Nothing in life is guaranteed. Nothing in sports is a sure thing. This seems obvious. Yet many non-Michigan fans have been repeatedly pointing this out regarding the Jim Harbaugh hire by the University of Michigan. It is unclear if these are just bitter, angry people, or if it’s in response to some overzealous Michigan fans. Hiring Harbaugh most definitely is not a guarantee of championships. Not by a long shot. But it was unquestionably the best hire Michigan could have possibly made.
Jim Harbaugh rolled offed back-to-back 11–1 seasons at San Diego before taking the Stanford job in 2007, one year before Michigan hired Rich Rodriguez. One would assume that he would have jumped at the Michigan job even then, but Rodriguez seemed like a major coup for a Michigan program that was not in great shape. Michigan hired Brady Hoke in 2011 four days after Jim Harbaugh accepted the head coaching job with the San Francisco 49ers. It is unclear whether Harbaugh was ever offered the Michigan job at the time, but it seems unlikely that he would taken it.
But now he has, and it would be crazy for Michigan fans not to be excited about it. Harbaugh’s aforementioned consecutive 11–1 seasons at San Diego are impressive. But more impressively he went 29–21 at Stanford and finished his tenure there with a #4 ranking and an Orange Bowl win. The team had great success in the first couple of years after he left, mostly based on the groundwork he laid.
He then went to a struggling 49ers team, went 13–3 with a QB (Alex Smith) who had been a major bust up to that point. He went to three straight conference championship games, and one Super Bowl in his first three seasons, and finished his last season with a “disappointing” 8–8 finish, which still left him 44–19 in three seasons. How many coaches start their NFL coaching career 44–19? Better yet, Harbaugh’s career head coaching record now stands at 102–46–1 between college and the pros. That makes his career winning percentage an astounding .684! Adding Michigan to his previous head coaching stops and then ranking them from easiest to hardest places to win, Michigan would be #1 by a longshot.
Sure there are reasons for pause. He has been away from the college game for four years. He has more pressure to win at Michigan, where he starred at QB and where his father was an assistant. The Big Ten isn’t the powerhouse it once was and the Big Ten East is no cakewalk. The team he inherits did not look great this year and it’s unclear if any of the QBs on scholarship are the right fit. But there is not another coach Michigan could have chosen, who was actually available, who was even close to a better option.
Florida just hired Jim McElwain. Nebraska hired Mike Reilly. Wisconsin hired Paul Chryst. Are those teams’ fans happy with those decisions? Probably. But Michigan just got a guy with 11 years of head coaching experience. A guy who has won 68% of the games he has ever coached. A guy that took Stanford and turned them into the #2 team in the Pac 12. A guy who won three NFL conference championships in four seasons. Does this guarantee national championships? Of course not. But all things considered he is the best coach to get hired into a new job this offseason by far.
Seven years ago Michigan thought they got the right guy with Rich Rodriguez. Based on his success before and after it’s clear he’s a damn good football coach. But he didn’t have the support, the personality, the whatever, to succeed in Ann Arbor. So the next time out it was Brady Hoke, the “Michigan Man”. Hoke’s record prior to Michigan? 47–50. That was including a flukey 12–1 season at Ball St. and two shaky seasons at San Diego St. Hoke wasn’t a candidate anywhere then (or now; notice how he is still a free agent right now?) and without the Michigan ties made no sense. He criminally misused Denard Robinson and did nothing to develop talent. History showed that prior to Michigan outside of the flukey 12–1 season.
Harbaugh is a winner, at multiple levels. He is fiery and energized. He has tasted success all over the place. Is he the X’s and O’s machine that Rich Rodriguez is? Of course not. But he will get the support Rodriguez never got. Hoke had that support (at least early on), but didn’t have the rest of it. An impartial evaluation against Brady Hoke would lead almost anyone to laugh uncontrollably. People citing “no guaranteed success” like to cite Charlie Weis as an example. But Weis had zero head coaching experience and hadn’t coached college in nearly 20 years when he took the Notre Dame job.
Until Brady Hoke went 11–1 no one was excited about that hire. There are plenty of reasons to be excited here. Only time will tell. Anyone thinking Michigan just landed Bear Bryant will be greatly disappointed. But after nearly a decade of misery Michigan fans finally have a reason to be excited. They got a “Michigan Man”. They got a great head coach. And for the first time in a while, it’s the same guy.