Well, after weeks of speculation it finally happened. Jim Harbaugh left the beaches of California and has returned home to his alma mater at the University of Michigan to coach the Wolverines. Michigan gets the head coach it has badly needed since Lloyd Carr called it a career in 2007 and Harbaugh gets to return home to a school and a fan base that has longed for a reunion between the two for some time now. This was the hire that we all have been saying for months made too much sense to happen given the way Harbaugh’s relationship had eroded with front office executives in San Francisco and the way Brady Hoke’s tenure in Ann Arbor was coming to a grinding halt. After it was reported that Michigan was going to pony up $48 million and make Harbaugh the highest paid coach in all of football, he actually ended up taking less money so that it could be used to assemble his staff.
So what does this happy reunion in Ann Arbor mean for Michigan, the Big 10 and the rest of college football? It means that one of college football’s sleeping giants is about to awaken from its long slumber, and one of the best rivalries in college sports is about to become competitive and interesting once again. That my friends, is great not only for the Big 10, it is great for the entire landscape of college football because everyone benefits from teams like Michigan being good again. When Michigan comes back, it will give the Big 10 the jump start it badly needs right now and it will help even things out a bit when it comes to competitive balance across college football.
Earlier in the year, I wrote about what was wrong with the Big 10, and one of the reasons I cited was that Michigan was down and that took away from the conference’s credibility. Michigan has been stuck in football purgatory since the Lloyd Carr years and has been through two coaches since his departure. Neither Rich Rodriguez nor Brady Hoke were the answers at the time for Michigan, even though I think Rodriguez is still a heck of a coach and has done a great job at Arizona. Both coaches failed for different reasons and both had good resumes prior to Michigan, but neither one of them were Jim Harbaugh.
I believe Jim Harbaugh is the right man and the right attitude for a Michigan program that has lost their way and prominence over the years. Harbaugh’s resume speaks for itself; he has won at every head coaching stop he has been at. Those stops include the University of San Diego, Stanford and his most recent stint with the San Francisco 49ers. While he didn’t leave on the best of terms with San Francisco, nobody can deny the success he had with that team and how quickly he achieved it. Nobody can deny how he made Stanford’s football program a household name again, and despite very taxing academic standards, he was able to recruit and develop good great players and put them in the NFL. That’s not to say that Michigan’s academic standards aren’t tough, because they are, but that means if Harbaugh can recruit and develop at Stanford, he can do it anywhere.
Jim Harbaugh to Michigan means we get an annual matchup of Harbaugh’s Wolverines and Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes and we get to see the two go head to head on the recruiting trail. I don’t know about the rest of you guys, but for me that will be must see TV. Knowing the personalities and competitive spirits of both coaches, there won’t be any punches pulled when they square off on the field or in the high schools and homes of prospective players. One thing is for sure, hiring Jim Harbaugh will give Michigan a huge shot in the arm on the recruiting trail after their recruiting class virtually fell apart after a very disappointing season. Jim Harbaugh gives you instant credibility in the living room with parents and recruits and gives Michigan the ability to say they got the right man in place, and that they are building for the future and trying to right the ship. It gives you a coach that both players and parents will gravitate towards and that is huge when it comes to building a struggling program.
As I said previously, this kind of hire does nothing, but add to greatness of college football. It does the game no good when schools like Michigan, USC, Texas and Florida aren’t playing well. When those programs are firing on all cylinders and are recruiting like they are capable, the outlook of the college football landscape completely changes. The teams that have been on the rise since these teams have gone on the decline need to be very worried when these programs turn the light switch back on. In my opinion that time is coming much sooner rather than later. The teams I just mentioned have all made recent coaching changes and are in a good position to rebuild their respective programs, with the college football playoff here for the long haul, battle for the top spots is about to heat up even more in the coming years.