To say Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan Head Coaching debut has raised spectacular expectations this preseason among the Wolverine Nation is a significant understatement. Ticket sales are again soaring, and fan enthusiasm is also reaching unprecedented heights.
This is unbelievable and significant rebound from the depths of despair achieved by our two immediately previous and failed football coaching regimes. Even more unbelievable in light of the fact Jim Harbaugh has not yet had the opportunity to coach a single football game at the University of Michigan. No other hire could have brought all of Jim Harbaugh’s assets to the Michigan job. He is uniquely qualified for that job. M school ties, college coaching, professional coaching, and recruiting experience all uniquely meld together in Jim Harbaugh. If he is not successful here where could Michigan turn to get a more qualified coach?
Harbaugh has quickly restored positive national recognition of Wolverine Football to unexpected levels. His words and activities are positively tweeted, written about, and broadcast. His trade mark ought to be the Energizer Bunny. He seems he shows up almost everywhere.
While he is a nose to the grindstone, eye on the goal football coach, he has roamed. Since his hire, he has had meetings with several members of the Supreme Court, with Michelle Obama, recruited all over the country, visited some Supreme Court members, and vacationed in Paris. Before coaching a single football game at Michigan, he has become a newsworthy celebrity personality. He will soon grace the cover of ESPN magazine, but will he ever make the cover of the Rolling Stone? Don’t bet against it. Publicity wise, anything seems possible.
Harbaugh’s genuine enthusiasm for game he loves, and his relentless intensity, are in part illustrated by the innovative football camps he has held around the country. They were within NCAA rules. Rules the SEC would like to torpedo.
Much to the delight of M fans, and the chagrin of SEC coaches (poor babies), he had pushed some camps into SEC country. Some SEC coaches have howled regarding what they perceive to be recruiting fairness issues. How ironic it is to hear the wails regarding fairness issues from that venue! And how satisfying!
Fans early recruiting fears of filling Coach Harbaugh’s first full class with lower ranked players, and a slow early start, have been resolved positively, as the class has blossomed in numbers, as have the numbers of stars granted by the recruiting pundits. Fences have been mended with high school coaches in many key venues, as well as with M students, as thousands more students will be at the games. Ticket sales are generally restored.
M is still in the running for one of the highest ranked players in the class of sixteen. Even if they do not get DT Rashan Gary, it appears they will still finish with a strong class.
There were but a couple of glitches. A botched ESPN interview with Colin Cowherd garnered a bit of negative publicity. Cowherd ended the interview early, and spent the rest of his show lambasting Coach. Harbaugh artfully shouldered the blame, and the “Herd” was dismissed from the ESPN position he was leaving anyway for Fox, but earlier than anticipated. Cowherd was dismissed for comments not related to the failed interview.
A widely publicized glitch was the Minick OWI, and suspension. Now reinstated to his position, Associate Athletic Director Minick continues on.
There have been a number of expected player transfers. Blake Countess, Dennis Norfleet, and Ondre Pipkins seem to me to be among the most notable early departures. OL Chris Fox has obtained a medical scholarship and will not play, but will become a student assistant.
Pipkins seemed to sow a few sour grapes saying that he was healthy and wanted to continue to compete as a Wolverine. Harbaugh countered with a convincing resume of Ondre’s injuries, including concussions. I understand his four year Michigan scholarship was not withdrawn, but will probably be abandoned as Ondre seeks to play at Texas Tech.
There are rumors that Dennis Norfleet, who has allegedly been in the academic doghouse, will likely transfer to Tuskegee. While he has earned prolific yardage (over 2,200 yards, and 90 returns) over his Wolverine career as a special teams returner, he never returned a punt or kick off for six. One such return last season was spoiled by a team mate’s gaff which got the TD called back. M subsequently lost that game to Rutgers while making Rutger’s pedestrian QB Nova look like an All American. He had thrown five interceptions the week before.
Michael Ferns and Center Jack Miller, left prior to the Harbaugh regime. Many have left since. Justice Hayes, Russell Bellomy, Keith Heitzman, Kyle Bosch, and the three mentioned above. Coach recently indicated that is all for now. I assume there will be more transfers later.
There are three graduate transfers now in place, as the coaches shored up depth and talent. It looks like all three have a good chance of becoming starters. At QB, there is Iowa transfer, Jake Rudock. Experienced, talented, and careful with the ball, he will give Shane Morris a run for his money at QB. Wayne Lyons, a graduate transfer from Stanford seems likely to collar a starting corner position. Transfer punter Blake O’Neill should be a great punter. He is from Melbourne, Australia.
Nike will soon replace Adidas as the signature provider of clothing and equipment for all sports, making Michigan the highest paid college sports program in the country. They have tossed around numbers like $169,000 from Nike. The perception among many fans is that Nike produces the “in” apparel, including Jordan basketball shoes, and will help future recruitment. Maybe, but it is a current fact that this Nike contract benefits now by correcting a deficit in the AD budget.
It appears that this 2015 precamp season will end with unprecedented rising expectations. This is a sea change from the dismal end of the 2014 season, and its sinking expectations.
Although much of the off season success is the result of Coach Harbaugh’s efforts, this spectacular off season success can’t all be claimed by Jim alone. Interim Athletic Director Hackett and Coach Harbaugh seem to constitute a well-oiled machine working smoothly in unison to achieve common goals.
The Big Ten Media Days in Chicago have come and gone. Coach Harbaugh fended off the tireless repetition of question after question in his somewhat quirky, but still effective style, not answering anything about individual player football performances or position groups, yet still managing to be the main attraction at the Big Ten event. I don’t believe he is striving to be a celebrity, but he needed to restore football expectations and excitement, and he has, and then some.
Perhaps more importantly, he has installed an experienced set of assistant coaches to direct all three phases of the game. They have great football credentials for their position groups, and proven relationships to teaching and winning the right way.
Fortunately fans are not dwelling on last year’s five losses, and the unsettled status of several offensive position groups such as QB, OL, WR and RB. Last year, while the offense hemorrhaged turnovers to their team’s detriment and on a scale worse than the other teams in the country, the otherwise effective defense couldn’t cause turnovers in sufficient numbers to help raise last year’s number of wins over five.
Offensively, different schemes, a more experienced OL, and better coaching will change production. Defensively, an ability to play some press coverage, and the return of a healthy Jabril Peppers, and some additional talent, should allow improvement to last year’s decent defense.
Many fans, including me, believe that a serviceable and productive offense will emerge. I think that this team, at the end of the season, will be much improved over the product that faces off with Utah on September 3.
YOUTH FAN/MEDIA DAY:
Players and coaches were made available for interview. I interviewed D.J. Durkin, Jay Harbaugh, Greg Mattison, and Tyrone Wheatley. While interesting in each case they talked philosophies and team goals not individual players, probably because they had not had a fall camp practice. All of the coaches interviewed seemed very competent, and excited about the season.
I was interested in Jay Harbaugh in particular because he was an unknown to me. He is pleasant, articulate, and knows his stuff. Greg Mattison is a respected known commodity in Ann Arbor and DC D.J. Durkin, late of the Florida Gators, obviously knows his stuff. He will adjust the schemes to the talent. Refreshing, huh?
Coach Tyrone Wheatley seemed more comfortable today than in the spring. He stated all the backs are talented, but he still needs three to step up, to separate from the pack. He talked at length regarding the nurturing of his son as a football player, saying that when the young player needed football tutoring he hired a football tutor or trainer and never did it himself. But they did spend quality time together. He was relieved when his boy had that growth spurt. He is happy Jay Harbaugh is coaching him as a tight end.
Several players were also interviewed, or more correctly I had a conversation with them. They are an articulate and dedicated group, and all in.
Coach Harbaugh conducted an interview session on Media Day. Several poised and cute third graders asked questions for his answer as it was Youth Fan Day. One third grader asked “How do you get the players to study?”, and the rest were along similar lines. Harbaugh answered them adroitly, and he brought back early recollections of his Ann Arbor days. He named his own children, some of whom, are about the age of the kids interviewed.
He said he could not guarantee a spot to a 5th year players, just an opportunity.
Now he will be finding out what the team is and what they will be as practices progress.
He stressed healthy, honest, and fair competition in the QB race, and the other position competitions.
He fondly recalled the sights and smells of a football practice environment, like sunrise, the smell of fresh grass, and the sound of cleats on concrete before a day crowded with football. I had the feeling his team would need some time away from the event to recall the sights and sounds of football practice as fondly as he does. Coach Harbaugh is sincere is his love for the experience.
He discussed tight ends in answer to a question, citing Butt, Williams, and K. Hill. Said Hill is ready to go now. Said Winovich did very well in the spring, and said Strobel has been playing both offense and defense and will continue to do so for a time. He mentioned Tyrone Wheatley, Jr.
Roles are important. Starter, back up, or contributor. The determinations of team roles are all pending.
He said he is now going submarine with the press, into a bunker mentality, and will resurface when it is time.
Said RB Drake Johnson is a fast healer, in better shape than the Media Day audience as he is a superb athlete. They have had to slow him up as a safeguard by allowing no cutting or running. He is almost 100%.
He then held a fan autograph session in Michigan Stadium to complete Fan/Media Day.
Harbaugh has to be relieved that this part of the tedious preseason PR element of the process is over, as he can now focus his considerable energies on what he does best, which is the teaching and playing of winning football. Asked in today’s press conference why he receives so much attention he said, “I don’t know”, a comment that was challenged.
Harbaugh’s off-season aura has had a therapeutic effect on all phases of the Wolverine football program, including fan expectations so far, but can the magic continue into the heart of Harbaugh’s 2015 head coaching challenge?
Why not? Let the games begin!