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Jim Harbaugh seemed like the perfect man for Michigan. He was a record-setting quarterback for the Wolverines in the 1980s. He took over a decaying deer carcass known as Stanford football and won the Orange Bowl. He took the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl just two years removed from a 6-10 season. He was a winner, and Michigan badly needed one.
So, Harbaugh was the natural choice. The Wolverines were trying to clean up the mess they had made by hiring Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke, both of whom were fired after losing seasons. They have more or less succeeded in doing that, but the program is still third in line among itself, Michigan State and Ohio State. Harbaugh is 1-4 against those two teams, and with his third season looking like his worst on-field product yet, the #takes have naturally started to flow.
Comparisons to Butch Jones’ recent record or Brady Hoke’s first two years have made the rounds after Michigan was pantsed by Penn State, 42-13. These comparisons really come down to Harbaugh not being able to win big games so far, and that is about it. They appear to carry much more weight than they actually do. Jones and Harbaugh both being 6-5 in their last 11 games was a stat that circulated quite a bit prior to last Saturday. Of course, Butch Jones is 33-25 at Tennessee, and Harbaugh is 26-8 at Michigan.
As for the Hoke comparison, this is just coincidental numbers that mean absolutely nothing. Hoke was actually pretty successful early on at Michigan. Having a comparable record to Harbaugh is kind of funny because Hoke’s tenure is something of a punchline, but it carries little water.
These takes are what they are: fun things to tweet about to get some retweets. That is fine and good, but the idea that Harbaugh might not be able to win big at Michigan does not seem to be backed by much of anything. The job he has done so far has been decent, but Michigan football was not in a place where it was just going to be plug-and-play for a national championship.
Michigan was just 46-42 since 2008. That is downright mediocre. The five recruiting classes prior to Harbaugh’s first full class averaged out to a ranking of 22.8. That is good, but not championship-tier. Michigan had fallen to a B-rate program, and it needed to rebuild. Harbaugh had so much success early on that people kind of just assumed Michigan was instantly “back.” It really was not that way, though.
The rebuild is still going on. It just got a bit of a jump-start because Michigan had a decent amount of talent already in the program. The seasons that will really tell us what Harbaugh can do with Michigan are not the current or previous ones.