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Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh enters his fourth season at the helm of the Wolverines.

Michigan football mailbag: The heat is on Jim Harbaugh

Rachel Lenzi

Have Michigan football questions? We’ve got answers. Join us every Thursday for the Land of 10 Michigan mailbag to talk all things Wolverines. The Michigan mailbag this week examines the scrutiny that faces Michigan and fourth-year coach Jim Harbaugh following an 8-5 season, quarterback Joe Milton’s arrival on campus, and the development of offensive tackle James Hudson and lineacker Drew Singleton.

Will Jim Harbaugh be on the hot seat start of season? — Shawn Bell, via Facebook

The heat will be on the Wolverines, after their 8-5 finish, the squandering of a double-digit lead to South Carolina in the Outback Bowl, losses to Michigan State and Ohio State, and a lack of consistent offensive production. Jim Harbaugh’s program will be scrutinized in the offseason, but his spot in Michigan’s athletic department isn’t in danger.

The lack of success — namely anything less than a bowl win and a 9-win regular season, combined with the 2017 season, in particular — would lead some to call for Harbaugh to be on the hot seat. In fact, there’s a certain fringe out there that is calling for Harbaugh’s firing. That is unreasonable.

Look at what Michigan had in the 2017 season — and what it didn’t have. Little experience at wide receiver. A rotation of quarterbacks because of injuries and ineptitude.

Coaches can only remedy so much. But we can agree on this: Change has to come for Michigan to be successful, and it’s already starting with a few early coaching moves (namely the hiring of Dan Enos to work with the offense), and player additions (namely Shea Patterson at quarterback, contingent upon his eligibility). The X-factor is how those changes transfer into the season.

Is Jim Harbaugh that hard to work for? Or is this turnover rate normal? — Daren McClelland, via Facebook

What boss isn’t difficult to work for? Successful coaches are demanding, to a certain extreme, and know how to push buttons — sometimes it’s productive, and sometimes it backfires. Another thing that factors into it is that some people also are ambitious.

One point of concern: Of Michigan’s coaching departures in the last three years, only one left for a head coaching job (defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin to Maryland at the end of the 2015 season). Others were lateral moves, such as special teams coach John Baxter leaving after one season to take a similar job at USC, or passing game coordinator Jedd Fisch going to UCLA as its offensive coordinator.

Around this time each year, there’s a lot of movement, and turnover isn’t isolated to Michigan. For example, Alabama regularly loses assistants, as do Ohio State and Michigan State.

Are all of the offensive line returning? Or is Michigan losing an offensive lineman? — Rob Sporcic, via Facebook

Left tackle/center Mason Cole will leave, and Cole is the biggest loss in a unit that never truly found its rhythm in 2017. Cole’s eligibility expired at the end of the season, and he leaves as the program’s co-leader in starts at 51, a mark he shares with Craig Roh, a defensive end from 2009-12.

We published a way-too-early depth chart for Michigan’s 2018 lineup last week, including a way-too-early look at how we project Michigan’s offensive line for 2018.

Also, I caught up with Cole at the Michigan football banquet last month in Livonia, Mich. Find out what he’ll take from his time at Michigan and from Jim Harbaugh.

Will Jim Harbaugh give Joe Milton a solid look at quarterback? — Tyler Martins, via Facebook

Joe Milton is on campus, enrolled in classes and taking part in winter conditioning workouts.

However, given Michigan’s emphasis on long-term development, and the course it’s taken with Brandon Peters and Dylan McCaffrey — both redshirted their freshman years — don’t be surprised if Milton redshirts his first season at Michigan.

We don’t get to watch much of, if any, of James Hudson or Drew Singleton. The media doesn’t get to watch practice at any time of the regular season. We got to watch about 15 to 20 minutes of one practice at the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla., and there was a lot to take in during that short span of time.

So, we only have so much information to go on. In Tampa, defensive coordinator Don Brown was enthusiastic about Singleton and his recovery from ACL surgery. Offensive coordinator Tim Drevno spoke well of the freshman offensive tackles, particularly of Hudson.

“James has really got a bright future,” Drevno said last month. “He’s really athletic. He’s got a really good strong punch to him. Really heavy hands, can really stop the bullrush and set anchor. Really sharp. He’s got a real good nose for the game, in terms of when the picture changes, he can adjust.”

Have a question about Michigan football? Tweet us @Landof10Mich and we’ll try to answer your question in a future mailbag. Check to see if your question already was answered by reading previous Michigan football mailbags here.