Why Jim Harbaugh should be signed to an extension

Pierson VanGorp

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“I’m coming home!”

These were the words of an excited Jim Harbaugh at a Michigan basketball game in 2014. I actually got the chance to sit and watch his introduction to the Michigan fan base on the cold 2014 day. I remember how excited I was and the fan base was to get a coach like him. Michigan believed Harbaugh would be the guy to bring them a Big Ten championship and a College Football Playoff. A former Wolverine himself, Harbaugh promised to bring the glory and grit back to Michigan.

As he wraps up the last year of his contract, there is uncertainty in whether Harbaugh will return or head for the NFL. In his six years at Michigan, Jim is 49-22 with three 10-win seasons. However, he has still yet to win the Big Ten or even qualify for the championship game. He has also never beaten Ohio State and has struggled with rivals like OSU, Penn State, and Michigan State.

As a fan, it is unbearable to watch Michigan struggle, especially this season. Winning under 50% of their games is unheard of, but the Wolverines have hit an all-time low with a record of 2-4. Is this all Harbaugh’s fault? No. There are many problems that need to be fixed, but I believe they are easy fixes. One problem the Wolverines have dealt with is a number of injuries and opt-outs this season. They also have one of the worst defensive schemes in college football: Don Brown’s press cover man scheme. Lastly, another problem they have seen recently is the culture around Michigan football. Harbaugh has seemed emotionless in the past few weeks, and Michigan players have no energy on the field. I think there are easy fixes to all of these problems which will be the reason Jim Harbaugh returns to the maize and blue. Before I get into the solutions to these problems, I must talk about the contract details. I believe Michigan should offer Harbaugh a short contract; two years to be exact, with high incentives and a low buyout price. Now, let’s get into the solutions to the problems with the Michigan football program. 

The first problem for this Michigan program is all of the opt-outs and injuries they have dealt with. Michigan was already a young team heading into the season, and then the Wolverines lost their best receiver in Nico Collins and top corner Ambry Thomas. Defensive End Aiden Hutchinson, a top player on the roster, suffered a leg injury in the third game of the season and will miss the rest of the year. One of their leading receivers, Giles Jackson, suffered an undisclosed injury that has sidelined him in the past few weeks. Both Cade McNamara and Joe Milton are dealing with injuries that will sideline them for a few weeks. The injury bug is catching up to Michigan, which is one of the many reasons why the record is poor.

However, I believe that fans and critics are jumping to conclusions too quickly. Sure, Michigan has struggled this year, but 2020 has shown that it’s been anything but an ordinary year. There are many blue blood programs across the country that have also struggled like Michigan: LSU, Penn State, Oregon, and Florida State. Michigan has a young team full of talent that is waiting to flourish, but with COVID-19 stoppages and lengthy protocols, it has restrained some of this talent. With a good recruiting class and a year of prep, the Wolverines will be much better on the field in the next few years. 

Assistant coaching and development are vital for a program and a coach to have success. The main problem that the Wolverines have seen is the underperformance of the assistant coaches. They have not been able to develop the talent they have been given, which has shown on the field. In order to keep up with top-tier programs like Ohio State and Alabama, Michigan needs to develop players better.

Let’s start with defensive coordinator Don Brown. He has not shown the ability to adapt to a new defensive scheme since his early years at Michigan. He believes that his press cover scheme will work in today’s game of college football, and he is simply delusional. With the athletes that play on the offensive side of the ball, it is impossible to press cover opponents for most of a game without getting burnt. The main reason for Michigan’s defensive struggles has been this scheme, so something has to change. I believe that change will come with the firing of Don Brown. Don Brown is not welcomed at Michigan anymore after giving up the points he has against Ohio State and other programs. Harbaugh should either hire a defensive coach to run the defense or become the defensive coordinator himself.

Another coach that needs to back his bags is Josh Gattis, the offensive coordinator. When he came to Michigan in 2019, he promised to spread the offense out and used the term “speed in space” to describe his offense. This year, his offense has been the exact opposite of speed in space. Michigan has been stagnant offensively, struggling to run the ball and find big plays. With four talented running backs, people thought Michigan would rely heavily on the run, but it has been the exact opposite. Michigan has struggled in the run game, and running back Zach Charbonnet has much worse stats in 2020 than 2019. In 2019, Charbonett had 149 carries for 726 yards and 11 TDs. This year, Charbonett has 19 carries for 124 yards and 1 TD. The one TD was a 70-yard run, which means most of his yards came in one carry. This just shows how Gattis does not know how to use his talent right, and how outrageous it is that he still has a job. Harbaugh should bring in an offensive expert that has experience at the offensive coordinator job. There could be many more assistants that deserved to be fired, but these two are the ones that should be gone regardless if Harbaugh returns or not. 

The last problem that Michigan has experienced lately is the culture issue. Michigan players and staff look emotionless and have no energy when they take the field, including Harbaugh. When they face less talented teams like Rutgers, this shows when those teams are full of energy and ready to compete. Michigan needs someone to revamp their culture and Harbaugh to the old ways. The only way I see this is by bringing in another former Wolverine who had high success at Michigan. Michigan football should bring College Football Hall of Famer Charles Woodson. Charles Woodson spent 18 years in the NFL and could use his high IQ to sharpen up this Michigan defense. He also won a National Championship at Michigan and could bring championship-winning culture back to Michigan. Woodson has shown interest in being a coach at Michigan due to the Michigan struggles recently. If Harbaugh brings Woodson onto the staff, the culture problems at Michigan will be solved. He will bring back vintage Michigan culture and would be a great teacher to many talented defensive players. 

Harbaugh is not the problem at Michigan. The poor development from assistants, injures and opt-outs along with a young team, and mood at Michigan could easily be fixed. Harbaugh has brought Michigan back to contention of Big Ten championships, but he is yet to win any. With these changes to the program, Michigan will be back within two years. So, Warde Manuel, it’s your call. Are you going to offer Harbaugh, or let him walk? If he offers Harbaugh, then what will Harbaugh do? Only time will tell.

Should Michigan part ways with or extend Harbaugh?


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Why it’s time to axe the Jim Harbaugh Football era