Jim Harbaugh, Michigan Football: How Well Does Harbaugh Fit The Wolverines?

Ryan FallerAnalyst IJanuary 3, 2011

Jim Harbaugh has plenty of options before him, but only one makes sense.
Jim Harbaugh has plenty of options before him, but only one makes sense.Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Jim Harbaugh would be a perfect fit for Michigan football.

Forget for a second that the Wolverines have yet to part ways with the embattled Rich Rodriguez or separate themselves from what looks to be a crowded room of anxious suitors bidding for Harbaugh’s services.

Michigan is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Harbaugh.

By comparison, the NFL’s coaching carousel is always in motion, meaning chances to coach at the next level will almost always be present.

Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon is likely to can Rodriguez later this week. He isn’t willing to show his cards before then, but when he does, Harbaugh will be getting a call almost instantaneously.

So, let’s assume that call is made and Harbaugh tells Brandon what he wants to hear.

What kind of coach is Michigan getting?

Well, by all accounts, one of the best in college football. But more than that, Harbaugh is the candidate most capable of restoring Michigan football to what the nation expects it to be.

After getting his feet wet at the University of San Diego, where he guided the Toreros to consecutive conference titles, Harbaugh has pulled off a complete 180 in Palo Alto, transforming Stanford from a 4-8 Pac-10 bottom-feeder into a jacked-up BCS player.

And that’s with the limited resources of a pair of schools whose reputations aren’t driven by athletics and whose budgets reflect as such.

Michigan would be the next logical step in Harbaugh’s progression as a head coach. And the marriage between the two would be symbiotic.

Yes, Harbaugh is an alum, but his deep ties to the university do not necessarily make him a smart choice.

That, rather, would be his unlikeness to Rodriguez, who seemed an odd fit in Ann Arbor the day he was hired and has since frayed the rich tapestry of Michigan’s illustrious football history.

Rodriguez has struggled to keep out the glare of the Big Ten and national media and his missteps have exasperated the fan base, including singing during a team banquet in what has been perceived as a musical plea for his job.

Not that Harbaugh is a great orator, but his even keel implies he learned a thing or two about publicly saying the right things while quarterbacking in the NFL.

Gone away with Harbaugh would also certainly be the spread offense Rodriguez so tirelessly toiled to install but to only mild acclaim. In its place, a power running game, the trademark of not only the Michigan program but the Big Ten as a conference.

Stanford has ranked 19th or better nationally in rushing in three of Harbaugh’s four seasons. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Cardinal have dominated opponents in time of possession, ranking 11th nationally in 2009 and first overall this season.

But that’s not to say that points are at a premium.

Led by quarterback Andrew Luck, Stanford’s offense averaged 255 yards through the air in 2010 and scored nearly 41 points per game, good for ninth in the country.

Of course, with a new scheme would eventually come new players, which is where Harbaugh would use his demeanor and calming influence on the recruiting trail, aided by Michigan’s sizable budget and appeal as a national brand.

Somewhat hamstrung by resources, Harbaugh excelled in bringing talent to Stanford, and his efforts have only improved over the years.

According to Rivals.com, the rank of Stanford’s classes has steadily improved under Harbaugh, going from 50th nationally in 2008 to 11th with just over a month to go before National Signing Day, 2011.

Conversely, the projected strength of Rodriguez’s classes has dipped, slipping from 10th in 2009 to a current standing of 37th. And the lag in recruiting has been painfully obvious on defense, where Michigan has struggled mightily under the offense-obsessed Rodriguez.

Not to beat a dead horse, but you can envision Harbaugh on the Michigan sideline. He's from the Midwest, played quarterback at Michigan and understands the culture of the Big Ten.

It just makes sense.

Nothing personal against Rodriguez—he just wasn’t right for the Michigan job. And he’s almost guaranteed to lose his job for validating that over the course of three disastrous seasons.

Harbaugh has spent the last four proving he’s a terrific fit at Stanford, not to mention possibly several NFL teams.

Unfortunately for them all, Michigan seems like the ultimate partner.


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