Jim Harbaugh and Michigan Football — A Reversal of Fortune

Jim Harbaugh has a track record … a really strong track record …. a proven track record of taking strong brand name football programs who are underachieving and leading them to quick success.

Harbaugh brought a once crumbling Stanford Cardinal program to the 2009 Sun Bowl; the program’s first bowl appearance since 2001. Just a year later, Harbaugh and the Cardinal went 11–1 and earned their place in the 2010 BCS National Championship game.

Even during his time in the NFL, Harbaugh was 44­-19­-1 as head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. He successfully brought the bay area team to a Super Bowl in his second season.

His collegiate reign didn’t seem to skip a beat in his return to Michigan. In Harbaugh’s first season he led his alma mater to a 10–3 record, including a convincing 41–7 win over the Florida Gators in the Citrus Bowl.

It’s an extreme challenge to transition any organization from mediocrity to sustained and substantive success. Harbaugh has inherent traits and characteristics of a strong leader. He embodies the confidence and other elements needed to be successful in a high pressure, high profile coaching environment.

A coach is the maestro to the choir. There is a saying I use with my own son: “A man who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd.” Simply, one must be fearless and confident to not make transactional leadership decisions for short and long term term success. He must have the courage to lead against the norm and popularity decision making. A head football coach at an elite college football program is not only preparing his student-athletes for the professional level, but most important he’s building character and camaraderie in his players and the overall team culture that will last long after playing days end.

It was courageous in itself to accept a role at a prestigious program on such a decline. Through his one season at Michigan, Harbaugh has demonstrated that they are a well-respected Big Ten force once again and for the foreseeable future. Defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin spoke very honorably of Harbaugh’s approach. Durkin has been coaching for 15 years, under the direction of coaching leaders like Urban Meyer, Will Muschamp, and even Harbaugh while at Stanford. The Michigan coordinator spoke in reference to Harbaugh:

“Jim’s strongest suit probably is his confidence and his vision. He’s not afraid to do things differently. He truly is going to do things the way he sees best. Everything is well-thought-out. There’s a reason for why we do everything we do.”

Harbaugh is said to be effective in instilling his own confidence in his athletes. He brings a level of intensity and belief that is hard to deny when you’re in his presence. The Michigan coach expected that of himself and expected that from every role on the team — from coaches to players. My favorite Harbaugh quote depicts his pure passion for the game — “I attack each day with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind.” That quote alone sets the tone and culture of the new Michigan football program.

Michigan football hadn’t won the Big Ten title in 11 seasons. In the 2014 season the Michigan Wolverines were outscored in the second half of games. Under Harbaugh, the team has an impressive 113–51 second half scoring edge. Michigan’s past season brought a refreshing feeling of success that the school hasn’t come across in some years. They’ve only allowed 16 red-zone opportunities, the fewest of any team in the Football Bowl Subdivision. The Wolverines also only gave up six touchdowns.

Michigan finished 2015 with a 10–3 record, including winning five of their last 6 games of the season. Combined, the 2013 and 2014 Wolverines’ seasons only tallied 12 wins.

What’s the biggest difference in how this Michigan team operates in comparison to the year prior? Their mentality. The team is collectively getting better week by week and they carry the confidence that Harbaugh has enforced from day one.

Harbaugh brought the Michigan football program back to the relevance, but what brought him back to Michigan?

Apparently he’s constantly asked that question and he took to The Player’s Tribune to finally put the wondering to rest. The core of Harbaugh’s reason was the community. As a player he remembers how accomplished he felt being in the Ann Arbor community that was built upon around amazing people and thorough traditions.

The Michigan Head Coach described the place as, “Vibrant and alive, full of good, genuine, down-to-earth people who laugh easy and make you laugh.” As a head coach, a majority of Harbaugh’s role involves high level recruiting. He’s been adamant about displaying Michigan’s culture towards players and parents on his recruiting trips. Harbaugh identifies with how it feels to come to Michigan as a player and wants to administer that same feeling to the players he brings in.

Michigan currently has 24 players currently committed, thus listing the Wolverines as the nation’s sixth-ranked recruiting class (only led by LSU and Ohio State). Harbaugh’s recruiting expenses were recently released and it definitely pays to attract such a class.

The Michigan head coach racked up nearly $136,000 in recruiting travel expensesover a 12-day period during his first month in Ann Arbor. Harbaugh’s contract at Michigan allows the use of a private jet for recruiting purposes and records show that him and his staff made 18 trips leading up to national signing day. What a testament to the support Harbaugh has from his alma mater! Thus, really proving the importance of the relationship between the coaching administration and the university.

The maize and blue expect to continue their recent success in the coming years; it involves symbiotic cooperation and participation from top to bottom of the Michigan football program. With a new energy, attitude, and top recruiting class, Jim Harbaugh and his proven track record has Michigan football on the cusp of elite status again and soon a return to the pantheon of college football programs.

This post was originally posted on Jim Fiore’s LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/jimfiore1

Also follow Jim on Twitter for daily inspirational tweets at https://twitter.com/jim_fiore_