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Jay Harbaugh enters his fourth season as an assistant coach with the Michigan football program, and his second as Michigan's running backs coach.

Michigan RBs coach Jay Harbaugh brings valuable experience to staff

Rachel Lenzi

During the week, Land of 10 reporters following the Wolverines answer questions on the minds of Michigan fans. Submit a question or suggest a topic by sending a tweet here to Rachel Lenzi or here to Kevin Goheen. Check back Monday through Friday as we answer the Michigan Question of the Day. Go here to see our previous answers.

When is Michigan going to get an experienced running backs coach? — Billo Larion, via Facebook

Michigan has an experienced running backs coach in Jay Harbaugh. There’s no need to pursue another one until Harbaugh decides to pursue other opportunities outside of the Michigan football program.

Harbaugh’s experience as a running backs coach isn’t exactly orthodox. He enters his second year as the Wolverines’ position coach, after two years coaching tight ends and special teams. But his path in coaching is a lot like how coaches climb the ladder. It began with an apprenticeship of sorts as an undergraduate assistant at Oregon State from 2008 to 2011, then as an offensive quality control coach for the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens.

Some would argue that nepotism factors into Harbaugh’s ascension in the coaching ranks, but it’s hard to argue with the results Michigan’s running backs have produced under Harbaugh’s tutelage. The Wolverines ran for 2,310 yards while rotating running backs in 2017. Karan Higdon was 4 yards away from becoming Michigan’s first 1,000-yard running back since Fitzgerald Toussaint in 2011.

It’s also hard to argue Harbaugh’s enthusiasm for his job, and his willingness to learn. He said in the fall that engaging with his running backs was a vital part of his adjustment to coaching the position. He also impressed Michigan’s running backs with his preparation.

One thing about coaching is that on many staffs, you see younger coaches who diversify their backgrounds as they ascend in the profession. Not just where they coached or who they coached, but what they have coached as an assistant. A good example is Ed Warinner, who was recently promoted as Michigan’s offensive line coach.

Warinner is known for his success as an offensive line coach. Warinner coached running backs, defensive line, linebackers, the secondary, and offensive linemen in the first seven years of his career.

A similar transition is happening at Michigan, with Harbaugh’s move from tight ends to running backs, and Chris Partridge’s move from coaching linebackers to coaching safeties.

It’s not simply where the coaches coach. It’s what they put in and get out of their coaching responsibilities. In Harbaugh’s first year as running backs coach, he didn’t do too shabby.

It should make you eager to see what Michigan’s returning running backs are capable of, and what Harbaugh is capable of as a position coach.

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