You either define the narrative, or the narrative defines you. And if you’re Jim Harbaugh, the narrative as the curtain opens on 2018 feels like a kick in the teeth:
Looks like everything in the B1G is back to normal pic.twitter.com/AcsHstljM8
— Lewerke do worky (@Crafty_Consumer) January 1, 2018
Blow a 19-3 second-half lead to a Will Muschamp team, kids, and you bet your asphalt Twitter is going to let slip the dogs of war, 280 characters at a time.
“I think it’s deserved,” Chris Howard, the former Michigan tailback who started for the Wolverines’ 1997 national champions, told Land of 10 this week.
“Here’s the thing: When Harbaugh was hired, Michigan fans went to the street and claimed victory before a game was even played. Michigan fans went to social media and went to Twitter and were talking about how Urban Meyer’s days are numbered … claiming victory before we had done anything.
“And the media writes every fluff piece known to mankind, so, of course, you become the most envied, the most hated, program in America. And you see the feuds with Paul Finebaum and everything that gets blown out of proportion. Of course, people want to see Jim Harbaugh fail, because they were seeing him in the news every week. Jim Harbaugh is a big personality. He is who he is. I kind of think we brought that on ourselves. We literally had announced our arrival without doing anything.”
We come not to rub their faces in bloomin’ onion — that’s been done — but to ask simply this:
What are you going to do about it?
“Trust me, there’s no one at Schembechler Hall that is more upset than Jim is,” one of Howard’s old teammates, former Michigan linebacker and All-Big Ten defender Jarrett Irons, told Land of 10. “There’s nobody that wants it more than he does in that building.
“They’re saying this and that, and people are going to throw it in our face. The only thing that matters is what’s going on in that building.”
But even Michigan men, loyal to the last, are wondering what the hell has been going on for the last 14 months. Since a 59-3 rout of Maryland on Nov. 5, 2016, the Wolverines have played 17 contests and won just 9 of them. Harbaugh’s records vs. Ohio State (0-3) and Michigan State (1-2) have become cannon fodder for all sides, but some in the Michigan camp are wondering in louder voices when the steak comes with their sizzle:
To me, that’s not a supermodel, that’s Paris Hilton. That’s somebody who’s given us nothing, but ‘Oh, we’re going to Rome. Oh, we wear Michael Jordan shoes,'” Toomer said. “I don’t care. I want to beat Michigan State, I want to beat Ohio State” – Amani Toomer on Jim Harbaugh
— JT Clifton (@JT_SAR_Fball) January 4, 2018
“Look, we didn’t have a good year, so there’s obviously some things that need to be talked about,” Irons said. “And I fully feel that Harbaugh will do the necessary things needs to do to make sure we’re on the right path. I have full confidence in him. Is Amani right, and do we need to do better against our rivals? Sure we do.”
In addition to being the league’s only bowl loser this season, the 8-5 Wolverines were arguably the Big Ten’s most enigmatic disappointment. Not so much that they wound up fourth in an unforgiving East Division with a young, injury-riddled roster, but how they got there.
That a Harbaugh offense could go through three quarterbacks in a season and somehow squeeze only 9 touchdown passes from the group. That two traditional Michigan strengths, offensive line and wide receiver, were largely non-factors.
“I guess the frustration, more than anything, for me, was that we never got comfortable this year, never got better each game,” Irons noted. “And I think that’s where the frustration was.”
Frustrating, too, was a general air of dialing it back, be it with the formations, the innovation, or the general vibe. Whether it was because of youth or inexperience, the Wolverines — and, curiously, Harbaugh — seemed to go about their business in a more muted, almost low-key, tone, relative to the season before.
Already seeing more fire from Harbaugh on the sideline than we’ve seen all season, too. He’s been abnormally reserved all season long.
— MichiganPodcast (@MichiganPodcast) November 25, 2017
The narrative being fitted for Harbaugh at the end of Year 3 is not a coat like Urban’s, but a piece similar to the one worn by Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz. The ship is steady (which is appreciated); unspectacular (which isn’t); and a good chunk of the base don’t believe the salary matches the results, let alone expectations. Meanwhile …
The locals want a signature win. In addition to the Ohio State and Michigan State travails, the Wolverines under Harbaugh are 1-7 against top-10 opponents. Michigan opens at Notre Dame in nine months in the first meeting of the old rivals since 2014. It’s Harbaugh’s first Maize and Blue dance with Brian Kelly.
The locals want a passing attack of, at minimum, competence. Perhaps that’s under the auspices of Brandon Peters at quarterback, although you wonder. Perhaps that’s with transfer Shea Patterson, if he’s eligible. Or Dylan McCaffrey. If the pocket won’t hold up, keep grinding until you find one that can. If the wideouts won’t fight for 50-50 balls, keep cycling until you’re rolling out the guys that will.
The locals want a Plan B in the red zone. When he’s not touching himself inappropriately in public, Quinn Nordin is all kinds of fun. If he’s your 2018 Offensive MVP, someone on the staff needs to be reassigned.
Do what you do differently.
Or do it better.
Otherwise, the memes keep rolling.
And the punch lines keep landing.
Merry Christmas to everyone but Jim Harbaugh pic.twitter.com/l3aKjxxWfb
— mentally ashy (@Johnboy804) December 25, 2017
To this, Howard would like to ask these young Michigan players, the keepers of the winged flame, just one question:
What are you going to do about it?
“Listen, I played on 8-4 teams,” he said. “I was called ‘mediocre’ for three years at Michigan … they just have to embrace it, take it on the chin, hit go-back-to-work mode, and get it done.
“It’s going to be a long winter for Jim Harbaugh and his team and most of his players. It’s going to be a brutal summer and offseason. This is new for a lot of them; as freshmen, they’re not used to fans calling them all kinds of things. They’re getting their first taste of what it feels like to [fail]. They have to use that as motivation as well. Donovan-Peoples Jones, Brandon Peters, these guys, they’ve got to just use that as motivation to get better.”