Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh is an easy target.
Harbaugh seeks out attention in a sport where most coaches traditionally do not. He’s been driven to push Michigan to the forefront of anything innovative, especially anything that will register with young recruits.
So he climbed a tree, gave new meaning to the term in-house visit by spending the night, moved spring practice to Florida, plotted a trip to Rome — it’s all been done to change the image of Michigan in the minds of young football players.
“He’s not trying to be something he’s not,” said his brother, Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh. “He’s not trying to prove anything. He’s just being himself. He’s going to have fun. He’s going to enjoy himself. So if a football gets stuck up in a tree, he’ll be the first guy climbing up there to get it. Whatever happened. If it’s shirts and skins, and he’s on the skins team, the shirt’s coming off.”
His antics are red meat for critics, and for those who need someone or something to belittle in college football. They also know a prideful Michigan fan base will provide plenty of clicks and angry engagement, and each tweak of Harbaugh will enrage every person with a social media or message board handle that includes “Go Blue” or hailing victors.
It’s the offseason now, which means there is less football to write about and more time for people to pontificate and fill the void with hot takes.
Michigan fans, just ignore them.
Maybe that’s too simple to say and tougher to do, but it’s pretty easy to spot the difference between well-rationalized analysis and critiques of the Michigan program, and click-bait troll jobs.
Jim Harbaugh has been an irrefutable success in his first two seasons at Michigan. The Wolverines have won 10 games in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2002-03. They have finished sixth and fifth in the 247Sports composite team rankings the past two recruiting cycles after finishing 17th or worse in four of the six previous years.
The Wolverines are better off now than at any point, relative to where Michigan has been since Lloyd Carr left. They are poised to be even better in the future.
There is room to critique, but much of that comes from incredible-bordering-on-unrealistic expectations because it’s Michigan. Harbaugh has not won the Big Ten. He hasn’t beaten Ohio State.
OK, well Michigan hasn’t won the Big Ten outright since 1997. The Wolverines have beaten the Buckeyes one time since 2003.
They had a chance to do both this year. This was a senior-heavy team and Ohio State was much younger. So Michigan went to The Horseshoe with a not-100 percent starting quarterback and lost in overtime.
Going to Ohio State, one of the top three programs in America right now by just about any metric, and playing a coin-flip game should be a sign that Harbaugh has returned Michigan to elite status, not fodder for someone to troll the fanbase with.
Here’s the list of Power 5 schools that have won more games than Michigan in the past two seasons: Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Stanford and Wisconsin. Not listed there is any team from the SEC besides the Crimson Tide, which seems to be the part of the country that the most intense Harbaugh criticism comes from.
Michigan was an afterthought on the national level for much of Rich Rodriguez’s and Brady Hoke’s tenures. There would be some preseason hype, a big early game against Notre Dame and too often after that disappointment.
That is no longer the case. Michigan is “back,” much to the chagrin of those who see the world through “football in the South is better than everywhere else”-tinted lenses.
If it seems like the criticism of Harbaugh is more pointed this offseason, it might again be because of the easy-target thing. The Wolverines are losing more production from the 2016 team than any Power 5 program in the country, per Bill Connelly of SB Nation’s rankings.
There’s a strong chance the Wolverines will take at least a half-step back next season, though that could mean “just” going 9-3 with one of the youngest teams in the nation. Or all of the blue-chip talent Harbaugh has been collecting will develop faster than anticipated,and Michigan will challenge Ohio State and Penn State for Big Ten supremacy.
Either way, the Wolverines are well-positioned to be a national title contender in 2018 and beyond. Those who like to take shots at Michigan probably see a future where that won’t be as easy to do, so it’s time to get them in now.
Ignore them. Harbaugh has Michigan back in a great place, with a future that only seems to be trending upward. Time to bait Wolverines fans with jabs might be running out.
Don’t be an easy mark.