2015 Way Too Early Look Ahead: The Harbaugh Effect

Coming soon to a Big House near you...

Keeping in mind this was year 3 of Harbaugh at Stanford, it's still impressive to say the least. USC in those days was basically what Ohio State is right now. Stanford crushed the Trojans in this game 55-21…including a 27-point 4th quarter. It was the single biggest loss of the Pete Carroll USC era and the worst loss for USC since 1966. In his 4 years at Stanford, Jim Harbaugh went 3-1 against USC and 2-1 head-to-head with Pete Carroll.

Jim gets all the credit, and rightfully so, for taking a pretty dismal Cardinal team and turning them into one of the best teams in the nation in a relatively short period of time. Stanford was essentially the Pac-12's equivalent of Indiana when he took over in 2007. The hill that Michigan must climb to reach that level is much smaller.

The Immediate Impact
It began the day he was hired.

Can you imagine sitting here, mid-February with M Hoops struggling and Ohio State basking in the glow of a national title, having not landed Jim Harbaugh as the next head coach? If you want to break it down to it's core…Harbaugh immediately turned Michigan Football from a negative to a positive. It's really that simple.

Once again, Jim Hackett…take a bow sir.

From a mindset point of view, having Jim Harbaugh back in Ann Arbor changes everything. Had Brady Hoke been given a 5th year or had Michigan hired someone else, things would be much less settled from a fan perspective. In terms of grading hires, Harbaugh is an A+ in every category…no question.

You can't really compare Brady Hoke and Jim Harbaugh through the same lens. They're both coaches, but that's about all they have in common. They simply think very differently. And when your program goes from one to the other, there's going to be a mandatory break-in period.

There could also be some re-entry issues for Harbaugh (and some of his staff) after years spent in the NFL.

I remember back when Rich Rodriguez was hired and then Brady Hoke. I got lots of questions from people wondering how I felt about those hires, like I needed to pick a side or something. No one has asked me how I feel about Jim Harbaugh. There are no sides…there's only one way to look at this thing. You want to talk about impacts? How about uniting a deeply divided and jaded fanbase? How about immediately putting the Spartans and the defending national champion Buckeyes on notice?

How does any other coach do that?

From Carr to Harbaugh
For the first time since Bo Schembechler was roaming the sidelines, there's just a sense that the current Michigan coach was put on this earth to be the Michigan coach. All due respect to Lloyd Carr and his 97 squad, but take away that season and Lloyd's Michigan tenure while still pretty good, is far from elite, especially towards the end when he struggled against Jim Tressel and Ohio State.

The task Brady Hoke had in front of him when he stepped on campus in 2011 was incredibly complex. His success in his first year was due in large part to having some pretty good pieces already in place. He was the beneficiary of very few injuries, great senior leadership (Carr remnants) and a favorable schedule. A lot of vital pieces fell into place for Hoke in year one.

But Brady had a massive rebuilding effort in front of him that he wasn't quite ready for. You don't go from Carr's schemes to Rodriguez's schemes to Hoke's schemes without some serious problems along the way. You can blame Carr's sabotage effort or Rich Rod's recruiting deficiencies, but I think the previous 3 coaches were equally responsible for the lack of on-the-field success of the last 7 years.

The good news is the step from Hoke to Harbaugh is not nearly as drastic as the two previous coaching changes. Brady Hoke was a good steward for the Michigan program. He recruited adequately enough and put the program back on the right track in a lot of ways, but now that we have the luxury of looking back, Hoke was designed to fail at Michigan. And that's not an indictment of Brady the coach or Brady the man. Michigan is just a different sort of beast.

Jim Harbaugh will be judged very differently then his predecessors. The task in front of Jim Harbaugh is more closely mirrored by most typical coaching changes. You have a school that is used to a certain level of success…they're not achieving it…he must get them back to that level. Unlike Rich Rod and Hoke, he doesn't need to rebuilding the program or turn it back into something the previous guy completely undid.

Does that mean Harbaugh will be more successful more quickly?

It don't hurt.

The Michigan Difference Opportunity
What do all of the Harbaugh's have in common everywhere they go?

They just win. They can't not win…its in their DNA.

Seriously…who does have it better than them?

I'm not saying Michigan will win the B1G title in year one…no one should say that. But a healthy dose of fresh optimism shouldn't be diminished or ignored. Is Michigan back? Not yet. But the table is set.

Jim Harbaugh turned down everything the NFL could throw at him to come to Michigan. He took the same money to come to Michigan, less than what any NFL team would offer. He turned down another shot at a Super Bowl to come to Michigan. At a time when the professional ranks are seen as the pinnacle of coaching for any sport, Jim Harbaugh…at the height of his power chose to come to Michigan.

And it's not like Michigan was this juggernaut of a program. The state of Michigan Football at the end of 2014 is best described at NSFW. Two straight failed coaches, 3 losing seasons in 7 years and a dismal record to rivals Ohio State and Michigan State…on paper, Michigan wasn't exactly an easy sell.

But none of that seemed matter to Jim Harbaugh…which to us mortals is a little weird. You'd have to think other coaches with far less options available to them would probably turn the Michigan job down based on any number of biased reasons. I don't want to get too philosophical, but elite coaches – Harbaugh included, are drawn to challenges. Michigan provided a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Jim Harbaugh. His past here and the prospect of continuing that legacy…to follow in Bo and his father's footsteps, made Michigan an easy sell.

We're not even halfway through the first chapter of this book, but one thing has become clear: Jim Harbaugh wanted Michigan as much as Michigan wanted him. What happens from here on out will be a direct product of that.

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