo scandal, they replaced him with a better QB in Braxton Miller. When Braxton Miller got hurt before his senior year this year, they replaced him with a better QB in JT Barrett. And it's not just the QB position, they do this all over the field.

The difference is, Ohio State has an identity that is rock solid. They know what they are and they know what they want. Michigan, ever since Bo died and Carr was fired, has been on redemption safari looking for it's former self. The hiring of Rodriguez was a disaster on all accounts. It may have worked eventually, but when you try to turn Michigan into Oregon, it gets complicated. We're not Oregon. But we're also not San Diego State either.

When Brady Hoke was hired, one of the first things he said was "This is Michigan, fergodsakes." And that's been the rallying cry ever since. But this isn't Michigan. Losing 31-0 to Notre Dame is not Michigan. Losing 35-11 to Michigan State is not Michigan. Losing to Utah, Minnesota and Rutgers is not Michigan. Brady Hoke is a great guy and on a certain level, a great coach. But this is Michigan.

You know what Michigan is? It's winning streaks. It's a season ticket waiting list. It's beating Ohio State and making Michigan State feel like "Little Brother" again. It's Rose Bowls and Big Ten Championships. It's going out and finding the right coach, the perfect coach who can make all this happen. No more rolling the dice, it's time to hire the guy we should've hired 4 years ago and probably 3 years before that.

This is Michigan? Prove it.

1 comment

  1. "You know what Michigan is? It's winning streaks. It's a season ticket waiting list. It's beating Ohio State and making Michigan State feel like "Little Brother" again. It's Rose Bowls and Big Ten Championships."

    You hit it right on the head there. It seems like an obvious statement, but what's most important about it is what you *didn't say.* You didn't say anything like "Michigan is a power run game" or "Michigan is a pro-style offense." I think that is where we have run into trouble in the past, and where Ohio State has soared past us. They have been able to adjust to new modern styles of football, but their fan base doesn't care as long as they win.

    "We're not Oregon," but if that's what wins games there is no reason we shouldn't try to be. Because like you said, Michigan is about winning. If the next coach can do that nothing else will matter.