Time and perspective.
The Michigan men’s basketball team just completed an unbelievable season. The Wolverines started the season unranked and projected to finish no better than tied for fifth in the Big Ten. Instead, John Beilein and his team of overachievers set a school record for most wins (33), won a second consecutive Big Ten Tournament title and played for the national championship.
Even though Michigan fell short, the season was a success. In the last six years, Beilein has taken his teams to the national championship game twice. Of course, it didn’t take long for a certain someone to turn Beilein’s success into a misguided comparison.
While appearing Monday on The RoundTable on WJOX-FM, Paul Finebaum and his host discussed the time when Mike Shula was coaching Alabama football and Mark Gottfried had taken his team to the Elite Eight as an illustration of how the success of a basketball program magnifies the shortcomings of a football program. Finebaum was asked if he thought the same thing was happening at Michigan.
Of course, Finebaum agreed and cited how Beilein has taken the basketball team to the championship game two out of the last six years and that the Jim Harbaugh has been a colossal failure.
I guess time truly does exist in a vacuum and perspective exists out of the frame of reference. Allow me to put that into context.
Gottfried had been at Alabama for five years before Shula stepped on campus. Gottfried won the SEC regular-season championship in his fourth year and took his team to the Elite Eight in his sixth season, a year after Shula’s arrival in 2003. During Shula’s time at Alabama, he produced one 10-win season while Gottfried’s teams appeared in four more NCAA tournaments and captured another regular-season championship in his seventh year. Shula was shown the door after Year 4. Time.
The bottom line is Gottfried had Alabama basketball rolling while Alabama football was in disarray due to NCAA sanctions and the loss of key players to injury prior to Shula’s arrival. Perspective.
Beilein arrived on Michigan’s campus in 2007 with little to no fanfare. The program was a mess. Beilein’s first season was historically bad, and I mean bad, most losses in Michigan history bad. It wasn’t much better the following years either.
The turnaround didn’t happen until Beilein’s fourth year (2010-11), when the Wolverines posted a 21-14 record and made it to the NCAA Tournament. The next year, Michigan won the Big Ten regular-season title while making another NCAA Tournament. It also beat chief rival Michigan State that year. Time.
Unlike his counterpart, Harbaugh arrived by private jet to the cheers of Michigan fans kissing their rosary beads, thanking God that their savior had arrived. Brash and unapologetic, Harbaugh took the college football world by storm. Twenty-four-hour coverage ad nauseam.
A culture of entitlement by players, empty stadium seats, promotional gimmicks to keep the attendance record going, the mishandling of player safety on national television were Harbaugh’s inheritance. Expectations were to overcome any obstacle. He turned it around quickly. After back-to-back 10-win seasons, it seemed like the program was ahead of schedule until the Wolverines took a step backwards, finishing 8-5 last season, the worst in the Harbaugh era.
However, when comparing the recent success of Beilein to the “colossal failure of Jim Harbaugh,” as Finebaum put it, you must put it into perspective.
The reality is Beilein had been at Michigan eight years before Harbaugh arrived on campus. Beilein had taken his bumps and bruises, molded the program in his image. It took him six years to get to the national championship game. Beilein is in his 11th year at Michigan. Harbaugh is entering his fourth. Perspective.
Let’s also not forget that Michigan fans started the #FireBeilein movement last year, and all he did was take his teams to the Elite Eight, win back-to-back Big Ten tournaments and play for the national championship.
Harbaugh must win, win more often over his rivals, compete for Big Ten Championships and be a frequent visitor to the College Football Playoffs. Period. It’s his program now. He’s got his players, his coaches and his system installed.
Can Harbaugh have the kind of success Beilein has attained over his 11 years at Michigan? Yes, if he’s given the time. How much time? That remains to be seen because his detractors are running low on perspective.