Before you open up the nearest window and go full Howard Beale, fists shaking in the air …
… before you compare Jim Harbaugh after 35 games at Michigan (27-8) to Brady Hoke after 35 tilts (25-10), a gentle word of advice from Chris Howard:
Slow your roll, champ.
“I think people outside of the program don’t like Harbaugh anyway, the [Paul] Finebaums of the world,” Howard, the former Wolverines and NFL running back, told Land of 10 this week. “So it doesn’t matter what he does.
“People have been waiting for this to happen. They’ve been waiting for Michigan to struggle just so they can say, ‘Harbaugh is overrated.’
“They’ve been waiting, just because he’s gotten so much media coverage … He’s constantly being talked about on the Colin Cowherd show. People have been waiting for Harbaugh [to struggle]. They want this team to fail.”
Haters gonna hate, especially when your coach commands the sweetest salary in the Football Bowl Subdivision; sleeps over at a recruit’s house; sings opera; unapologetically plunders the natural resources of enemy territories; and has the stones to parade an entire football program around Vatican City like it’s the Brady Bunch at Kings Island.
On the flip side, 1-4.
As in, Harbaugh’s head-to-head record against Little Brother (Michigan State) and Team Urban (Ohio State). And the ire of a fan base that wants a little more steak to go with all that sizzle.
“Those [Hoke and Rich Rodriguez] years really messed up the program,” Howard countered. “I don’t think people understand how messed up the program was.”
The Wolverines (7-2, 4-2 Big Ten) have yet to post a victory this fall over a squad with a winning record. A third defeat takes any mathematical hope of a Big Ten East crown — and such hopes are on the slim side — off the table with losses to Michigan State and Penn State already on the books. And the farther the Florida Gators (3-5) have gone off the rails, the less impressive that Week 1 win in Arlington starts to look, in hindsight. In the 33-10 rout of Minnesota last Saturday, Michigan started its third different quarterback in seven weeks: redshirt freshman Brandon Peters.
“The most inconsistent thing the last few years, it’s been offensive line and quarterback play,” Howard said. “I tell people: ‘Michigan is an offensive line and a quarterback away from truly being elite.’ If they can solve those two things — the defense is always going to be good, but Michigan needs to get back to being Michigan, [when] Michigan was known for quarterbacks and offensive lines.”
And as season-defining tests against Wisconsin (9-0) and Ohio State (7-2) loom on Nov. 18 and Nov. 25, respectively, he reminds the faithful to keep the season’s expectations in context, too.
‘At the end of the day, the players have to execute … It’s a different thing if you’re not prepared and your quarterback coach just sucks.’
— Former Michigan tailback Chris Howard on the Wolverines coaching staff
A roster with the fewest returning starters of any FBS team in 2017. A program that had a school-record 11 players drafted last spring — nine taken among the first four rounds, another best for any Wolverines draft class. And a passing game that’s felt the loss of gifted freshman wideout Tarik Black — who hasn’t played since Week 3 — more than any pundit thought it might.
“Harbaugh, [assistants Pep] Hamilton, [Tim] Drevno, [Greg] Fry all in one room, you’d think they’d come up with something to kind of kick-start this offense,” said Howard, the leading rusher on the last Michigan squad — 1997 — to win a national title. “It hasn’t happened. It happened over the last two weeks [vs. Rutgers and Minnesota], but is that more so because of the competition, or is it because guys are developing and getting it? We won’t know that until Wisconsin and until Ohio State.”
Until then, the haters will point out that over his first 23 Big Ten games, Harbaugh has won 17 — and that over that same stretch, Hoke won 15.
“I don’t know if his reputation takes a hit,” Howard said of Harbaugh. “At the end of the day, the players have to execute. Harbaugh can’t make you throw the ball low. Harbaugh can’t make you throw to a wide-open receiver and sail the ball 2 feet over his head, or throw back-to-back pick-6s.
“It would be different if guys necessarily weren’t prepared. But at the end of the day, as a former player, how I take what I’m being taught, what the coach is telling me, and take out on the field and apply it — it’s on me. It’s a different thing if you’re not prepared and your quarterback coach just sucks.”