Michigan fans need to be more patient with Jim Harbaugh
After the Michigan Wolverines lost to Michigan State, they beat Indiana and then traveled to Happy Valley to take on Penn State, looking for a little more redemption.
What a difference a year makes.
When Penn State visited Michigan last year, the Wolverines whooped ‘em, 49-10. The outcome left only two questions: Would undefeated Michigan run the table, and when would Penn State coach James Franklin get fired?
But that’s not how it played out. Over the next 10 games, Michigan lost four – while Penn State lost only one. Their fortunes had flipped.
The Wolverines sought to flip them back last weekend against second-ranked Penn State. But the Lions were having none of it, crushing them 42-13. Michigan’s vaunted defense, which some called the best in the nation, was torched for two touchdowns in the first five minutes.
All this dropped Michigan out of the rankings, out of the race for a national title, and probably out of contention for a Big Ten title, too.
That left Michigan fans heartbroken, which is understandable. They have high expectations, going all the way back to 1898, when Louis Elbel penned the Victors’ lyrics, “Leaders and Best.”
The fans have every right to criticize the poor play, and the results. It’s a big boy business, after all, but a fringe invariably takes it too far.
I’ve always believed college football produces the most passionate fans of any sport in the world, which is one reason why I love it. And you will not find more passionate fans than Michigan’s.
But that passion often comes with impatience, which was on display after the loss.
Some fans were apoplectic, talking about “accountability,” declaring the results “unacceptable,” and a few even calling for head coach Jim Harbaugh’s job.
What does all that mean?
Is anyone in America more accountable than college football coaches?
These guys get fired faster than people who screw up the response to natural disasters. Every aspect of their performance gets scrutinized on radio, TV, and the internet – and no one, in pro or college, gets more than Jim Harbaugh.
This is the same coach who led stunning turn-arounds at the University of San Diego, Stanford, and the San Francisco 49ers. That’s why this native son was received as a savior when he took the Michigan job in December of 2014 – not even waiting to hear the much higher offers from NFL teams.
Yes, Harbaugh is paid extremely well, about $7 million a year – but the NFL would pay him more. In his first year, he promptly doubled Michigan’s victories from five to 10. And he won 10 games again in his second year.
"I fundamentally don't give a rat's ass about the opinion of anyone outside our locker room." - Bo Schembechler
Harbaugh’s quick success probably led many fans to believe the Wolverines would return to the promise land this season – despite having the youngest roster in the country, and now a back-up quarterback. But if Harbaugh’s not good enough, who would be?
The good news for Michigan fans is Harbaugh isn’t going anywhere.
His players have been exemplary off the field – and the few who haven’t quickly parted ways. The team is setting records in the classroom, too, trailing only four other schools in the Academic Progress Rate.
Harbaugh is more immune to public opinion than any coach I’ve seen since his mentor, Bo Schembechler.
Bo once told me, “I fundamentally don’t give a rat’s ass about the opinion of anyone outside our locker room.”
I don’t think Harbaugh does either. I’ve never seen him pass the buck, or bite back.
Harbaugh has had great success everywhere he’s coached and it’s very difficult to believe his alma mater will be the exception.
His team will get there – just not as fast as some would like.
John U. Bacon is the author of eight books on sports and business. His current book, Playing Hurt: My Journey from Despair to Hope, coauthored with John Saunders, is his fifth New York Times bestseller.