ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Jim Harbaugh is 25-8 in 2 1/2 years as Michigan’s football coach. But the 42-13 loss at No. 2 Penn State on Saturday night has some fans calling for a new coach.
It’s way too soon for that call. Michigan’s current struggles aren’t a reason to fire Harbaugh. He has restored respectability to the Wolverines, and has a long-term plan: create and sustain a successful program.
In his first two seasons, Harbaugh has brought in two nationally ranked recruiting classes, earned two bowl berths and earned 20 wins. He emphasizes continuous development in his players, not just in preparation for a professional football career but for when they are junior and seniors.
Yet the expectations for this season — a rebuilding season — were high. Too high. That has created questions about Harbaugh’s job security.
Harbaugh’s team has hit a bump in the road with losses to Michigan State and Penn State. Patience will be key in executing the long-term plan.
“I believe this team will respond,” Harbaugh said Monday.
This season’s 4-0 start stirred excitement, in spite of issues on offense and an injury to quarterback Wilton Speight. This was the season to shape younger players, particularly inexperienced groups at wide receiver, the secondary and quarterback so they thrive in 2018.
Brandon Peters is a redshirt freshman quarterback. Dylan McCaffrey is a freshman who is taking his redshirt season. Peters is next on the depth chart, but that doesn’t mean he’s ready to take snaps in a game. The odds of Michigan burning McCaffrey’s redshirt are slim and none. It’s important that both players continue to develop away from game action.
Furthermore, Michigan has made an investment in Harbaugh. His contract at Michigan runs through 2021, and he’s already received a substantial pay raise because of his program’s success in 2015 and 2016. Any idea of a departure would deviate from Harbaugh’s goal of making Michigan into an annual national contender.
Harbaugh will prove himself to the fan base with a new challenge: how he coaches and leads this program through this stretch of adversity.
“The team that goes through this understands it can have a great opportunity in understanding there needs to be a response,” Harbaugh said. “Coaches and players can find out what they’re made of, from a competitive standpoint. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. It’s a cliche, but cliches are usually cliches but they’re true.
“We control a lot. That’s the other thing I want to find out. Understanding what they can control. They control a lot. We control a lot, as a ball club.”
Michigan’s response will prove Harbaugh’s success as a leader. It will fit into the path of his long-term plan. It will reiterate his worth as a coach at Michigan.