Jim Harbaugh is coming to Michigan. What seemed like a pipe dream to many Michigan football fans after the 42-28 loss to Ohio in late November has now turned into a reality. Students, alumni, fans, and even former players cannot contain their excitement. The talk of Harbaugh’s decision to accept the head coaching position has taken over social media and has brought the university back into the national news – this time in a positive light. Many have dubbed this a “home-run” or “slam-dunk” for Michigan as they try to rejuvenate a program that’s managed only a mediocre 46-42 record since 2008.
Harbaugh’s credentials are well known. He turned a putrid Stanford program into a national title contender in four years, before coaching the 49ers to three postseason appearances in four seasons, including a 3-point loss in Super Bowl XLVII at the hands of the Ravens. He will bring a level of tactical skill and credibility to the head coaching position that has been absent for the past seven years.
The excitement of the past few weeks of speculation turned reality has many dreaming about the immediate success that will be expected of the football team. Certainly, the presence of Harbaugh should transform Michigan from a middling Big Ten try-hard to perennial conference championship contender. The Wolverines will make up ground on, and hopefully overtake, Ohio State and Michigan State, who have feasted on the Wolverines since Lloyd Carr retired. With the resources of one of the best and most generously funded football programs in the country, Harbaugh will recruit better than any of his recent predecessors and develop his players in a way that transforms talent into wins, something that Hoke and Rich Rod could not do.
However, the importance of this hire transcends whatever win-loss output he will achieve by the end of the Harbaugh era. For one, Michigan had to get this hire right in order to save the dwindling contemporary legacy of the football program. The Wolverines were in danger of falling into a state of perpetual mediocrity that was working to erase everything that Bo built over the past half century. If Michigan had to endure four more years of .500 football, the tradition, the legacy, and the familial atmosphere that all Michigan Men grew up with would continue to deteriorate. Harbaugh will restore Michigan to the level of success it experienced under Bo, Moeller, and Carr that will also create a continuity, in which this brief 7-year period of mediocrity will appear as only a blip on the radar in the annals of Michigan football history.
But more importantly, the hire of Harbaugh maintains the head coaching position as reserved for only Michigan Men. Bo famously said, “A Michigan Man will coach at Michigan.” As a player, Jim Harbaugh exemplified everything that Michigan football was about. He cared about nothing except winning. He understood the importance of beating Ohio State and other rivals. He played with a passion and will to win symbolic of Michigan under Bo. Harbaugh is a Michigan Man at heart and no matter what level of success he achieves, or how long he stays, it was vital to the maintenance of the Michigan tradition at this crucial point that a Michigan Man leads Michigan back to its position as one of the elite national football programs. With all due respect to Brady Hoke, who loved and cherished Michigan like no other, Jim Harbaugh was THE only Michigan Man left to turn the program around. Only at a place like Michigan would any of this even matter. Yet, as students invade campus for the Winter 2015 term, there will be a buzz around campus that will be noticeably different than anything seen in the last seven years with Harbaugh in town. This is Michigan – but this time it’s for real.