Where the hell was Tom Brady? Derek Jeter? The winners? The stars? Where were the pro wrestlers? The swagger?
In February 2016, Michigan rolled out Ric Flair.
In February 2018, it was Ronnie Bell.
It’s been a muted — almost restrained — six months for Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh. And National Signing Day, much to the chagrin of Michigan faithful, seemed to continue that trend.
The Maize and Blue landed a top 25 class for 2018, but the over-arching narrative was focused on the ones who got away: 5-star tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere, a big-time target at a big-time position of need, signed with Ohio State, while 4-star linebacker Otis Reese, a longtime Wolverines commit, flipped to Georgia at the last minute.
Was Wednesday another sign of impending trouble in Ann Arbor? Or a one-off? Former Michigan and NFL running back Chris Howard and Land of 10 writer-columnist Sean Keeler put on the pads and tried to tackle the burning question in the 734 right now, namely:
Q: IS MICHIGAN’S SOUR FINISH TO NATIONAL SIGNING DAY — LOSING OUT ON TWO BIG COMMITS — A REASON TO PANIC?
CHRIS HOWARD: NO
I remember it like it was yesterday, I was sitting on the couch watching the 2015 National Championship Game between Ohio State and Oregon when I got a tweet from a Michigan fan who was flustered by the fact that Kareem Walker committed to Ohio State during halftime. (He later de-committed and committed to Michigan).
“What’s Harbaugh doing?” he said. “We’re falling behind.”
Mind you, Harbaugh had been on the job less than 45 days and didn’t have a running backs coach. That’s the rationale that we were dealing with in the Harbaugh-Michigan-football-induced hysteria.
The 2016 recruiting class was good; the 2017 recruiting class was loaded. But those classes were built off successful seasons and momentum. We finished 2017 with no momentum, and since the end of the season, we’ve heard all kinds of rumors of coaches leaving and staying. It’s awfully difficult to sustain any kind of recruiting success if there is a lack of coaching stability — or perception of one.
Missing out on your top offensive tackle target hurts, but until you prove you can develop the guys you have, no elite prospect is going to put his future in your hands, no matter what kind of bond you build with them. The guys on the roster must turn the corner to show that future offensive line targets can be developed under Harbaugh and his staff.
Otis Reese was a luxury Michigan would have loved to have added to its roster, but the Wolverines are loaded at linebacker. His de-commitment is more about perception and narrative. Michigan sells the viper position to prospects like Urban Meyer used to sell players on being the next Percy Harvin. Just because I say it doesn’t mean you’re going to be it. With Don Brown running the defense ― the viper position ― and having enough bodies to play it, is the least of my concerns.
Listen. The hype has settled, the dust has cleared. Michigan had a meh season, and the 2018 recruiting class’ lack of star power reflects that. OK, now it’s time to put your big-boy underwear on and get back to work. You’re going to win some and you’re going to lose some. Of course, Michigan needs to start winning some of those battles for elite targets, and the only way to do that is by putting up winning seasons consistently and showing player development in the areas where you’re targeting prospects. Is it time to panic? If you’re the panicking type, maybe.
However, Michigan returns a lot of experience in 2018, and with the addition of some new hires and hires yet to be announced, Michigan can win big in 2018. Winning cures all. So, no, it’s not time to panic after one bad season.